By Jay Krieger
For the most part, video games are violent. Not all, but a large portion are. No problem there; after all, it’s only entertainment. I don’t remember most games for their level of violence, but I will certainly remember “Hotline Miami.” Sure, it features an eight-bit graphic style, but that doesn’t take away from the gallons of blood I spilled, number of bones I shattered, and the number of bodies I riddled with bullets. This game is memorable not only because the violence feels necessary, as it makes the player yearn to understand their character’s motives (as you’re given none), but also because it’s an enjoyable arcade style of gameplay that feels like a homage to an older style of gameplay.
I wasn’t prepared to give this game a chance. Surely this game has to be overhyped. Its archaic graphics and its seemingly shallow-looking gameplay can’t amount to anything more than a glorified flash web game, right? Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. “Hotline Miami” provides addictive, fast-paced and gruesome combat that’s paired with one of the best soundtracks of the year.
“Hotline Miami” starts about as obscurely as it ends; you play an unnamed man who receives strange voicemails from people who simply give him an address and a time to be there. Upon arriving at the various destinations, you’re tasked with eliminating all the inhabitants of that building. No rhyme and no initial reason. Sound kind of strange? The player is given clues and brief snippets of the story throughout the 19 levels, though even once the game ends, you’ll still question much of what you’ve seen, and also what you’ve done.
Before entering one of various locations you’ll visit, players will don one of many masks, each resembling a different animal. In addition to concealing your identity, these masks will also grant you special ability. These abilities, or perks, range from allowing you to move faster, carrying more ammo, and even the ability kill enemies in a single punch. From there on it’s up to the player to decide how they’ll approach combat, either by reaching for the first gun they find and start blasting subsequently, alerting enemies to your presence, or grabbing a crowbar for a silent, yet brutal, takedown. Regardless of how you decide to dispatch enemies, speed is the key if you’re interested in achieving the highest score possible. Stringing together combos increases your score and your score not only is used to unlock new masks and weapons, but it also creates the Meta game of trying to better friends’ scores. You could play through “Hotline Miami” multiple times, as the developers graciously provide the option to skip cut scenes before each level, so you can effortlessly access any level for replay.
Oh, did I mention enemies will kill you in a single blow? This sense of instant mortality increases the franticness of combat as you’ll charge into a room and kill one of two enemies, while the other is killing you and quickly restarting the checkpoint. What would typically seem like rinse and repeat methods, the ability to instantly restart from your checkpoint, gives players incentive to experiment with gameplay. The fast pace of gameplay complements the rapidly changing and confusing elements of the story, as it creates the sense of feverishness, because if you slow down and think, just for a second, you’ll die. To make matters more difficult, new enemies’ variants are introduced, adding an extra level of depth when plotting your next move.
Once you clear a building of enemies, the player is forced to walk through every floor, passing by the bodies of those you’ve just killed. The game makes a point of shoving your gruesome handy work in your face, and some characters that you encounter will ask, “What’s wrong with you?” The level of violence paired with the game’s ’70s-inspired drug -fueled soundtrack and colorful neon palette give “Hotline Miami” a unique aesthetic and personality. It’s worth mentioning the soundtrack is one of the best techno and electric soundtracks of 2012 and adequately complements the gameplay. At the beginning of a level, a low-key beat starts, capturing the intensity before entering a room, and then, after the action heats up, the bass comes in and the track adds to the intensity of sprinting through the level. “Hotline Miami” is an unforgettable game. Whether players enjoy its quirky yet aesthetically pleasing blend of music and visuals, the hectic and methodical combat will resonate with hardcore gamers looking for that next challenging arcade-esque game. It’s an unforgettable game that boasts a level of violence, among other things, that you won’t soon forget.
But here’s the thing: the violence and the ’70’s drug-fueled inspiration for environments all have a purpose. Nothing has been overlooked and every element of the game has been methodically planned and implemented. With the exception of having two of my games crash throughout my six hours of gameplay, I found myself horrified by my actions, yet I found myself yearning to uncover the mystery behind the Hotline Miami, even after I had finished the game. This was simply one of the best games of 2012.