Developer: Dennaton Games (PC version), Abstraction Games (Playstation versions)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: October 23rd, 2012
Available On: PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita
Reviewer’s note: I have played both the PC and Ps4 versions of this game. There were no major differences.
The first word that comes to mind when thinking about Hotline Miami is “brutal”. Each kill you make and each death you stumble into causes an almost excess of blood, gore, and body parts to fly out. You’ll be blowing chunks out of people with shotguns, slamming their head against walls, and introducing their head to golf clubs. Yet underneath all this gore is one of the smoothest twin stick shooters I’ve ever played.
Taking place some time during the late 1980’s, to the early 1990’s, you play as some mysterious nameless guy who keeps receiving phone calls asking him to do simple jobs. Yet each time he shows up he finds weapons and Russians and makes a violent bloody mess of the place. The story is mostly told visually and is reminiscent of a lot of the ultra-violent movies from that time period. It’s not really the star of the show, but the strangeness of it all could probably appeal to people. It is an interesting trip if nothing else.
The real star in Hotline Miami comes from its quick twin-stick shooter game play. Stages only take a few minutes to play out as you enter and kill everyone who was unfortunate enough to get in your way. You’ll start, though, by equipping a mask. Each of the game’s many masks has a different perk that comes with it. One lets you shoot more accurately, another allows you to kill enemies if you kick doors open on them, while a third just makes secrets more visible. Some are actually weird, one that reverses the controls and another that makes the game black and white come to mind. Personally I tended to gravitate towards the wolf mask, which let you start the level with a knife.
Most enemies in Hotline Miami dies in one hit no matter what you are using. On the other hand, so do you. You have to be careful in how you advance through levels. Melee weapons are a great way to take down unaware enemies without alerting the rest of the enemies in the level to your presence. Guns are great for ranged kills, though you need to make sure you don’t attract everyone’s attention with them and carefully manage your ammo as you only get one clip. Weapons can be thrown, but if they only knock an enemy down then you need to go over and do an (often lengthy and brutal) finisher on them. It all comes together very well and the gameplay is fast and frantic in all the right ways.
Hotline Miami is also smart about how it handles difficulty. It’s a hard game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s never frustrating. It achieves this with one simple thing: instant respawns. As soon as you’re dead you can instantly hop right back into the level and take another crack at it, not having to wait for any kind of loading or arbitrary timer. It’s the perfect balance of being hard but not frustrating, at least not until a few levels near the end of the game. A stealth only level stands out as a particularly frustrating mess, and the whole last chapter changes up the game play in a major way that I didn’t really think was good.
Still, last few levels aside, Hotline Miami is an absolutely fantastic arcade game that does everything I’d ever want in a twin stick shooter. If you haven’t already you should check this bloody gem out.