Party in the city where the heat is on; all night on the beach ’til the break of dawn…
Platforms: Microsoft Windows/OS X/Linux/PS3 & PS Vita
Developer: Dennaton Games Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: Action Platform Played: PlayStation 3
Burst through a door, knocking an unwary henchman flying. Cave his skull in with a pipe before flinging it into the face of another. Snatch up a fallen shotgun and spray the carpet scarlet in a shower of brains, then fall back to the nearest choke point because reinforcements are closing in. This is an archetypal blood-soaked sequence of events in Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami, who’s hyper-violent, frenetic gameplay is certainly not for the faint-of-heart.
Welcome to Miami (bienvenido a Miami)…
Initially released in late 2012 exclusively for the PC, the popular indie title has since blasted its way onto a plethora of other platforms, the most recent being the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Set in ‘the sunshine state’ in the late 80s, the game tells the surreal tale of a mysterious hit man, the ruthless atrocities he commits and his ominous, creeping detachment from reality.
A typical stage in Hotline Miami begins with an outwardly innocuous voicemail, requesting your services to clear out some vermin for a pest control firm or fix a power outage for an electricity company. What follows however is anything but, involving you donning a menacing animal mask, entering a building and systematically executing its hostile occupants one-by-one.
The game is played from a top-down perspective, with architecture set out like a floor plan below you. Stylish retro graphics showcase the kaleidoscopic vibrancy of the 1980s, simultaneously managing to reduce the impact of its gratuitous violence… although not by much. Scan lines flicker across the screen and subtle stroboscopic lighting and oblique camera angles compound the feeling that everything isn’t quite as it appears. A superb soundtrack also goes a long way to establishing the game’s threatening, hallucinatory atmosphere, alternating between pulsing synth-laden electro and ambient psychedelic surf-rock.
Its control system is similar to that of a twin-stick-shooter, with movement utilising the left stick and aiming using the right. A lock-on mechanism can target the nearest enemy to your position, which comes in handy as the fiddly button layout can often be confusing and truly mastering it can take some time.
An abundance of deadly tools are at your disposal with which to dispatch your targets, consisting of multiple melee weapons, firearms and projectiles. If you wish to be tactical you can use a bat or blade to swiftly and silently eliminate enemies, however if you use a gun your shots will quickly draw attention that transforms methodical, stealth-based gameplay into explosive, fevered anarchy.
Prepare yourself to die… a LOT! Both you and your foes perish with a single hit and if killed you’ll instantly restart at the beginning of your current floor. The good news is that your constant dying and restarting creates an incredibly addictive gameplay cycle, similar to the ones found in Trials HD or Super Meat Boy. Of course, this brutal formula does come with rather a large dose of maddening frustration; not enough to make you rage-quit perhaps, but certainly enough to irritate you over time.
Although enemies in the game are powerful, they’re not particularly smart and their AI can easily be exploited. They are oblivious to deceased comrades sprawled around them and upon hearing a gunshot will predictably swarm to the location it emanated from, allowing you to pop out and tear them to shreds with an uzi. Chaining kills together nets you high scores with bonuses being awarded for speed, boldness, mobility and more.
There are over twenty-five masks in the game, each with their own names and unique abilities. Tony the Tiger, for instance, entitles you to instant hand-to-hand kills while Rami the Camel allows you to carry additional ammunition. These disguises are awarded for attaining sufficient grades during missions and can also be recovered from mangled bodies littered throughout the environments you explore.
Between jobs you’ll hop into your DeLorean and visit various stores, restaurants and bars around the city. You’ll chat to peculiar employees who comment on the recent murders, offering you free merchandise and strangely disconcerting encouragement. Gradually the game’s narrative becomes evermore distorted and bizarre and these encounters become more unreal and disturbing, further adding to the sense of paranoia and doubt that permeates the experience.
While I played I kept waiting for this huge Fight Club-like twist that curiously never came, and unless you’re willing to comb each of the twenty plus levels for their hidden collectables the ending is probably going be a letdown. That said, this descent into madness is still a compelling one and if you’re a fan of arcadey old-school gaming it’s most definitely worth your time.
Hotline Miami is a slippery slope, and if you lose your footing it’s easy to spiral into its maniacal depths. It’s homicidal, psychological, ostentatious and a LOT of fun. Priced at only £6.49 on the PlayStation Store, this cross-buy title is a total bargain and would make for excellent gaming on the go. The thing you’ve got to ask yourself is… “do you like hurting other people?”
+ Intense frantic action
+ Addictive gameplay loop
+ Colourful retro visuals
+ Excellent original soundtrack
– Fiddly control system
– Easily becomes frustrating
– Unsatisfactory conlusion
Rob Gisbey is a content provider for Analog Addiction from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. To listen to his acoustic demo check out his BandPage. To read his other articles and listen to the VxM Videogames Podcast head to MyIGN.