Hotline Miami

Where to begin with Hotline Miami? It’s like playing a mature-age SNES game while snorting enough cocaine to actually believe you’re back in 1991 playing a game set two years earlier in Miami. For those who are bad at maths, Hotline Miami is set in a 1989 world where pop electronic music dominates, everybody has answering machines that utilise cassette tapes, video stores reign supreme and game graphics were pixelated and limited in colour.

Hotline Miami is the first and only game from Dennaton Games, also the creators of a horrible-looking website. Despite their poor website-creating skills, they have managed to create an engaging, fun, compelling and thoroughly messed-up game. It is also unique, to the point where I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s a 2D, top-down shooter in the same style as the original GTA games. Hotline Miami uses pixel graphics with the same amount of bright colour as experienced by a hardcore LSD user. And with bright colour you get bright blood, and a lot of blood there is too.

All I wanted was a nice meal!
All I wanted was a nice meal!

You play an unnamed protagonist of unknown background who has a vision of three, mysterious masked men (or they could be women, who can tell with pixel graphics) who discuss his identity and future, potential actions. You then wake up in your dingy apartment with a cryptic message on your answering machine telling you to whack a guy or two. You then travel in your delorean (not a reference to time travel, I’m pretty sure your car is a delorean) to the place mentioned in the message, complete the job and then pick up your payment as a “free” video, pizza, convenience food at a store monitored over by the same clerk. And this is the game in a nutshell as you repeat this process all the way to the end.

It’s the job completing part which makes up the bulk of the game. You kill your way through multiple floors of a building starting with your fists and then using the weapons dropped by your victims which include knives, bats, pistols, sub-machine guns, rifles, shotguns, lead pipes, fry pans and the list keeps going. Once everybody is dead, you make your way back to your car, job well done. While this sounds repetitive and a little dull, it’s the exact opposite with the game almost forcing you to act quickly and think on your toes. Weapons have limited ammunition and a single, well-placed shot can be the death of you.

And speaking of the death of you, death does nothing to slow down the game. When you die, you simply restart at the stage’s beginning, all enemies you killed re-spawned. Death is an important part of this game as you use it in a trial and error process to complete the stage. It’s not unusual to restart the stage a dozen times in 30 seconds just because you can’t properly time bashing a thug in the back of his head with a pool cue.

You can see similarities between Hotline Miami and Fight Club with an unknown, unnamed protagonist, a constant level of brutal violence and you get the feeling that things are not as they seem with several dialogues between yourself and masked figures that occurs entirely in your mind. You’re not even sure what actually happens at the end as you are lead along by the unreliable narrator. And speaking of the masks, your character dons an animal mask at the start of each level, each one giving a certain bonus. Over the course of the game, you hear about these series of murder conducted by many masked men, the masks having more of a personality then your own character who blindly does what the answering machines tells him.

I want to be a horsie!
I want to be a horsie!

While the gameplay is certainly engaging, there’s no real change from the first level to the last with nothing extra being added to the mix. You learn all you need to know in the tutorial and there’s no new developments. Because of this, the repetitive nature of the game becomes even more apparent. You also learn very quickly that sometimes it’s easier to just blitzkrieg your way through the level since there’s no real penalty for dying. I also had a couple of issues where I didn’t notice/see glass windows which the enemies can see and shoot you through. This is mostly due to the limitations of the graphics and point of view. The controls make up for this with use of the keyboard and mouse to allow you to run and gun seamlessly. For $10, this game is definitely worth the buy

Hotline Miami is available on Steam and GOG for $9.99.


Special thanks to Gareth Dutton for letting me use one of his Hotline Miami-inspired photos for the cover image.
Cover Image:

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