Review – Hotline Miami

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I had no idea what to expect from Hotline Miami. I bought it because I’d heard so many people say how good it was, I had no idea why these people thought it was good, what it was about or how the game played. I just knew that the soundtrack was bloody fantastic. So as the game installed itself on my Vita I was entirely unprepared for the bloodsoaked festival of joy in which was about to ensue.

Hotline Miami follows the story of a killer, whether he chooses this lifestyle by choice or not is a different question. Constantly being provided with “jobs” via phone calls from a mysterious triad of masked mafiosos. When the game started I expected the plot to take a backseat, merely being used as a tool to push you through the game’s stages. By the end however I was well and truly hooked into the plot, the mystery and the twists that the game throws you in it’s short lifespan are really engaging, and it’s paced perfectly. The game seems to be the ideal length for the plot, while only a few hours long, the game manages to always give you something new in between each level, with some of the levels incorporating new gameplay mechanics to fit the story – including one very special gameplay twist that changes up the gameplay completely (even if it is slightly irritating at the time). Ultimately the ending is satisfying, although I would have liked a little more clarification when it comes to some of the events (I think some of it is just an effect of whatever drug the main character is on at the time!)

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It’s very clear that the gameplay was meant to be the main event in Hotline, with each stage being meticulously crafted by the developers. In Hotline Miami you must clear floors of Russian mobsters in order to progress, doing this however is much easier said than done. The game is played as a top down twin stick shooter with the option for either hand to hand combat or ranged. Using guns is obviously a much easier way to take out enemies, however they make a lot of noise and so attract the attention of nearby mobsters, something that you really don’t want in this game. In a brilliant stroke of game design, often unseen in game today, it takes exactly the same amount of damage to kill you as it does the enemies in the game. This means that your average life lasts anywhere between a few seconds and a minute or so. Expect to die a LOT when playing this game! Fortunately the game has taken a page out of the Super Meat Boy book and dumps you right back at the start of the floor as if nothing had happened. This gives the game a fast paced arcade feel that makes it an absolute blast to play. There is actually a huge amount of strategy required into how you tackle each room, which enemy you take out first, how you avoid enemies with guns or take them out, the list goes on. This is all amplified at the beginning of each stage when you’re given the choice of what mask you wear. Each one confers a bonus ability to your character during the mission. This really allows you to play with your own strategy, want to go in guns blazing? There are masks that give you more ammo, or minor bullet resistance. Want to play it Stealthy and kill people quietly? There are masks that put the whole place in the dark or ones that make you hard to see. It’s this kind of customisation that makes Hotline Miami such a joy to play, you can attack each mission with whatever strategy you want. My personal favourite was the wolf mask, which equips you with a knife before you even start, great for fast executions! One of the only let downs to the game is it’s weak AI, I don’t know if it was done for difficulties sake but it seems that turning around and seeing your mate led on the floor with no face is a completely standard thing that happens to these guys as no-one seems to care!

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Hotline Miami looks gorgeous, the game runs as a top down affair, with 2D sprites being used as opposed to 3D models. The game is incredibly smooth with the sprites having crisp speedy animation that really matches the precision of the controls. The psychedelic nature of the colour scheme in this game mixed with the incredible soundtrack really builds the atmosphere that the developers were intending to create. The game feels as though it’s a drug fueled hallucination and the filters, music and colours combine to really engross you into the world. Speaking of the soundtrack, I highly recommend you give it a listen, it matches the game down to the ground and really adds to the experience, I really can’t praise it enough! Now would probably be a good time to talk about the violence, this game is about a guy who hunts half of the Russian mafia it’s bound to have some violence in it! This is going to sound really sadistic, but I love the meaty feel to the killing (I’m not crazy, honest!). The fighting really feels heavy, if you hit someone round the face with a crowbar it really feels like it has some impact. This is really rare for a 2D sprite game, amazingly enough smashing someones skull into a wall in this title actually feels more visceral than it would in Gears of War for instance, I’m not sure how they do it, but it sure is satisfying! (Honestly, not crazy!)

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Hotline Miami is a well paced, wonderfully designed game. Short enough to finish in a day, you’ll definitely be wanting to jump back in afterwards to increase your scores and unlock the missing masks. The game is well presented and the plot is engaging, it’s just a shame that the AI is a bit off and there are some irritating levels in the game. Overall I don’t think these things harmed the experience at all, I still had a blast with it and you can be assured that I won’t be late to the party when it comes to Hotline 2!

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