Here’s a question:

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“Do you like hurting other people?”

This darkly poised inquiry neatly ties together many of Hotline Miami’s central themes. The game’s writing finds beauty in the simplicity of its prose, and the queerness of its dialogue often stretches its pointed questions beyond the limits of the game’s pixelated boundaries to directly consult and question the player. You’ve caused a lot of pain. But you’ve had fun – right?

The memory of this game might spur memories of pixelated bodies sprawled about the ground, their heads twisted grotesquely, the empty white of their eyes staring blankly to the dark sky as blood pools beneath their bodies. To some, this might induce a cringe, a shudder, or at least a second thought. Regardless of its dark themes, if you enjoy tense, high-speed action, and stylish, flashy graphics with great techno melodies tying the experience into a neat bow, Hotline Miami could be just the game for you.

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Story

The game’s narrative can be enjoyed in two forms. A player searching only to be entertained can enjoy an edgy, superficial romp through which the player controls ‘Jacket.’ Jacket, the game’s protagonist, has found himself being blackmailed by a mysterious agency and is coerced into enacting brutal, bloody hits on nearby mob hangouts. Alternatively, the game can be seen through a more critical lens, through which the bright and electric 50’s setting sees itself suddenly reshaped into a cynical and damning moral fable about violence in video games and our relationship with the brutal actions of our heroes.

Regardless of how a player chooses to consume the game, the tale woven throughout Hotline Miami shines as a true gem, and is one that deserves to be played by any gamer that considers themselves to be a fan of weighty diegeses.

Through the course of its run time, Hotline Miami sees the player delve deep into the mind of a maniac, and the sound and visuals of the game twist and contort as Jacket plunges deeper into his psychosis. Each level features its own intro and outro, with several moments that detail the more human side of our protagonist’s life – grabbing a pizza; renting of a movie; hanging out at a bar. Then the mask is pulled back down, and the animal regains control once more.

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Environment

As players progress through the game, they will be treated to Hotline Miami’s deceptively simple art-style. The aesthetic and audio elements all harken back to a 1980’s film, filled with violence, gore, and of course, neon lights. The game is crafted with carefully curated pixels, and the form manages to grant the player an excellent visage into the gruesome world of Hotline Miami. From mansions to bars to gas stations and beyond, the player will visit various locations, each boasting different layouts of increasing complexity, which in turn provide a more difficult route to completion for the player.

The flashing lights that serve as the background for many of the aforementioned stages works to lure the player into a trancelike state, the likes of which is only amplified by the pounding techno soundtrack blaring behind the swishes of doors and heavy crunch of bats and other assorted melee weapons. The soundtrack itself is incredible, and moves along nicely with the pace of the game.

Serving as the proverbial icing on the cake, once you have completed any given level, you’re expected to again make your way through whichever facility your most recent massacre occurred within. At this point, the music cuts to an abrupt end, and the player is left with only silence, as if the game is directing you to focus on your actions. Hey; look at what you’ve done, it seems to say. And what a thing you have done.

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Gameplay

Hotline Miami’s gameplay is perhaps the feature it is most renowned for. The game is unforgiving; both the player and their foes normally die within a single hit. The minor exceptions to this rule are found in the game’s sporadic boss fights. Of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of foes you’ll mow down, you will realize that apart from one specific encounter, infamous for its rage-inducing properties, nearly every death suffered will be completely and utterly your fault. Hotline Miami demands patience and forgiveness from its player, but offers none in return. It counters this by taunting you.

Yes, you could play it smart and wait to see which enemies appear at the end of a lonesome hallway, but would it not be much more radical, much more bad-ass, to charge down it wielding your elephant mask and newly acquired samurai sword? And for things such as this, the game rewards you. The more reckless you are, the more points you will accrue in any given level. The masks that you can collect and unlock in different portions of the game mediate different abilities available to you, and can greatly alter the way you play the game. Many of these often include tongue-in-cheek references and nods to more popular characters, such as Tony the Tiger.

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Pros

  • Challenging, action-oriented gameplay
    · Cool, slick retro graphics
    · Trippy, fun techno
    · Interesting story

Cons

  • Perhaps too unforgiving at times
    · Can get redundant, while playing long bursts

Summary

For the asking price of ten dollars (9.99$), Hotline Miami is such a work that it demands a place in any gamer’s collection. The PS3 and PS Vita versions play just as smoothly as the PC’s does, and many find the game to be especially beautiful on the Vita’s OLED screen. In my playing of all three variations, I found myself returning primarily to the PC, though that was nothing more than a matter of personal preference.

All who consider themselves a fan of action gaming, or enjoy uncovering dark stories, owe it to themselves to pick up a copy of this indie title. It’s challenging and fun, it’s slick, it’s cool, and it has one of the most unique narratives to be found in the indie scene. Unfortunately, playing it for long periods of a time may result in the gameplay developing a feel of repetition. This is especially true if you’re replaying the same level for the fiftieth time – an occurrence that is not altogether that rare, given the frequency at which you’re likely to die.

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