OK, sometimes there’s a game that I glance at, slightly ignore it, buy it on the cheap, and discover that it’s the best thing since sliced bread, the last time I experienced anything like this was with Bethesda’s Fallout 3. I had no real interest in the game, and I bought it after seeing a cheap deal on Cheap Ass Gamer, and after leaving it in shrink wrap after a day or two, I put it into my 360 and was spell bound by it’s awesomeness! Fast forward to the present day, the Steam Black Friday deals come up, and I purchase Hotline Miami on a whim as it was cheap; you can’t beat cheap right? Well technically free is better than cheap, but I’m losing the point here. A few weeks after leaving Hotline Miami in my Steam list, curiosity began to kick in and I double click the game to run it, and POW was I in for a surprise.
The game began with a title screen in Cyrillic and I wasn’t even sure if I was even playing Hotline Miami; it doesn’t help when you cant read Cyrillic. But as the game began, you get thrown into a typical tutorial where it teaches you how to knock out, kill, and shoot your enemies, the agents in white suits. But after the tutorial, you’re thrown into the game and realise why you needed the tutorial, because you’re going to die, over and over again. Not just because you’re not quite used to the controls, but because you have to self teach yourself the techniques and strategies of each level. Fortunately there are unlimited lives, and this is good thing, because I once died twenty five times in one level over the space of ten minutes, and that’s the beauty of this game, no matter how many times I died in this game, I was never once frustrated, I always felt that the reason for why I died was due to making a bad move, not knowing what was up next and/or not timing things right. But in the same ways that Super Ghouls and Ghosts masochistically makes you want to play the game again even though you miserably failed, Hotline Miami does the same thing, you just WANT to beat the level, so you’ll do it over and over again, planning out new routes, thinking about how to take out your enemies and what weapons to use. Even though this game is a top down action shooter that feels like what would happen if the original Grand Theft Auto played like Smash TV, but the game has a nice balance of stealth, and strategy too without it being too much of the other. It’s not overly stealth-like on the lines of Metal Gear Solid or Hitman, and it doesn’t use too much strategy like XCOM or Red Alert; you can pretty much treat the game like a full-on action game, but without knowing what’s coming up next you’re bound to get killed, so a little strategy and timing will help a lot on getting through those levels that you’re so damn eager to beat!
The graphics are very reminiscent of the original Grand Theft Auto. Everything is seen in a top down look, and there’s plenty of pixelated blood on the floor when you smite your enemies with a lead pipe or a machine gun. However unlike GTA, you don’t drive. Each level is a building whereby your object is (nearly) the same in every level; kill everyone. Killing in this game isn’t just a case of going on a shooting spree, you have a variety of weapons of both melee and fire arms. Melee weapons ranging from knifes to katanas and firearms ranging from a basic un-silenced hand gun to an over kill Scorpion Sub Machine gun. But it’s all to do with how you kill off each white suit claded enemy is where the real game play comes in. The game features a scoring system similar to the likes of Devil May Cry and Bullet Storm where by putting variation to your kills you score you bigger points rather than doing the same thing over and over again. This is where strategy kicks in, you look at the screen and see the enemies in each room and think about how you can pick them off to earn more points so you can unlock new weapons in the game. For example in one level, you might kick a door down that’s near an enemy, which makes him fall over, you pick up the knife he was carrying, pick him up and slice his neck with it. Walk into the next with said knife and throw it towards the next victim and take his shot gun, then put some holes in the chest of the next two or three enemies, this will grab attention as it makes noise, so time to grab that semi automatic off floor and hide behind the door and pump some lead into the unfortunate fools who creep into the room and create a pile of bodies in middle of the room and so on. You could just knife everyone, but by doing the example above will give you more points than just knifing everyone.
The next cool feature is the masks, the character you play, simply called “Jacket”, due to his high school prep jacket that he likes to wear, has a selection of rubber masks that he wears over his face in each level. Each mask is a face of an animal, and each animal mask gives Jacket a perk. You start with a Chicken mask, named Richard (of course, got to have a name for each mask you know), which doesn’t give you a perk, but as you beat each level, you earn a new mask such as Rasmus the Owl mask that gives you hints for secrets in each level, or Tony the Tiger that allows you to cause instant kills by punching enemies with your bare fists, my favourite mask by the way! You select a mask before you enter a level, hiding Jacket’s identity, not that Jacket really has an identity, sometimes you can see his face as he becomes un-masked from a death, but the sprites are not that well detailed anyway, but you get the gist. Experimenting with the masks will help you find out which mask you like better, though you can’t change masks after getting yourself killed in a level. You can only select a mask as you begin a level, not after each time you restart a level, which does give the game an element of challenge as you try to figure out how to beat a level with a certain mask, though I have found myself having to quit the level and starting it again to use a different mask that takes away the challenge a bit, then again removing the quit option would make the game suck from a user interface side of things. The only issues I found with the gameplay was the slight problem with point blanc shooting. When I was early in the game, I found this weird little bug where I would try to shoot a guy with my shot gun, to find out I shot the guy behind him, as if there was a magic gap between the point of my shot gun, and the spray of the shell. The guy in front of me killed me off with a lead pipe. From this point on I decided that point blanc shooting was a terrible idea in this game and that for close range combat I would only use melee weapons.
As controls are concerned, a game that has twin stick like game play works amazingly well with the keyboard and mouse. The problem I’ve had with other PC twin stick shooters is that their mouse and keyboard controls aren’t really that great. But what makes Hotline Miami good is the fact that Jacket is (nearly) in the middle of the screen at all times. There are times where Jacket might be a bit off from the centre of the screen, but never enough to make the aiming with a mouse a chore like on PomPom’s Mutant Storm. The Game does provide support for the 360 controller, though there are issues if you don’t have the latest drivers for it, but when it works it works, but I found out that as much as the 360 controller is fine, I still preferred the mouse and keyboard controls, but I can see how people might prefer to use a 360 pad if they’re more in tuned with console gaming.
The sound track in this game is simply awesome! It has an 80s action film feel to it from a collection of different artists such as Sun Araw, M.O.O.N. , Jasper Byrne, El Huervo and many others that make up a great selection of tunes that give the game it’s gritty, “over exposed film” feel, it’s as if it feels like a 70s Grindhouse movie, but based in the 80s, and it totally fits into it’s ultra violent theme. You can listen to the awesome sound track free on SoundCloud. https://soundcloud.com/devolverdigital/sets/hotline-miami-official
The story itself is minimalist, yet feels like the kind of plot you get from the likes of Fight Club. As you go through each level, you sometimes come across other mask wearing characters that ask you questions about why you go out killing, and it then turns into a quest to find out why you’re doing the killing sprees that the person on the phone is asking you to do. There’s even a scene where you find yourself in an out of body experience where you see yourself in a hospital bed in a coma. The story is very mysterious, trippy, and not told very well, but leaves you asking questions that you so want to ask Jonatan Söderström, the developer of the game, all the juicy details about the plot that’s missing from the game.
To conclude, I loved this game a lot! Out of all the games I got this year, this game that got released fairly late in the year is by far my favourite. Compared with games such as Dark Souls, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and The Walking Dead, this proves that a low budget indie game can become more impressive and enjoyable than mainstream games. As I repeat to other people on forums and Youtube videos, indie developers will bring a spark into the games industry that will make games a lot more interesting than seeing yearly sequels to Call of Duty and sports games. It’s time for the video game lovers to show how games should be made rather than men in business suits!