Platforms: PS3, Playstation Vita, PC
Release Date: October 23, 2012 (PC); June 25, 2013 (PS3, Playstation Vita)
I’ve got a dog mask covered in blood, a room littered with mangled corpses, and I still need to pick up my phone to answer to some more mysterious phone calls about murder. No, this isn’t Michael Vick’s latest twisted fantasy/scandal, it’s obviously a possible scene from Hotline Miami, a PC indie game that has finally arrived on the Playstation Vita and Playstation 3. Sony’s newfound indie push has brought us some great games like Guacamelee!, but titles like the 1980s-inspired Hotline Miami showcase the true innovation behind these smaller developers. Hotline Miami is a demented, wholly unique title that fits perfectly on the Vita (works great on the PS3 as well) and will find a way to get its hooks into you.
Hotline Miami is a top-down… murder simulator? Puzzle game? Stealth title? It’s hard to even corral into a specific category given its unbridled uniqueness. Anyway, you play as a madman in an animal mask tasked with clearing rooms of the white suit-wearing goons in any way you see fit. Guns, melee weapons, and other tools are scattered about each level in order to assist in completing the hit. Enemies only take one clean hit to down, but so do you, making it a duel between glass cannons. Because of the protagonist’s fragility, planning and strategic maneuvers are rewarded to live, but to succeed and rack up long combo chains, you must act recklessly. It’s this hectic strategic/reckless blend that makes Hotline Miami a victim to that “one more time” mentality that can keep you on its leash for hours, especially if you fall into the void of high score chasing. The ever-changing enemy set-ups and steady difficulty climb ensures that it gets harder when you get better, making every level a neat surprise.
Even though it is loosely a puzzle game, each room has a staggering amount of options. Multiple weapons are scattered about each level and each encounter evolves in a sandbox that begs you to take full advantage of it. The many masks at your disposal grants specialization for certain playstyles since each yields a different buff. An array of masks ensure players will find more than a few that they love and fit with and allows the player to experiment to try and attain the highest scores for each level. The developers over at Dennation Games have really handed over the keys to the player and this is quite refreshing.
The rise of great game design has opened the gates for intensely challenging titles that ironically do not frustrate. Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, and Limbo come to mind and that’s just about the closest thing Hotline Miami is comparable to. And even that’s a big stretch. Hotline Miami is not a platformer, but it is similarly structured to those titles due to its difficulty and quick turnaround after the inevitable barrage of grisly deaths. You’ll die a lot. A lot. In fact, you’ll more than likely earn the “1000 deaths” trophy before you hit the end credits. But the catch is that it’s rarely frustrating, if at all. Pressing X and immediately respawning alleviates any anger because you’re thrown right back into the action. You don’t even time to get angry. You just want to grab that golf club and beat that guy’s face in with it because that’s just how Hotline Miami rolls.
Hotline Miami also rolls with the top down and the music blaring as evidenced by the incredible soundtrack. I don’t mean to spew hyperbole, but the soundtrack is essential to the experience. Every single track is absolutely hypnotic with its hard bass and extremely knocking tempos, sounds that not only are catchy, but ones that reinforce the mood Hotline Miami already establishes so well. The sublime soundtrack sounds like it was composed in a meth lab/studio hybrid in between booze runs and cocaine snorting circa 1989 and it freakin’ works. It’s hard to find a better soundtrack out there and you’ll find that the rhythm between the music and gameplay was designed to keep you sucked in.
Hotline Miami is a cross-buy/cross-save title, meaning you’ll get the Vita and PS3 version with the same $10 and be able to continue progress from one platform to the other. Both platforms control pretty well for the most part, but I found the game to be slightly more enjoyable on the Vita due to the incredible and intuitive use of the touch screen for locking-on and scrolling. Both versions also share the same retro art style that is simple, yet very effective in the quest to stand out. Hotline Miami feels right at home here on the Playstation systems and is arguably better than the PC version that came before.
There isn’t much evidence towards cocaine in Hotline Miami, mainly because it was all converted into code after it was taken from the design document. It’s such a simple concept but the sheer addictive qualities of the ridiculously violent, choice-laden gameplay don’t leave much to be desired. All of Hotline Miami‘s pieces just slide together, mainly how the delicious soundtrack gels with the goofy story, retro visuals, and overall 1980s atmosphere. With a fast heartbeat, ability to keep you hooked, and the abundance of dudes in white suits, I’d assume this is what doing cocaine is actually like. And you know what? I’m just fine with that, Hotline Miami. Just fine.
+Infectious, hard, fair, and open-ended gameplay
+Absolutely knocking soundtrack
+Score chasing is addictive
-Minor, infrequent control issues