Hotline Miami features an ultraviolent combat system, a surreal story and a colorful presentation and the result of such a unique concoction is nothing short of memorable.
A booming soundtrack, pastel colors and a neon-soaked recreation of Miami make up this drug-induced experience known as Hotline Miami. Like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City before it, Hotline Miami captures the most distinctive aspects of the decade that saw the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, ALF and Scarface. But while the audio-visual aspect of the game is terrific, there are multiple reasons why Hotline Miami is an experience worth having.
Set in the 1980s in Miami, Florida, Hotline Miami is an ultraviolent top-down action game that puts you in the shoes of a mask-wearing murderer. At the beginning of each day, you receive a cryptic message on your answering machine that loosely instructs you to kill a bunch of people. Killing enemies gives you points and you can string chains of kills to improve your chances of getting exclusive items, such as weapons and masks.
In Hotline Miami, missions always follow the same pattern: you wake up in your apartment, check your answering machine and go to a place to kill every person in that location. To wreak havoc, you make use of various weapons that are scattered around the environments or the weapons enemies leave once you’ve killed them. Additionally, you can punch enemies, knock them out with doors and finish them once they are lying on the floor unconscious. As soon as the massacre is over, you go to a store to receive another mission or you go back to your cozy apartment. Although this structure might suggest that the game is mechanical, Hotline Miami seldom stagnates, since missions are different from one another and new masks and weapons keep the game fresh.
Attempting to clear the levels of enemies means dying over and over. The character you control isn’t tougher than your foes, so making one mistake can be fatal. But since each playthrough is a learning experience, retrying levels is always an entertaining process. In addition, most levels are quite short and there’s always a checkpoint between sections, so you never get the feeling that the game is unfair or that it wastes your time.
In a sense, each chapter represents a puzzle, since every time you enter a location, you need to figure out the most effective way to kill everyone inside. Enemies walk in a specific pattern that varies slightly from stage to stage and the game encourages you to take them down using a stealthy approach, since shooting weapons draws the attention of nearby enemies. So figuring out how to approach each level according to enemy placement, weapons available and the layout of the level is paramount.
When you finish a chapter, you unlock a new animal mask. Each mask comes with a special ability attached to it. The Rasmus mask let’s you find secrets more easily, the Tony mask gives you an attack bonus when you use your fists, the Aubrey mask gives you access to guns you haven’t unlocked yet and so on and so forth.
In terms of story, the game features a unique contrast between reality and fiction. So while certain events give the impression of being rooted in reality, others are so bizarre that they could easily be a fever dream or a drug-induced fantasy. At no point it becomes clear which is which and the contrast between real life elements and supernatural elements make the story irrational and irresistible at the same time.
Every single aspect of the game contributes to make Hotline Miami what it is, but if you were to remove one single element, Hotline Miami wouldn’t work as effectively as it does. The story is dark, violent and to a certain extent, incomprehensible, but that doesn’t make it less effective. The game’s soundtrack accentuates the raw brutality and the surreal moments. The gameplay encourages to think before attacking enemies, since you’re always outgunned and outnumbered. All of these are defining characteristics of Hotline Miami and without them, this would be a run-of-the-mill action game.
But for all its strengths, Hotline Miami isn’t without its issues. First, the violent nature of the game will turn some people off, so if you have a problem with the eerie and disturbingly violent imagery of Hotline Miami, this game might not be for you. Another problem is that sometimes enemies are outside of your field of view and when you move towards them, they immediately start shooting at you.
In the end, Hotline Miami is much more than an indie game that captures the essence of the 80s. This is a drug-induced experience that features an ultraviolent combat system, a surreal story and a colorful presentation and the result of such a unique concoction is nothing short of memorable.