By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
This is not exactly a new game, however it’s worth covering just in case anyone has missed it or hasn’t had a chance to try it out.
Hotline Miami is a top down beat-em-up set (unsurprisingly) in Miami in 1989. The game follows the gruesome ventures of a less than discrete hitman as he beats, cuts, shoots, kicks and stomps his way through multistage levels. All of this with the backdrop of a drug-addled, fluorescent and neon 1989 Miami.
The game plays something like being on foot in the older GTA games, with a top down perspective for both firearms and melee. The control scheme is your standard WASD for movement and mouse for aiming. There is a lock-on function on the middle mouse button with the left mouse button enjoying it’s normal shoot/slash/swing role. The right mouse button behaves as a pickup/throw button allowing for alternate weapon uses such as throwing a knife or even a gun as a distraction once the magazine is dry. There is also space bar utilisation for finishing moves/executions and the left shift key is utilised as a limited-range free-cam, giving the player some much needed distance viewing. The controls can take a while to adapt to especially when the situation spirals out of control, however after a short period it becomes apparent just how tight and precise they can be. In terms of precision of movement this ranks up with precision platformers, and boy will you need it if you’re going for some speedy action and high rating combos. (As a side note, this game was made miles better by a good/mechanical keyboard and a responsive mouse.)
The layout of the game level starts with an appropriately trippy mission introductory sequence, followed by the multi-staged mission level, maybe a boss fight followed by an appropriately trippy outro sequence. The multi-staged element of the levels essentially equals checkpoints which is thoroughly useful because that’s where you retry from. There is a good reason the retry key is mapped to ‘r’; you’ll use it, you’ll use it lots. The game can be horrendously unforgiving as the player character dies just as easily as the enemies and an element of randomness in the enemy weapon spawns can really screw you over. Don’t let this put you off though, in many games the process of retrying is long and irritatingly arduous, but in Hotline Miami it is essentially built into the gameplay with a quick tap on the ‘r’ key giving an almost instantaneous restart to the beginning of the stage. As such you’ll be experimenting with different techniques and different solutions in an attempt to find the highest scoring yet most survivable blitz through the level. This leads on to the score-attack element of the game, where a score and rating are given at the end of each mission which for completionists is an invitation for high levels of replayability.
The actual combat is thoroughly satisfying with a wide selection of weapons ranging from lead pipes to assault rifles spawning in the levels. Every weapon feels appropriately lethal thanks to the sounds, animations and the generally high levels of rapid anatomy restructuring that they tend to perform. More weapons are unlocked as the game progresses providing a gradually expanding arsenal of weaponry scattered throughout levels. In addition to weapon unlocks, certain score boundaries will also unlock masks for your character, these provide modifiers and unique abilities that can be swapped out according to play style and level requirements. Such mask modifiers can provide the player with lethal fists, higher chance of gun spawn or my favourite; faster character movement.
This leads onto the aesthetic of the game: Hotline Miami is based around a retro pixellated top-down perspective with a bright, bold and high contrast colour pallet. The setting and time are appropriately represented in a style that is stylish and cartoony whilst still portraying the wanton acts of horrendous violence perfectly. Blown out guts, crushed heads and pools of blood mingle with broken glass and empty casings whilst yet more clean white suits run to the slaughter. This particular game and its sheer brutality could quite easily spark a ‘video-game violence’ debate, however at the end of the mission the quiet and shredded remains are far more profound than they could be taken to be. It is worth noting that not even the player character responds well to the sheer violence of his actions. Certain elements of the appearance could use tweaking though; the camera movement can be a little hard to stomach at times and the lack of vsync make the horizontal tearing horrifying at times.
The music and sound in the game is well worth mentioning, with some astounding electro tracks that punctuate the very essence of the game and sounds that are appropriately impacting or booming. The soundtrack itself is available on soundcloud and should give you a rough idea.
In terms of system spec, you won’t need much: The 2D graphics aren’t especially taxing whilst the processing power and memory requirements are minimal, you should be able to run this on just about anything that can stomach Windows. On that topic the game is unfortunately Windows only, somewhat disappointing and hopefully something that may be rectified in future games. Hotline Miami is available for £6.99 (approx $10.70) on Steam and £6.53 (approx $9.99) on GOG.com. I’m not sure if the price difference is regional but the prices are fairly close anyway, it just depends on which library you want the game in I suppose.
In conclusion, Hotline Miami is an awesome assault on the senses with bright colours, great sound and tense yet high paced action. The game may be brutal to the player at times but this just punctuates success, clever problem solving and those sweet sweet combos.