Platform | Release Date
PC | October 23, 2012
Developed by Dennaton Games
Published by Devolver Digital
Hotline Miami is a high-octane action game overflowing with raw brutality, hard-boiled gunplay and skull crushing close combat. Set in an alternative 1989 Miami, you will assume the role of a mysterious antihero on a murderous rampage against the shady underworld at the behest of voices on your answering machine. Soon you’ll find yourself struggling to get a grip of what is going on and why you are prone to these acts of violence.
“Question One: Do you like hurting other people?”
This query resonates as a central thread through the exquisitely bloody tapestry of Dennaton’s Hotline Miami. After working its way to the top of my backlog queue, it was time to find out why so much praise had been lavished on it through media and word of mouth. After a playthrough, I can honestly say that every compliment this game has received is completely justified.
Hotline Miami is dark, 1980’s noir as a video game. Compared repeatedly to Nicholas Refn’s provocative thriller “Drive”, Hotline tells the story of a nameless “protagonist” who is tasked with performing seemingly random acts of violence doled out by anonymous callers on his answering machine. He is also occasionally harassed by strangers in animal masks who probe him with vague questions.
The game’s narrative comes together in bits and pieces floating amidst a sea of red. Each mission in Hotline Miami is an exercise in precision violence. Playing like a classic top-down shooter in fast forward, or a microcosm of the original Grand Theft Auto, you must navigate each stage as quickly as possible while gruesomely dispatching your enemies and avoiding imminent death. You’ll don various masks which render an “identity” to your character for the current mission, and also bestow a particular bonus such as extra speed, starting with a weapon, or granting extra ammo. You are always outnumbered and outgunned at the start of a mission, so these bonuses can be a boon when the odds are stacked against you. Plus, killing Russian mobsters in a rubber horse mask is pretty sweet.
As you take on the criminal organizations of Hotline Miami you’ll quickly learn the ropes of its brutal combat system. Smashing, stabbing, dismembering, scalding, and crushing are all fair play, and that is before you even pick up a gun! By the time you finish a level, it will look like a 16-bit Jackson Pollack painting made of corpses. Much of that blood spilled could be your own, however, as the game has a pretty hefty difficulty curve. Similar to titles like Super Meat Boy, you’ll experience numerous deaths by trial and error until you’ve choreographed the perfect crime scene. Luckily Dennaton has captured the “instant respawn” rhythm and things never feel tiresome or frustrating.
On the subject of rhythm, this game has one of the single best soundtracks I’ve heard in years. If you’ve ever loved a keyboard solo, you owe it to yourself to listen to the OST. The music perfectly sets the mood in between missions with grungy bass lines and odd effects, and delivers pulsing beats and hypnotic loops during missions while you complete your grim tasks. It adds an extra layer of grimy audio and reinforces just how filthy and dark the game world feels.
I can’t say enough good things about Hotline Miami in this short write up. It’s a simply a great game. It manages to perfectly capture an old school vibe in the dark and unsettling world Dennaton has created to encapsulate the story they tell. Anyone with a PC (gamepad highly recommended), PS3, or Vita that appreciates modern games rooted in classic sensibilities should download this game as soon as possible and give it a try, even if it’s only to hear one of the best video game soundtracks of the past five years.