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Hotline Miami (PC) artwork

Hotline Miami (PC) review

"Tonight we Wang Chung in hell!"

Hotline Miami asset

Neon green and hot pink usher you back into the '80s. Crudely drawn, overhead environs also join you, along with gritty sprites and character profiles apparently generated using MS Paint. Kicking tracks blare, playing funky electronic beats and rhythms intertwined with sounds reminiscent of 8-bit video games. You might imagine, amidst all of the tackiness and nauseating colors, that your character is about to don a powder blue suit, dance to Wang Chung, snort some coke, and comb his mighty mustache. However, Hotline Miami is not a tale of the great times folks had in the '80s. Rather, it's a nasty action title that sends its protagonist on a trip to the front door of an "establishment," where he kicks down the entrance, knocking its guardian unconscious. From there, our intrepid antihero repeatedly bounces his opponent's skull of the cold, hard linoleum until his pixelated brains erupt onto the checkered floor beneath him.

This first encounter is a grisly welcome to the world of Hotline Miami. It paints a perfect picture of what the game is all about: kill or be killed. Sound simple? That's because the game is pretty uncomplicated, yet not at all bereft of challenge.

As easily as you can murder your foes, they can similarly dispatch you. I discovered this after felling the first target and moving on to the second. With a newly acquired baseball bat, I slunk into a bathroom with the intentions of annihilating an eternally urinating thug. I charged toward the pisser, only to forget which button executes an attack. The man terminated his discharge and crunched my skull with a crowbar. All it took was one blow and my life was over, all thanks to a single mishap.

Hotline Miami asset

I fumbled for about the first couple of stages, thinking that I would never get the hang of this title's control scheme. Bear in mind that I was using an Xbox 360 controller, and I had some trouble convincing myself that the basic attack was the 'Right Button' and not one of the standard lettered buttons (which would have felt more intuitive). After a while, though, something clicked in my brain. I'd somehow developed the knack for viciously dismembering drug dealers with a katana, or blasting the brains out of human traffickers with a shotgun, or slitting the throats of unconscious mob affiliates with my unimpressive hunting knife. Hell, I would say I found it amusing, even addictive.

The trick was that I couldn't run into a room and just 'Right Button' everyone to pieces, then shuffle away into the neon sunset with a lit cigarette jutting from my mouth. I found it best to catch my opponents unawares, clubbing them while their backs were turned or sneaking in a pot shot from around a corner. I had to be careful when taking out a target, as I may alarm the rest of the posse on the floor, including malicious attack dogs who had a propensity for unexpectedly dashing towards me. With a little clever planning and caution (not to mention proper timing), though, I wouldn't say that taking out foes wasn't too difficult. Stringent at times, maybe, as the game refuses to provide you with a life bar, but not overly difficult.

Hotline Miami asset

Of course, that's not accounting for the few occasions in which the game descended into cheapness. Particularly, I recall one scene that involved a few small offices separated by numerous corridors. Guards stood in each office and dogs patrolled the hallways, so a report from a gun would send the whole gang haywire. I had to play it cool and slice my foes up quietly, but even when I thought I was being careful, I still ran afoul of cheap shots. Now and then my blood would splatter on the floor for no apparent reason. As it turned out, a guard standing off-screen opened fire on me. I had no idea he was even there. Other times, I would round a corner, thinking the coast was clear. Before I could sever the head of my next target, I'd hear a familiar "woof-woof" from off-screen. I'd turn to meet my attacker, ready to add his canine corpse to the pile. That's when he'd approach from the opposite direction and tear out my jugular. Thankfully, these issues were few and far between, as most areas stay within a reasonable enough size that opponents don't often attack when out of sight.

When the game remained fair, which was most of the time, the difficulty rating was pretty well balanced. It also helped having a selection of animal masks to choose from. I berated this concept at first, thinking, "Why the hell would the developers include something so superficial, when character's head looks like an indiscernible mess of pixels anyway?" The answer lies in the passive bonuses that each mask provides. One mask, for instance, allows you to absorb two bullets per life. There's also a chameleon mask that renders you more difficult to spot, and a panther mask that ups your walking speed. Heck, there's even an alligator mask that boosts the amount of gore that gushes from your victims.

Hotline Miami asset

Hotline Miami demonstrates that a game doesn't need to be complex or revolutionary to be great. Its combat system is straightforward, unadorned with innovation. Yet, the game stands apart from other overhead action titles, mostly thanks to its expertly crafted stages and its loving remembrance of the decade I was born in. It's also not your average mash-buttons-kill-everything kind of game, as it demands more cautious motion and thought before ending lives. Additionally, its usage of flashy, vibrant colors and killer soundtrack make for a terrific, stylish touch. That's saying a lot coming from a gamer who's fed up with games that focus overmuch on style. Perhaps those titles could stand to learn a lesson from Hotline...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (December 29, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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