Published on October 27th, 2012 | by Derek Strickland, Contributor
Hotline Miami Review
Hotline Miami from Dennaton Games is an insanely gory, action-packed Indie that has a distinct gritty feel that’s shocking, brutal, and downright fun. The title’s surprisingly original game mechanics and signature pixellated visual style to bring a classic retro feel to the game. While it is quite violent and obscene in many areas, it makes players think on their feet as well as strategically plan their next moves–or risk becoming dead meat.
This game isn’t known for its subtlety : Hotline Miami is like a kick to the teeth with steel-toed boots. It’s messy and bizarre, featuring many gore-infused moments including decapitations and pools of blood that could fill a bathtub.
It’s addictive and challenging in various ways, providing hilariously gory action that’s just plain fun, and although it’s not for everyone, Hotline Miami is a great example of a cult Indie Game.
Set in 1989, Hotline Miami explores the seedy back alleys and underground gangs of Miami, Florida during the late 80’s where pink neon, colorful pixellated sunsets, and palm trees were all the buzz. Players take control of an unnamed henchman slash assassin who receives his orders via telephone messages, then incurring total mayhem and merciless wrath upon Russian gang members and drug runners. To keep anonymous, our protagonist wears many different masks–from pig masks to chicken masks, players can slaughter enemies in style and remain unknown at the same time.
The prelude starts with the main character entering a room with three mask-wearing individuals, who are the assumed leaders that give our protagonist his jobs: one wears a chicken mask, another a horse and the last wears an owl mask. The masks are quite creepy, but they are also quite memorable and bring a sense of both suspense and bizarreness to the game.
The triumvirate of kingpins sort of mock our character and intimidate him upon his past–which is filled with violence and terrible deeds–and players presumably start at the very beginning, filling in our character’s story as they progress through the chapters.
As you play the game, the main character’s past and persona are eventually revealed…but only in small bits and pieces. The suspense and mystery of the story keeps players guessing to the answers of questions they naturally form–who are these weird animal mask-wearing creeps? Who am I? Why am I doing all these horrible things like massacring mobsters? This level of mystique is interesting and bizarre at the same time, and seems to define the overall tone of the game–besides the relentless violence and carnage, that is.
Hotline Miami utilizes a top-down view wherein players navigate areas and rooms through a blueprint-like structure. The levels are designed to get progressively larger the farther players get, encompassing many rooms, sub-levels, and stories. Players can also utilize certain parts of their environment to stun enemies–one smack with a door can render an enemy unconscious for a short period of time–or funnel them through hallways for efficient rifle massacres.
What makes Hotline Miami such a challenge is that it features a one-hit kill system. That’s right, if you get hit just once you’re down and out and have to restart the entire level all over again. There are checkpoints separating each level of a multi-tiered building, however if you die before you reach a checkpoint you have to restart, regardless of how close you were to beating it.
The controls in Hotline Miami are somewhat confusing at first–using the standard AWSD keys to move up, down, left and right–but the more advanced features like the look-around ability or mounting unconscious enemies can be a tad awkward to get used to.
Movement is essential in this game and can often be the difference between life and death, especially when things get hectic. Players control a floating crosshair with the mouse, pressing the left mouse button to attack and right to pick up weapons or throw a currently equipped weapon. Any weapon can be thrown, and if it hits an enemy, it knocks them down.
Knocking down enemies in this game is one of the most efficient ways to stealthily take out an enemy, which is quite important because you won’t always be able to go in guns a blazing. More often than not, the players who survive are the ones who strategically plan their moves–but sometimes your plans go the wrong way and you’re forced to gun everyone down.
When enemies are knocked down, players can then press the spacebar to get on top of them and press the right mouse button to execute them in brutal way, usually involving smashing in their skulls.
Another essential game mechanic to master is the lock-on feature. Players can lock onto a certain enemy by dragging the crosshair onto a specific foe and pressing the mouse wheel button. Now you’re locked on, and this is almost essential for actually hitting someone with a thrown weapon. It also makes for efficient gunshots, but when there are multiple enemies it’s hard to focus on just one.
The most important of the controls to get used to is the look-around feature, which allows players to explore their proximity to enemies. Players can do this by holding down Shift and using the floating crosshair to inspect the areas around them. This feature is extremely useful and will save you so much time and grief, and it’s essential to make use of it if you’re trying to be as stealthy as possible–which nets huge bonus points.
Overall, mastering the controls directly affects with your in-game skill as well as how much fun you’ll have in the game. Once you get used to using the on-screen crosshair with the fluid control of your mouse in tandem with the speedy movement scheme, you’ll be tearing through baddies and having a blast in no time. But it’s equally important to slow things down once in a while and keep impulse kills at a minimum, as gunfire attracts enemies and can be a literal beacon of death.
