Miami, 1989. In the suburbs of the city, among the neon lights, a ferocious fight is ongoing between criminal organisations. You are an unnamed guy, and your first job is rather easy: find a suitcase, and drop it into a waste container. If someone is in between you and your goal, smash him. Smash him with all the violence possible. Killing is not a joke, and right after your last kill you puke. Despite the disgust, the phone rings again and again. And you cannot resist your killer instinct. The mind of yours slowly slides away from reality, and you begin walking through a bloody thin line without being really able to understand what of all this is real, and what instead is only in your head. Do you like David Linch’s movies? If so, now you can play one.
Bidimensional top-down shooter. Enter each area, kill everybody, get out without a scratch. Yes, without a scratch: a single bullet, or a single hit from your enemies will kill you immediately. No retaliation, no healing. If you get hit, you are dead. And you will die a lot. Continuously. You will die because your strategy is not proper. You will die because you got wrong with the buttons to press. You will die because you did not see an enemy. You will die because your weapon is out of ammunition. And you will continue playing. I am a very nervous player. I cannot stand games that force me doing the same thing over and over, and I like to have the possibility to save whenever you want. In Hotline Miami, the game saves for you at the end of each level. If you killed all your enemies but one, and you do something stupid and die, you must restart the stage. This is, normally, enough for me for tearing apart a game. For some reason, the creators of Hotline Miami managed to keep the game right before the subtle line of irritation. You will die over and over, and you will retry over and over. And, after some attempts, you will succeed.
The game is divided in chapters, each of which may be divided in stages. The game saves at the beginning of each stage. Before starting, you can choose a masks among a set. Each mask gives the player a special ability (not always an advantage), ranging from being faster to being harder to detect, to having a weapon at the beginning of the level, to… completely scrambled controls. Scoring high scores or solving puzzles will unlock new masks.
Once entered, your goal is to kill all enemies. You normally start unarmed: you have to punch the first opponents. Punching does not kill, so you have to spend time finishing them (in a bloody mess). Steal their weapons and use them against the foes: uzis, guns, baseball bats, shotguns, swords, bottles, knives, ninja stars… The arsenal is surprisingly well assorted, and progressing in the game (scoring more points) will unlock new weapons. Using different combinations of weapons has a positive impact on your final score, as it has doing crazily risky killings, such as throwing a gun and finishing your enemy with a kick instead of just shooting him dead.
You are allowed to look around a little bit, and this, along with the predictability of enemies’ moves, allows for thinking a strategy before going on and try to kill everybody in Terminator mode. Remember: you start with much less weapons than your opponents, so acting without thinking will lead to… acting again (yes, you will die, and you will retry). Doors and glass windows are very important to consider when planning a strategy. Slamming a door in face of a foe will have the same effect of a punch, leaving him on the floor unable to react, and allowing you to steal its weapon, finish him, or to focus on the rest of the group with one less foe to take care of for a few moments. Glass windows can be penetrated by bullets, so they will not be an effective cover if the guy on the other side has a fire weapon. On the other hand, they will not be safe there if the player is a decent sniper.
In every level, there will be, very well hidden, a small piece of paper, that all together will help you making a sense of the psychedelic plot. Do not forget to collect them all, in order to access all the options for the game ending. My suggestion is not to complete any level if the small piece of paper has not been found.
This is it, more or less: the gameplay is rather easy to learn, and has not very much to offer besides tons of gore and violence.
Mixed feeling on controls. The game can be played with a gamepad, and uses only few keys: move and look around (with the two analogs) lock on an enemy, release the lock, get the weapon, throw the weapon, use the weapon, interact with the objects. Easy, isn’t it? And the default binding works quite well, despite myself being bad when bot the upper and lower front triggers are to be used. My complain here is on the locking systems. Sometimes it works very badly, and locks on the wrong guy, sometimes on somebody on the other side of the world, ignoring the foe that is going to stick a knife in your neck. You will die because of that, and this is the most (maybe the only) really, really irritating death. I accept to die if my strategy is wrong. I can also accept to die if my reflexes are not fast enough. I get angry if I fail because the game decided to lock in the land of nowhere while some guy was at melee weapon distance ready to smash me.
Graphics and sound
The graphics is pixelated. Unless there is a good reason for it to be, I do not like pixelated. This is a borderline case: the game in my opinion would have been way better with a fancy graphics and liters of tridimensional bloody carnages, even in a top-down perspective. On the other hand, I must admit that the graphics here is rather close to being a piece of art. It really feels like being in the eighties, in particular with the introductory scenes and with the font choice. So, despite my reluctance to pixelated style, I must admit that the game has its own nice coherence and atmosphere. There is a techical issue, though. The game, despite the fact that should not be very stressful on hardware, refuses to run on my integrated Intel video card, and I had to use primusrun to run the game properly. Moreover, on Linux the game has apparently some problem with the Steam in-game overlay: if popped open, it can’t be closed, and the only solution I’ve found is to kill the game process (yes, don’t do it as soon as you have finished a level, before automated saving).
The sound deserves its own chapter. I think this is the game with the best soundtrack that I have ever played. The electronic, simple sounds really play well with the graphics, and every single piece is just perfect for the atmosphere. It is rare for a videogame, but this time it is true: the sound makes the difference here, bringing an average game to a different level. The soundtrack is so good that it will absorb part of the stress due to losing continuously: you lose, press “A” to restart, and the music restarts with you. It is hard to resist the instinct to retry. The soundtrack of the intro parts will remain in your mind well after you close the game. The sound track is simply done right, and, along with the gimcrack plot, is the strongest element of the game.
Steam counter says 12 hours. Pretty short, but I think I will play it again to try to collect all the masks and the weapons, so there is some replayability. It will hardly beat 20 hours though, even for the slower gamers.
A playable movie of David Linch; with the gore, violence, and sadness of Hostel; and on of the best soundtracks I have ever experienced in a video game. If you can find this game for a decent price (I got it with Humble Bundle), give it a shot.