It’s been nearly a year since Dennation Games’s hit indie title Hotline Miami was unleashed onto PC’s around the world to critical acclaim, thanks in no small part to it’s mesmerizing neon draped 80’s visuals; it’s quick paced bloody action. Now the title has finally made it’s console début on both of Sony’s current platforms, the Playstation 3 and Vita. The port survives it’s transition with it’s grizzly ways remaining as charmingly viscous as ever. In addition some changes have been made to the formula to ensure a satisfying experience due to the removal of the mouse and key board control scheme and to better accommodate Vita’s smaller screen size.
Like all the most memorable and compelling indie titles one of Hotline Miami’s most distinctive features is it’s eye catching art style. Stages and effects are awash with bright flashing neon lights mirroring the unrelenting madness the game encapsulates. Sporting a top down camera reminiscent of early Grand Theft Auto releases Hotline Miami’s 80’s style exudes mesmerizing gory charm masterfully. Little touches add a strange level of authenticity to environments in the otherwise trippy world, things like the use of a Delorian with iconic gull-wing doors as the primary mode of transportation between missions.
Progression is broken down into chapters and each chapter is split into multiple missions that can be replayed at any time via the level select screen, doing so will not cause any loss in progress.The stages are tied together through a utterly confusing story, I found that with my time playing that the story contributed very little to my enjoyment and, the it is still a great ride when it’s completely ignored. All narrative advancement is done in breaks between levels that normally involve speaking to folks who will have completely one sided conversations whilst an accompanying sprite of their face natters away on screen, however the faces and animations are so freaky it’s distracting, borderline ridiculous.
In the perplexing adventure players assume the the role of a nameless mute who has been affectionately named “Jacket” by fans – in reference to his most defining characteristic. Set in 1980’s Miami Jacket lives alone in an apartment where he regularly receives mysterious coded messages left on his phone from an unknown source. Following the instructions left on the answer machine leads him to locations that are inhabited by gang members, upon arriving as his destination Jacket proceeds to violently dispatch the gangsters using a range of suitably gory methods.
This is when Hotline Miami really hit’s the mark, the totally nonsensical narrative falls away to reveal a core of brilliant addictive and fast paced slick satisfying gameplay. Jacket is tasked with wiping out a variety of buildings of their gangster inhabitants using an assortment of brutal skills and equipment from a range of melee weapons like bats to tearing through hordes using machine guns, pummelling foes or simply slamming their head off the floor until it pops with a distressing crack. Hotline Miami isn’t stingy when comes to choice allowing every level to be tackled how the players deems fit allowing them to mould the experience around their play style, quiet with melee or thunderously loud with fire arms – regardless you need to move quick.
At the end of each level scores and grades are awarded dependant on performance in number of key areas, speed is just on piece of the puzzle. Hotline Miami’s scoring system is somewhat vague on purpose and tasks players with uncovering the secrets of really pushing their score, on the surface though the most important factor in achieving excellence is combos. Hotline Miami feels at it’s best mid combo when the player is somewhat panicked as as they desperately try to tie one move into another in the short time window allotted, leading to a constant flurry of different manoeuvres keeping the momentum hurtling along.
If that sound difficult that’s because in truth, it is. Whilst armed with any variety of weaponry one hit will defeat an opponent whilst unarmed players must follow up with a visceral ground attack, which changes depending on the weapon equipped. However the reverse is true too, enemies can also wipe out Jacket in one go starting the section over. Lucky load times are remarkably fast meaning death to re-spawn takes about a second at most. Much like Dark Souls the game rewards looking ahead and planning out an effective route, unlike Dark Souls though recklessness is encouraged and pulling of an awesome combo often requires placing Jacket right in the line of fire. Luckily the taste of death is not bitter instead it feels integral to the experience, small load times and a lack of losable items make death feel more like part of the experience and less like a chore. What’s more the quick round time means the game is perfectly suited to short bursts which feels right at home on Vita.
In all of these missions Jacket’s face is concealed via the use of a plastic animal mask. As the game progresses players collect these masks that provide numerous perks, or disadvantages that helps each individual play to their strengths. For example Tony the Tiger makes punches lethal whilst Zack the frog extends the combo window time. They’re a nice addition that really helps define player personalities and since unlocking them requires high scores or searching levels they provide ample reason to go back. On top that those who enjoy chasing high scores can compete on the global leader boards which are reason enough to retry the chapters. The re-playability makes the games approximately 3 hour campaign length seem somewhat fair.
For the most part the game nails exactly what it wants to do, even though it does have it’s occasional sticking points. My biggest problem was the shoe-horned in boss fights, instead of adding to the experience they serve only to interrupt the barrelling pace with sections that feel so unlike the rest of the title. Though they’re only a few they’re a nuisance when they do rear their ugly head. On top of that one of the levels is a stealth level that instead of feeling like a change of pace feels like a cheap distraction that plays outside the rules of everything you’ve been taught.
All the distressingly gory action pounds along one of the most awesome video game soundtracks in years. The dance, dub-step and other generally vague music really a captures the atmosphere of what’s on the screen. Amazingly with the number of times level are replayed it’s miraculous that the catchy beats are so infectiously enjoyable instead of downright irritating.
Hotline Miami’s fast paced unforgiving gameplay could, maybe should be insufferably annoying, however it’s many elements come together so well that they generate something rather amazing. It’s very possible that if you removed any one part of the game it simply wouldn’t work, but luckily that is not the case. Wearing it’s utlra violent, bloody and difficult gameplay on it’s sleeve’s Hotline Miami is a marvellous engrossing game that is well worth the price of admission, particularly for those who own both Vita and PS3 as the title is cross buy – add in the fact that Hotline Miami feels right at home on the go and the Vita purchase feels even better. At the very least those who give it ago should find themselves humming the games soundtrack in no time.