Reviewed on PC
Video games have been accused many times of corrupting people’s minds. That, of course, is absolute rubbish, so here is a game about wearing a frog mask and smashing people’s heads in with a frying pan. Hotline Miami is a violent top down shooter, that apes an arcade format.
It also has crushed 2011 film Drive into a powder and snorted it, resulting in amazing visuals and music to enjoy as you kick a door into a mobster’s face.
The gameplay is the focal point here. Your nameless player character (nicknamed ‘Jacket’ by the community) gets a call at the start of each level, asking him to remove some pesky mobsters from an establishment. Jacket turns up, puts on a mask that gives him a perk, and gets to work slaughtering everyone in the building. A range of melee weapons and firearms are lying about the levels to be used and discarded rapidly. Along with the more conventional arms, you can also knock enemies to the ground by pushing a door in their face or throwing your equipped weapon at them. Enemies die in one hit, and the tension is ramped up by the fact that you do too. If you are seen by an enemy, you will often have less than a second to escape or put them down. You will die a lot, but press ‘R’ to restart and you are back in. This keeps a relentless pace, and the rapid cycling of gameplay and death blurs into a flow-like state, where your reflexes sharpen, and you can react to enemies unexpectedly appearing with perfect accuracy. It does a good job of making you feel like a coke loving hitman.
As I mentioned, the game is also highly stylised. On the visual side, the game aims to simulate a nightmarish psychedelic trip, with bright pulsating colours, 80s aesthetics and disturbing looking characters. This is all in a throwback 8-bit style which is a great match for the most part, but occasionally I have been blind sided by an enemy because they have blended in with the background, or tried picking something up thinking it was a gun, rather than an unidentified gun shaped object.
The music is phenomenal, mostly made up of driving synthwave tracks that push you to play boldly and ignore the last fifty deaths. In between missions you are treated to some ultra smooth psychedelic tracks, and the inspired choice of music makes the experience more cinematic than a lot of heavily scripted games, despite being about as ‘gamey’ as you can get.
There is very little I can pick out as being a problem, but on the bug front, enemies can sometimes get stuck on an object and start spinning rapidly like they want to drill through the floor. Apparently, the game crashed a lot on release, but ironically I didn’t run into one until after the first draft of this paragraph.
Hotline Miami delivers a hyperactive retro shooter, complemented with trippy visuals and music. If you can stomach the difficulty (and the eye gougings), it is a perfect substitute for the kind of shit the developers must have been taking to come up with it.