The seemingly innocuous lo-fi, chill-wave tones of Hotline Miami’s main menu theme are deceptive and subtle. A quality that both perfectly encapsulates the game, and contradicts it. It’s a pervasively paradoxical sensation that is present throughout the game and never leaves
Here you have a game that is gloriously violent, but quite aware of the dehumanization that fetishizing of violence causes. Mechanically, Hotline Miami invokes a Super Meat Boy-esque gameplay philosophy. In my 10 hours with the game I never felt cheated, by a game that ignores its own rules. The systems are razor sharp, responsive, and reach point where the overhead, old school 2D GTA feeling of wonton destruction gives way to an action puzzle game. Executing a string of vicious murders takes a level of tactical consideration and precise mechanical execution, that harkens back to a 16-bit era mechanical purity and transparency.
I bring up GTA in this conversation, because it is the poster child of wanton, sociopathic player-destruction. I mean, GTA is a game series where you can just walk around with a baseball bat and beat people to death for no other reason than you felt like it. Violence in video games is hardly a new topic, and Hotline Miami’s brilliance lies in how it subverts the frequent, dehumanizing power fantasy of violence in video games by filling itself with it.
**Thematic, yet vague spoilers ahead**
You are not given a name in this game. Characters explicitly and deliberately deny the importance of your identity. You are given strange, sinister phone calls at the start of each mission. You drive to your destination to perform your graphic obligations, and leave in the same car you came. Everyone has to die to complete your mission. Bodies on bodies, you must kill them all. It’s an intentionally vicious cycle.
As the story unfolds, the surreal, existential subtexts of the game become more distorted and dissonant from the violence. Questions are continuously asked of you, comments imply the callous nature of you as a player, motives are explicitly labeled as unimportant, and the paranoia sets in. The incredibly fitting, atmospheric and synth-laden soundtrack blares and reverberates an 80’s anthem of bloodshed, while pulling you further into the neon-lit underworld of dark deeds and criminal urban caverns. The music molds together a good game into a truly unique nightmare, of drug-induced psychosis.
Drugs are very clearly represented in Hotline Miami and the cycle of violence is quite strongly evocative of a bad-drug trip. The ecstasy of the lightning-paced, moment-to-moment gameplay and synth thumping music, is abruptly interrupted by a record scratch when all your enemies are dead. Then, you’re left to walk all the way back through the carnage you caused. You are accompanied by an uneasy, paranoia-inducing track that follows you until you speed off in your Delorean. Very few games come together in such a way that covelantly bonds all it’s parts into a fulfilling whole.
But most importantly,
Hotline Miami is a game of subversion. It doesn’t sabotage its gameplay to make a statement about violence in video games; it basks in it. It’s subversion lies within its embellishing of violence through gameplay to create a perpetual test of sociopathic tendencies in the player and gaming culture at large.
At one point, you are explicitly asked by a character in the game:
”Do you like hurting people?”
After a bloody murder-high, you are now played against yourself.