Here is a question: have you ever thought that games have been getting too boring or too easy? Have you ever craved the sort of intense, hot-blooded violence you could only get by Mixing a Costco pack of bath salts with a gallon of Red Bull and force feeding it to a mad man before setting him loose on the town with a katana. If so; I can only recommend 2 things: psychiatric help and Hotline: Miami!
Hotline: Miami is a game for PC, Mac, PS3, PS Vita, and Linux (yes, Linux) developed by Dennaton games, a team consisting of only Jonatan 'Cactus' Söderström and Dennis Wedon, and published by Devolver Digital. The Game is currently selling for $9.99 on steam. The game’s genre is a little difficult to pin down, but I think the best description anyone has managed to come up with so far is (and this is a direct quote from euro-gamer) "a top-down fuck-'em-up" as it has stealth, shooting, and pure crazy.
Hotline: Miami is set in (you guessed it) Miami during the 1980’s. Not having spent a lot of time in the 80’s, I can't say that I have a personal connection with the era, but its clear the 80’s were a crazy time. Now, imagine children; a world where people watched 'VHS' tapes (a sort of black rectangular box that video and sound were stored in), Read ‘Newspapers’ (imagine someone printed out all the articles on CNN for that day on a thin but sturdy piece of cardboard), and listened to 'Music' (just Google The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen). During these crazy times of long ago, you play as an unnamed psychopath referred to by the fans as Jacket. Throughout the course of the game Jacket is tasked with murdering entire buildings full of gangsters by a voice on his answering machine (a contraption that allowed callers to store messages before it was integrated into all phones). The game is presented top-down, much like the original Fallout, Metal Gear, and Grand Theft Auto games which, as I'll get to, has its advantages and disadvantages. The games graphics are all retro pixelated and stylized; and that’s a good thing, because with the amount of violence in this game it would otherwise be only a matter of time before Jack Thompson got to it, much like how a gang of Grammar Nazis gets to a poorly spelled YouTube comment.
If I had to only pick one word to describe the core gameplay element of Hotline: Miami it would have to be murder. Not because I am a crazy uninformed anti-game lobbyist who thinks Barbie's Magical Pony Ride is a communist, cop killing simulator that implants subliminal messages into our children's minds telling them to sodomize everything that moves; but because it just is and I don't mean that in a bad way. During the start of almost every level the player wakes up in their apartment, goes to their answering machine and gets instructions to start a killing spree; then Jacket goes to the address in his car and selects a mask that gives him one perk such as moving faster or starting out with a knife. Jacket then proceeds to murder everyone and return home in his car. The PC controls are incredibly simple: WASD to move mouse to aim, LMB to attack, RMB to pick up weapons, and space to attack people on the ground (the game also controls well on the PS3 and Vita; I ended up replaying it on both consoles). The player enters the level unarmed but can quickly knock guards down, finish them off while they are temporarily incapacitated, and take their weapon then... do whatever floats their boat (provided it involves murder). Most levels are rather open and allow players to choose whatever path and gameplay style they prefer. There are also stealth elements, but the enemy AI isn’t that great, and guards have worse short term memory than the guy from Memento. Other than the graphics and the crappy AI , the game does a lot of things realistically, especially when it comes down to guns. Guns kill both enemies and Jacket with only one bullet and Jacket doesn't have any experience with firearms so he shoots inaccurately and can only use the bullets that are already in the gun's clip. Jacket also missed the class in video game protagonist school where they teach you how to pick up all the ammo, grenades, med kits, and armor on a dead body just by walking over it so the only thing you can do when you run out of ammo is pick up another weapon. The truth is; I don't have a problem with this. I remember running out of ammo for my assault rifle just after killing what I thought was the last guard only to find a guy with a crowbar running at me, where I would then throw my gun at him, knocking him down so I could run up to him and cave his skull in with his own crowbar. I also remember missing and having to restart the stage all over again, which brings me to my next point; the game being really damn hard. As I said before, Jacket only needs to be shot or hit with a melee weapon once in order to be killed and will have to start the stage all over again. This makes the game really hard and occasionally frustrating when you almost clear out a hard stage, have the best gun and end up getting killed by a guy with a lead pipe because you weren't looking. It doesn't become a problem though due to the game's ability to restart the stage instantly with the press of a button; meaning the player can jump right back into the action instantly. This also adds quite a bit of tension to the game knowing that you are never truly safe until you’ve killed everyone. The only other ‘non-problem’ problem is when the game is presented top-down its very easy to end up walking down a hallway you thought was safe, only to get gunned down by the platoon of armed guards waiting for you that you couldn't see besides the fact that your character was looking right at them. This isn't always a problem when you consider that it does make the game more tense, you are always offered multiple paths and you can restart the stage instantly if you die. Altogether, the game has great and unique gameplay.
With all of its crazy action its easy to assume that Hotline : Miami would have just forgotten about the story to just focus on murder; but surprisingly there is a story and even more surprisingly its not that bad. As I said before Jacket is tasked with wiping out buildings full of Russian mobsters by messages left on his answering machine. During the course of the game Jacket's sanity erodes with every successful killing spree until he is plagued by guilt fueled hallucinations. One thing I don't like about the story is how most of it only makes sense in hindsight. During the first 75% percent of the game you will probably not get what’s going on ,but in the last one fourth of the game the story does get very good. I like how the developers tell the story in dozens of subtle ways, it makes you draw conclusions based on what it gives you, however it never tries to be pretentious or get in the way of the combat and there is still a good story for people who would rather not psycho-analyze every character.
Besides the problems with the top down camera angle I only have one big issue with Hotline: Miami and that is; it is too short. The game consists of 21 chapters for the PC edition: sixteen Story levels for Jacket, one rather short bonus level for Jacket, and four bonus story chapters available after completion of Jacket's story where you play as another less interesting character and get one of two special endings depending on your actions in certain Jacket levels (I don't want to spoil anything). There is also a special bonus level for people who own the PS3 or PS Vita versions. Also I must include that about 3 of the story chapters are rather short because they had to contain only a boss fight, some dialogue, or one god awful forced stealth section. It took me only 6 hours to beat everything and I was left wanting more. This problem isn't so bad when you factor in the games only cost five bucks for me (I got it on sale) and it's high replay value, because there are a lot of weapons and masks to unlock and the game is fun as hell.
Overall I think that I liked Hotline Miami. The fun gameplay, the good story it was all a very good experience. Despite its flaws (which I find rather minor) I find the game to be a fun and unique experience and you should buy it. So come over, grab a chicken mask and baseball bat so we can go mess some shit up, you fucking psychopath.