Hotline Miami is split up into fourteen chapters or missions, each with their own distinct level types and areas. Each chapter gets harder and harder as well, and the later ones provide quite a bit of challenge. The chapters have their own unique elements like enemy placement, featured weapons, and visual style. The basic goal to each chapter is to wipe out all of the enemies, but sometimes the missions will have specific objectives; for example in the Decadence chapter, players have to take on a tough boss and collect the damsel in distress–a strung-out hooker–and take her to the car.
In this game, players are encouraged to wreak as much havoc as possible in creative and varied ways. The more versatility you utilize to slay enemies, the more score you’ll attain, and higher score brackets unlock new weaponry. After you beat a stage, you get graded on your performance throughout the level, and your score is tallied and recorded. Higher scores and grades unlock new masks and weapons to aid in combat.
The masks are hilarious and freaky at the same time, and act as motivation for gamers to achieve higher scores to unlock. The masks aren’t just for show, though: they provide some pretty nifty in-game bonus modifiers like more guns on the map or instant kills with your fists. They also show off the game’s signature bizarreness, and it’s quite strange–yet satisfying–to slay a room full of enemies while wearing a pig mask. The masks, coupled with the extreme violence, really give players that gritty B-movie feel while playing the game, and only adds to the sense of lunatic glee that comes from slaughtering baddies.
There is a wide variety of weapons in Hotline Miami, each of them as satisfying as the last. While most players would want to use guns for their obvious kill efficiency, every gun has a limited pool of ammunition that cannot be restored. The only way to get more ammo for a gun is to drop it and get a new one. The weapons are quite balanced in this game, which adds more importance to strategically scanning and planning your attacks.
To me, the melee weaponry is superior to the firearms in this game, but everyone is different. It’s best to keep an open mind about both types of weapons–guns and melee–because there are many situations that call for using both types, especially during boss fights. Melee weapons are silent and don’t catch enemy attention nearly as much as firearms, and they can be thrown at long distances to incapacitate baddies.
The use of both weapon types also determine your playing style as well as score bonuses which are computed after players beat a certain level. Stealth kills can get a nice bonus, but then again so does massacring half-dozen Russian gangsters with an assault rifle. Your fists do the job as well, and players will have to make use of hand-t0-hand combat at the beginning of each level.
Weapons aren’t acquired in an inventory screen where players can select them; instead they are picked up from slain enemies. Bad guys drop whatever weapon they have in their hands–whether it’s a shotgun, an automatic rifle, or a baseball bat–and players pick up whichever weapon they like. Often players can make their own strategic piles of guns in certain areas, which is extremely useful when you’re backpedaling and trying to escape a horde of enemies. Having a back-up plan always pays off in this game.
Apart from the stylish retro graphics, and the extreme violence, Hotline Miami features many unique elements including an amazing soundtrack that infuses techbeats with awesome grooves that definitely add a distinct feel to the game. Whether you have the game paused, have just beaten a level, or are in the throes of total carnage, every track is different and fits the game like a glove.
Dennaton’s mix of strategy accommodates to many different playing styles: triggerhappy gamers who love to run into the fray and gun down dozens of baddies are free to do so, and those who enjoy a more stealthy approach to annihilating enemies can achieve their kills just as efficiently. While using careful planning to quietly assassinate can be essential in the game, the real fun lies in utterly decimating enemies in a slaughterfest gunfight.
While the game isn’t for everyone and surely has a signature grimy, violent feel to it, Hotline Miami brings something to the world of Indie Games that wasn’t always there: blood-soaked action fused with creative stealth strategy, with a lunatic version of GTA‘s characters thrown into the mix. It’s a punch to the gut that’s relentless, fun, and hilarious all at once, and has charmed this gamer with its deliciously grotesque gameplay.
All in all Hotline Miami is full of non-stop carnage and provides hours of gameplay that is memorable and challenging. With a huge arsenal of guns and melee weapons like knives and samurai swords, a distinct pixellated retro style, an amazing soundtrack that keeps the game flowing even while it’s paused, a bizarre and mysterious story arc, and progressively difficult levels, this game is sure to steel your resolve with hours of chaotic insanity.
+ Huge amount of gritty gore
+ Blend of action with strategy
+ Colorful retro visual style
+ Massive arsenal of weaponry
+ Truly bizarre and mysterious story arc
+ Awesome soundtrack
– Can be quite difficult at times
– One-hit kill system