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Stewart: Hotline Miami is brutally honest

BY SAM STEWART | FEBRUARY 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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Audio: Hotline Miami

"Hydrogen"

"Deep Cover"

Murder is a big part of many games, yet none of them want to embrace it. Look at those graphics. Pay attention to the story. Don’t worry about those guys; they are bad anyway. As the debate over violent video games continues to rage, no game wants to be about killing.

Well, except Hotline Miami, maybe. Hotline Miami embraces killing, grabs it by the ears, and bashes its head against the wall till the contents spill onto the floor. Does it sound brutal? Get used to it.

Hotline Miami would never lie to you. It wants you to kill, and it wants you to think about why. As far as games taking violence seriously go, Hotline Miami deserves a gold star.

1989. Miami.

You wake up in an apartment, the phone is ringing. The voice in the other end informs you your cookies have arrived, and that you should read the ingredients very carefully. Inside the box outside your door is a mask and instructions.

You are to go to an address and retrieve a suitcase. You arrive, donning your new mask and proceed to punch, stab, bash, and shoot your way through a house full of unsuspecting enemies. You grab the suitcase; your vision is shaky.

What just happened?

After your “mission” you go to a pizza shop, in which a strange cashier gives you a free pizza, and then you return home. Each day you receive a call like this. One day, you are a baby-sitter, the next pest control. What exactly is going on is never clear, and the game rarely presents you with any story. Cut scenes are rare and usually raise more questions than they answer.

Despite the confusion, I really enjoy this brand of storytelling, which leaves most of the story up to you, allowing you to share your interpretation with others.

Playing Hotline Miami is like planning the perfect murder, and quick tutorial will teach you the way. A punch will knock an enemy down, a swing from a weapon will kill them. Throwing a weapon will also knock them down but leave you empty handed. Downed enemies must be executed, or they will get back up.

These are a few of the techniques you need, but as the game tells you there is always more to learn.

The tutorial helps, but it could never prepare you for a true fight. Mechanically, you and your foes are the same. You die in one hit, but the instant restart makes most deaths nearly painless.

The game is played from a top-down perspective, like looking at a floor plan. Using the WASD keys and mouse, you navigate from room to room, floor to floor, killing every enemy in sight.

If you step into an enemy’s sight, they charge you with reckless abandon. Enemies with guns are the most lethal, with near perfect aim and split-second reaction. You can use their guns as well, but the sound of gunfire alerts faraway enemies, and a single shot could bring a horde.

Planning your massacre is key, but when crap hits the fan, a bloody frenzy can work just as well. The games moves at such a blistering pace that sometimes, you won’t know what exactly happened until the music dies, signifying the end of the chapter.

However, instead of taking you out of the level, Hotline Miami forces you to retrace your steps and see your handiwork. Bodies everywhere, some of them not all in one piece. I don’t remember doing that. Why did I do this?

You are rewarded different animal masks for preforming well, all of which give you some skill such as lethal punches or silenced guns. Boss fights and a single stealth level are the low points of the game, but they are so brief that they hardly have time to ruin your fun.

The game is animated completely in pixels, yet the environments are still extremely detailed, with bright neon colors matching the ’80s club style and effectively shocking blood and gore.

Some may be put off, but I think it looks just fine, and it works great for the game.

I usually don’t spend much time talking about music, but Hotline Miami deserves special treatment for its stellar soundtrack. A compilation of nine artists, the mix of techno, house, and psychedelic beats matches every second of the action perfectly. The rapid beeps in M.O.O.N.’s “Hydrogen” give the feeling of insanity, and Sun Araw’s “Deep Cover” is like hearing a hangover. Hotline Miami isn’t just great game music, it is great music.

Hotline Miami is ruthless, maybe even a little scary, but it never tries to hide its identity. It’s a game unlike anything else. If you love fast-paced action games, Hotline has it. If you want a thoughtful story, you can get that, too. Just want to collect some masks? For $10, you can get it all and one of my favorite games of last year.

Reviewer Score: 9.5

Hotline Miami
Released: Oct. 23, 2012
Developed by Dennaton Games
Cost: $10
Platforms: Steam (PC)


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