The year 1989 was a weird time; Ronald Reagan ended his presidency, the Berlin Wall came down, the Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling massive amounts of oil into the ocean, and a rubber-masked vigilante in Miami went and killed people based on messages left on his answering machine. Crazy year, right?
This Grindhouse-inspired game starts off with your character being spoken to by a ginger Tommy Chong look-a-like who instructs you to answer any and all answering machine messages. This in turn tells your character to kill entire buildings full of people, who are seemingly bad dudes. You’ll end up encountering him at mini-marts, bars, and other odd locations – same dude, everything mysteriously “on the house”. You’ll eventually be confronted by several men in rubber masks who want you to remember them, but slowly leak information and ask questions you can’t answer just yet. It’s intriguing to say the least, and it pulled me right in.
There’s usually a goal of killing one main person per your answering machine recordings, but there is rooms full of guys you must kill in order to succeed. There’s almost a tinge of Rockstar’s Manhunt in here, where you’re being told who to kill and when. So you’ll go downstairs, hop in your DeLorean and drive to where the denizens are located – all from a top down perspective. From there you can actually go a bit more tactical and walk around the house to see who’s in it and what their patterns are. Or, you can be like me and bust open the door a dude was standing behind that knocks him down, run across the room and punch another guy in the face so hard his cranium explodes, pick-up his shotgun, and blast an enemy as he comes through the kitchen door. Things happen so fast here it’s hard to think about each action, but just react.
Stages break up the areas, but completing a chapter gets you graded on your performance. And all along your rampage over 15 Chapters, you’ll see an accruing score go up as you kill enemies in a myriad of ways. You’ll get bonuses for chain kills, executions, and even time completed. You’ll earn titles for your play style as well. It’s a good scoring system that encourages replayability, and you’ll see your performance increase from subsequent playthroughs.
The game’s utter lunacy is worth applauding as before you go into each house, you must veil your appearance by wearing a rubber mask yourself. These masks can actually alter gameplay and the difficulty. Adorning yourself with your masks because they can imbue effects such as one to help find secrets, one that can perform executions faster, and one named Don Juan which introduces more weapons into a level than is normally generated. The basic, starter mask is plain jane and has no abilities and can be used for a bit of an extra challenge. You don’t get all the masks to start with, but you have to earn high scores to unlock a mask. Doing so will eventually net you a mask that starts you off with a drill (rather than bare hands) and has some devastating properties.
There were some minor bugs I ran into that weren’t all resolved by a patch on release day. Things such as assets going missing and throwing up an error message, but able to continue. If I go to throw a weapon in order to pick-up a different one and it’ll throw it outside the house, removing my ability to use it for the rest of the level. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it becomes disheartening. I’m sure they’ll get resolved soon.
Hotline Miami is brutal with its blood spatter, heads getting cracked open, legs and other appendages being shot off, and various random acts of violence can be found along your murderous path. The pixelated graphics don’t hide the gore, but rather embrace it. There’s almost some sadism at work here as you are killing folk, constantly thinking of ways to take them out. Should you knock a guy down, you can mount him with the spacebar for an execution which will change depending on the weapon you have equipped.
The soundtrack features slow music, with some up-tempo tracks that feature scratches like it is a poor recording. It is dark and moody in all the right places. When you’ve killed all there is to kill, the music stops – dead. It’s a neat audio cue that is really great feedback so you know you’re done without some tooltip showing you instead.
Hotline Miami is a riot. It’s fast, fluid, and highly responsive to your mouse and keyboard. It can be played tactically or fast and loose with quick reflexes. It’s an awesome, grotesque piece of art that’s worth every penny. It only takes about 2-3 hours to beat, depending on how many retries you burn through before you get it right. This wonderful adventure that will ensure you will come back for more. Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I have to go replay some chapters for better ratings. Do yourself a favor and buy Hotline Miami right now.
A code for the game was provided by PR for review purposes