There’s just something about Hotline Miami that’s instantly appealing.
Whether it’s the overindulgent graphics that make up the main menu, the calming music that precedes your play time or the minor titbits of exposition that layer each addictive level, Hotline Miami’s introductory minutes are the perfect blend of both simplicity and style.
But Hotline Miami doesn’t just have style full-stop, rather it has a unique, incorrigible blend of style that goes a long way to making it such an easily decipherable game. As through either the hyper-stylized violence that’s expertly juxtaposed against a neon eighties pallet or the equanimity evoking soundtrack, every aspect of Hotline Miami perfectly intertwines with the next, creating a consistent, cohesive triumph that lead me to hours upon hours of enjoyment.
But if Hotline Miami’s design feats seem familiar, then that’s because they should be, for this is a game that takes a great amount of inspiration from neo-noir crime flick ‘Drive’. Even going as far as thanking the director of Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn, in the games credits, Hotline Miami is the latest in a series of indie games that relentlessly strive to achieve a monopoly over the contrasting aspects of design and function, and then deliver on all counts. Games like Bastion, with its enchanting soundtrack and delicate pastel visuals, or Braid, with its malevolent contrast between good and evil are two other titles I believe fit into this bracket of games that aren’t just great to play, but are in every conceivable aspect the full-package. These are games that are equal parts masterful design and digital artistry.
Not content with being outstanding in its genre, Hotline Miami has a multitude of talents that work so well together that simply playing it for all of ten minutes is enough to leave you both in a state of complete euphoria and readily wanting more.
The level design of Hotline Miami is simple enough. You’ll rarely find yourself overawed by the topographical layout of each cluster of cubicles ahead of you, but whereas you’re unlikely to get lost in the choking corridors and narrow hallways, there is a certain sense of order about them. Each map, each enemy position and each weapon pickup have all been deliberately and delicately positioned in relation to one another, meaning that there’s little sense of injustice upon death and only the ever increasing will to try again. If there’s a doorway into an enclosed bathroom, you better believe it’s their to use as a hideaway for when your foes come running following a succession of shotgun blasts, and if there’s an enemy patrolling a subway station platform holding an assault rifle, then it may be profitable for you to remove it from his possession. Everything about this game is measured, everything is finely tuned.
And it’s this meticulousness that really helps accentuate the visceral fluidity of the Hotline Miami gameplay. This is a game about score-chasing and attaining a ‘perfect run’ as much as it is about revelling in the digitized gore and responsiveness of the combat, but there’s also a real sense of undiluted fun that accompanies just about any approach to the game. If you want to duck and dive into different rooms, progressing slowly through the level, you can. If you want to run in swinging for the fences before lighting up the place with a shotgun, you can. And if you want to replay the same level over and over again for the sake of the perfect score and feeling of accomplishment that accompanies the reception of an ‘A+’ rating, then feel free. This is a game that is diverse enough to cater for all play-styles and all approaches despite its relatively small size, and next to the variety of weapons, masks and gradually tougher challenges that line the path to completion, Hotline Miami is a remarkably complex game deceptively masquerading as something much simpler. And although the visuals and art direction seem to mirror this staple of simplicity, being in the midst of an assault on an apartment in which you’re bouncing weapons off of angled walls and interpreting multifarious AI movements is awfully taxing, yet at the same time remarkably enjoyable.
Having reviewed Hotline Miami on the PlayStation Vita, I was also able to sample some of the notable changes to the game that have accompanied it in its transition from Steam favourite to Vita staple. Next to cloud saves and cross-play being available between the game on the Vita and PlayStation 3 platforms, the Vita’s party-trick is the use of the OLED touchscreen that allows the player to snap onto the nearest approaching enemy. Considering using the analogue sticks is too laborious and leads to many more deaths than you would’ve accrued otherwise, the touchscreen feature is less of an option and more of a necessity. And although it can take a little time to get used to, the touchscreen never seems out of place and actually adds to the enjoyment of netting a string of kills, as you juggle tapping the screen with hammering the ‘R’ button and evading the projectile assault of those enemies quickly funnelling towards you.
But despite all of Hotline Miami’s accomplishments, much praise was heaped on its impeccable soundtrack that made each foray into the next intimate assault seem almost hallucinogenic. As dazzling electronic tones met with the blood splatter and spent shell-casings, a mix of either disturbingly calming synth tones or blood-pumping electronica buoyed me along at a steady pace as I laid waste to some of Miami’s best dressed criminals with zeal. And after you execute your final swing of the bat and prepare for the game to gradually fade out, there you are, surrounded by crimson puddles and fallen pastel suits as an acidic electrical charge hums delicately in the background. You may have riddled them with bullets, you may have stamped them into the ground, but it doesn’t matter, you were here for the grade after all. “C+” reads the screen. Time for another go.
The achievements of Hotline Miami should not be understated. From the ground up, the game is a no-frills, violent arcade romp through an abundance of perfectly realised levels with deceivingly comprehensive gameplay, and yet despite all of this, it remains as straightforward as the come. A marvel of a game that revels in its successful marriage of both style and substance, Hotline Miami is one of the greatest games I have ever played, and a game that you cannot afford to pass up