Hotline Miami is an entrancing experience. I’m going to talk about the game without really spoiling anything but I think I’d be hard pressed to do so even if I tried. After finishing the game (and reading about the ending) I’m still not entirely sure what happened. That isn’t to say this game suffers from Prometheus syndrome, it wasn’t trying to be pretentiously deep and failing. The game involves you taking control of someone that appears to be descending into complete and utter psychosis.
The music really highlights this by being somewhat nauseating. I don’t mean that it was bad, it was very good, but I literally got ill when I was playing the game and listening to the music. There was something about the colors, the movement, and the music that just threw my entire body out of whack. I found myself in a building full of dead people and I felt ill. A stark difference from the mass murders of GTA that leave me chuckling and otherwise nonplussed.
The music is genuinely excellent. I don’t know how to describe it but if you slip on over to YouTube you’ll be able to experience it and see just what I’m talking about. Once you’ve played the game and seen (or rather heard) the music in context you’ll get a better grasp of just how well this is put together. I can’t really say much more about the auditory experience. Visually the game is pretty darn good. It’s all sprite based (as you can tell in the above image). Every animation is wonderfully done and you can really feel the visceral heat of your actions. I found that the more I died in a level the more violent I became and that violence was really satisfied by the passion they put into every frame.
The blood spatter, the character movements, the sheer variety of what you can do. It’s all somewhat mind boggling and it really shows just how well an Indie Game can be done if the developers give a shit.
On the topic of variety there wasn’t a single weapon that seemed pointless. Each one was fun and had a purpose that really helped to add replayability and make every single death and run feel fresh. Just grab a bunch of buzzwords about randomized gameplay and they all are probably relevant here. When you die the game almost instantly lets you respawn which means you can die a dozen times in the span of four or five seconds. Because it follows the Super Meat Boy approach that means that the one hit death mechanic won’t bother you, at least it didn’t bother me (usually). The more you die the more adventurous you become and before you know it you are storming through a heavily fortified building with nothing but a piece of pipe.
Assault rifles are for the weak, you are going to wreck house with your fists tonight.
The level designs themselves are the only place in the entire game that I feel is a little inconsistent. Some of them are so well done that I’m stunned they exist alongside the ones that are average or poor. One level in particular has very long hallways in a box pattern that leads to dozens upon dozens of unfair deaths that don’t feel very fun because you can’t prepare for them. Ironically that level is followed by a handful of levels that are masterfully done and it really just feels weird.
Most of the levels are puzzles that are so well disguised that most people probably don’t realize it. You can fly through the level in a matter of seconds and its not a matter of rote memorization either. Each kill and chain can be fluid and organic. It’s a really wonderful experience and it brings something to the hyperviolence genre (if such a thing exists) that makes it a truly unique organism.
The ending left me confounded and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. But somehow the game is so good and so engrossing that I just don’t care. I feel like the ending feeds into the entire feel of the game. This notion of confusion and nausea is prominent through the game (at the beginning of the game your character vomits, even). I like that I finished the game as confused and mentally violated as the avatar I had been controlling.
I will very certainly be getting Hotline Miami 2. If its the same game with just a new pack of levels it’ll still be a worthwhile experience. Keep an eye out for Dennaton Games. These folks (two people?) know what they are doing. This is up there with FTL (which I don’t think I’ve yet reviewed) as a pinnacle example of quality indie gaming. I was originally going to give it a strong “good” but the more I think about it the more I think this is a great game.
It sets the bar for what it wants to do, how it wants to do it, and it does it almost perfectly. To judge it lesser would assert that I can think of something it could have done better and I genuinely don’t think I can. That first time you bash in someones head then turn to toss your pipe across the room and disable an armed guard, only to chain into a 20 second long Tony Jaa style killing spree. It’s such an experience, and I hope if you get to try the game you enjoy it as much as I did.