- Street Date:
- October 23rd, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- Nick Hartel
- Review Date:1
- April 30th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Devolver Digital
- Dennaton Games
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Putting it bluntly, right up front, 'Hotline Miami' is a true enigma of a game, representing simultaneously both the best of indie game design and the worst. Released in late 2012, the game became a quiet hit through digital distribution. The appeal to most was simple: laced with a hyperkinetic 16-bit inspired retro design, 'Hotline Miami' offered a stripped down, top-down view, ultra-violent beat-em-up borrowing heavily in tone and theme from a number of films and games. The result is a sometimes frustrating, but ultimately serviceable exercise in the old adage of, "if it ain't broke, don’t fix it."
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The plot and theme of 'Hotline Miami' is incredibly hard to do justice in words. The protagonist, the aptly named Jacket (for his distinct, 80s-era letterman jacket), serves as a hit man for an unseen, mysterious force. Given his assignments via phone through colorless messages (e.g. go check on the babysitters), Jacket carves out a trail of carnage from one mission to the next, in a repetitive gameplay style that fortunately throws viewers a much-needed narrative twist. Even with the carnage, 'Hotline Miami' doesn’t bring much new to the table and frankly, the atmosphere that sets it apart from so many other games on the market, feels like a shallow, contrived shell, never doing justice to obvious influences such as 'Drive' and games of the 'Smash TV' ilk. Instead it asks players to consume an overindulgent meal of nostalgia and grotesque violence.
The game play, while simple is definitely effective, with Jacket being controlled by a well-executed keyboard and mouse combination. Movement is handled via keyboard, while the mouse handles targeting and attacks. The levels are straightforward: go in, (generally) kill everyone, repeat ad nauseam. Spicing up this is a wide variety of weapons and the clever integration of the environment, in the form of doors, which can be thrown open to daze an unsuspecting foe.
The enemy AI is decent, although at times feels frustratingly precognizant, and more times than not, an approach more clever (and stealthy) than "guns blazing" is required. With 'Hotline Miami' almost approaching double digit numbers in hours of playtime though, the simple approach coupled with sometimes punishingly devised levels, not to mention sloppy randomization (I can’t count the instances of restarting a level, only to find enemies spawn in impossible to beat numbers, due to patrol patterns), the game's lack of variety wears out its welcome a bit too early.
The gimmick of dispatching enemies via ultraviolent, creative methods eventually wears off. The various masks that our protagonist can wear to provide gameplay boosts feels entirely contrived, a symptom of style over substance. While the story tries very hard to keep you entertained, the notion of some shadowy conspiracy and hazy memories never advances far enough and ultimately leaves the player with the distinct thought of, 'who cares?' Given the full experience of the game, it's a damn shame that 'Hotline Miami' is merely average, and honestly at times feels like a game that many love, but few finish. It’s a tremendous testament to the spirit of indie designers to produce something as audacious as this love-letter to retro gaming, but the highly stylized game feels full of unrealized potential. The nagging hollow feeling left by the whole affair makes that missed potential difficult to forgive.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Hotline Miami's' graphics are an intentional throwback to the 16-bit era with bright, garish colors permeating the game. In-game animations are far more detailed than the games that inspired this, and specific atmospheric effects do add a lot to the heightened, more-or-less hallucinogenic story line. There are zero issues with the frame rate and not once did any graphical hiccups hinder or hurt gameplay. Of course, compared to modern graphics, 'Hotline Miami' can’t compete, but it’s not trying to and from an aesthetic standpoint, is a retro masterpiece.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The aural experience of 'Hotline Miami' stems almost entirely from the game’s incredible electronic soundtrack; fans of 'Drive' will definitely feel a similar vibe here. In-game effects are inline with the retro approach to graphics and game play, although not as creatively implemented. If it weren’t for the killer score, I dare say the game would be unplayable.
Once the main story mode is finished, 'Hotline Miami' offers players the ability to replay levels for a better ranking, in turn unlocking new weapons and masks. If you're able to find yourself fully invested in the game world, then the single goal of getting a perfect ranking on every level will give you many more hours of fun, but if like me, you find the game mildly entertaining, one playthrough will be well more than enough.
There are few games I wanted to enjoy as much as 'Hotline Miami,' but alas, style trumping substance is the deciding factor in this unique indie offering. Granted, the makers weren't promising the moon, but the jilted, hokey story line, coupled with the repetitive, and sometimes infuriating gameplay wore out its welcome too quick. While I definitely don't have a problem with violence in video games, I can't shake the notion that the violence factor is a strong appeal of the game and is expected to make up for merely average gameplay. Maybe with a bit more polish in the story department, 'Hotline Miami' would have been a game worthy of coming back to, Still, with the very low price tag, it's not a game that I would recommend against just so long as those interested know what they're getting into, entertainment on a very base level.
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