Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Hotline Miami Review

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Getting that “retro feel” in modern games is a particular challenge that few actually nail.  Sometimes the aesthetics are spot on, but at the expense of gameplay, which can feel sluggish or imprecise and the developer often sites authenticity for retro consoles or some other excuse.  Many times the soundtrack is fantastic but it’s the only notable aspect of the game.  By process of elimination there are those titles that get the gameplay down but at the expense of aesthetics and story a la Retro City Rampage.  That’s why Hotline Miami seems such an achievement because it looks like a 16-bit top-down game, plays like a twin stick shooter from the 90s (Smash TV anyone?), and manages to pull off the unreliable narrator concept that usually falls flat.  On top of that, it has a fantastic soundtrack that Dennis Wedin composed for the game and stands as the first thing you experience upon booting it up and the most notable part of the experience.  All the elements are there and the result is an unforgetable title from start to finish.

hotline_miami_1Like the movies of David Lynch that developer Jonathan Soderstrom took inspiration from, you have no idea what is going on right from the beginning and it never gets all that clear.  The facts are this: you are never named, you wear a letterman jacket and a mask, it’s 1989, and random voicemails are coming in with tasks for you to accomplish.  Most of these tasks involve you breaking into a house (you are encouraged to kill everyone inside) and performing a specific task, which is usually fetching an item.  Along the way you will come in contact with three other masked individuals – Richard (rooster mask), Don Juan (horse mask), and Rasmus (owl mask) – that will interact with you in various unique ways.  Beyond that telling any more about the plot would be both confusing and spoiler-heavy so I’ll leave it there.

hotline_miami_2Each scenario has you breaking into a house and take out every single threat on the premises.  This proves to be quite the challenge and stay away if you don’t like the concept of having to memorize a level and dying over and over again, but in keeping faithful to the retro style I was right at home.  Hotline Miami is violent video game, in fact despite the 16-bit style graphics it may be the bloodiest and most messed up title I’ve ever played, rivaling the likes of Manhunt and the Grand Theft Auto III era.  It works for this type of game, though, because the retro style graphics desensitize you a bit to the graphic violence on screen and the top-down perspective allows you to see the results of your carnage.  It all feels like a bad trip where you are on a confused mission of death and destruction all while not knowing a thing about your purpose.  As you traverse level to level – or rather house to house – that odd phenomenon of more information making you even more confused happens and at least for me pushed me to keep going.  I should also note that since each level is a short isolated mission that you will replay continually until overcoming it, this game was probably most comfortable on the Vita, although I first got addicted to and completed it on PC.

hotline_miami_3I think the least said about Hotline Miami the better so as not to spoil what the game has to offer in terms of plot, gameplay, and even the twist that was sure to appear.  It’s got a great aesthetic, spot-on graphics, an incredible soundtrack, its controls are so sharp that any death will undeniably be your fault, and it messes with your head.  That’s what I want out of my indie darlings, of which this is an ideal example.  If you haven’t experience Hotline Miami for yourself and you like the retro feel or just plain great experiences from any era, this is a must play provided you can get past the brutality.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Hotline Miami is currently available on the PC (including Mac and Linux ports), Playsation 3, Playstation 4, and Vita for an MSRP of $9.99.  Purchasing this title on any of the three Sony platforms also makes it available on all others (cross-buy).  This title was completed in approximately 6 hours with an additional two hours for extra content.  A total of almost 20 hours has been played on multiple completions with different platforms.  The game appears to perform the same on all platforms, however gamepad support seems weakest on PC.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 15, 2015 at 9:00 pm

One Response

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  1. Fantastic game. Can’t believe it was only made in GameMaker 7 originally. Just goes to show guys you can do a lot with very little. Review for the second game will post soon

    The Jamster (@jamalais)

    March 16, 2015 at 5:13 am


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