Genre: 2D top-down action
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Dennaton Games
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Hotline Miami is one of the most violent games I have played all year. It’s also the most addicting.
Heavily inspired by Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant 2011 film, Drive, the game places you in the role of an animal mask-wearing hitman dubbed “Jacket.” At the beginning of each chapter, Jacket receives an anonymous phone call in which he is told to “pick up the laundry” or something similar — essentially code for “go to this location and massacre everyone there.”
Every location is stacked with enemies that will kill you with one hit. It takes some serious trial-and-error to develop a successful strategy for making it through each level. As such, Hotline Miami feels most like a puzzle game. You can’t just go in guns-a-blazin’ and expect to win. Every level requires meticulous thinking and quick reactions, because not everything will go as planned.
Before each chapter, Jacket is given the option to select a new animal mask. Each mask has its own perk (i.e. increased ammo, one shot doesn’t kill, etc.), and using the right one is crucial to succeed. There are a number of weapons in each level, most of which can be picked up after killing an enemy. Guns are a popular choice, obviously best for long-range targets, but there are a number of melee weapons (i.e. baseball bats, machetes) that can be used for up-close brawls.
Deaths in this game aren’t pretty. Enemies fall down in a pool of their own blood, with body parts often flying aross the room. Hotline Miami doesn’t glorify violence, however — it makes you question just what the hell you’re doing. After successfully wiping out everyone in a chapter, the game forces Jacket to walk back through every area, observing the carnage he has created. It feels like a punishment for following through with these anonymous jobs. Who is calling in these requests, and why is Jacket accepting them?
At times, the violence can get to be too much, and I found myself needing to take a break much more often than usual. Chapters are quick, intense affairs, and they require extreme precision. It’s a physically and mentally demanding experience, but the well-refined gameplay kept me coming back for more.
It also helps that Hotline Miami is undeniably stylish. The top-down view shows off its gorgeously retro pixelated graphics, and the 80s setting lends way to some sizzling neon colors. The soundtrack is also a perfect fit for the on-screen action, and the music is very, very similar to that found in Drive (whose soundtrack I included in my top 25 albums of 2011). Seriously, the music is amazing, and the intense gameplay really feeds off the frenetic energy the tunes provide. In an awesome moment of generosity, the soundtrack can even be listened to in its entirety online.
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Hotline Miami, and all of it has been deserved. Quite frankly, there isn’t another game like this.