We certainly live in a different gaming generation when indie titles can be heralded as some of the best games of the year. With Sony’s recent push to be a friendly platform for indie developers, it was only a matter of time until one of 2012′s biggest indie releases, Hotline Miami, made its way over to Playstation hardware. Mixing an old-school look, an incredible 80′s-style soundtrack, and intense, fast-paced violence, Hotline Miami positions itself not with realistic graphics or an emotional soundtrack, but with an original personality that sets itself out from countless clones.
The player takes control of an unnamed character, which many online have come to refer to as “Jacket,” because of the Letterman jacket he dons throughout the game. As Jacket, you keep receiving mysterious calls cryptically delivering assassination contracts to be taken care of. You then enter various levels, from houses to nightclubs, butchering countless enemies in the most hasty, efficient, and deadly way to rack up your score without dying, which would restart the last section you completed in the level.
The game takes place with an overhead view which allows the player to see most locations of enemies, so a plan can be made before busting down every door. Make no mistake: the player is as vulnerable as any enemy in the game, so even the slightest misstep can result in your demise. This is where strategy can be either a carefully planned array of shotgun blasts, or spastic flailing with a lead pipe. The gameplay allows the player to tackle any obstacle as he or she chooses, but rewards the outcome that delivered the quickest and most brutal kills.
At the start of every level, the player must select a mask. Each mask offers some sort of gameplay bonus that can help – or sometimes even hinder – the player’s mission. These bonuses can vary from starting with a certain weapon to even making dogs not attack you. Playing the same levels with different masks can result in drastically different scores, so choice of mask can be integral in the difference between hitting the top of the leaderboards or dropping to the bottom of the list.
If there’s one thing you should get used to when playing Hotline Miami, it’s dying – a lot. That’s the beauty of the game: it welcomes your death. It invites you to be reckless and dangerous and made the game almost impossible to put down by doing so. The game wants you to try and kill every person in a level through one continuous combo, which is always a difficult challenge; however, by making death of almost no consequence, it welcomes you to try and be the most efficient killer you can be – and succeeds in making the quest for the highest score one of the most addicting challenges in recent memory.
Brutal would be an understatement when describing the combat in Hotline Miami. From decapitations of all limbs, pouring a pan of boiling water over someone’s face, and bashing skulls into the ground until they burst like a piñata filled with chunks of brain, the violence in Hotline Miami is shocking, over-the-top, and is littered throughout the gameplay. The game never explains the purpose of the violence, other than to just keep killing, and much like Jacket, you almost never question it – you just keep killing.
If there’s one Achilles’ heel in the Playstation 3 and Vita ports of Hotline Miami, it would be some awkward controls that over-complicate simple actions. While using the touch screen to lock on to an enemy is great and feels natural, trying to target an enemy in the heat of combat is a near impossibility. With the fast-paced nature of Hotline Miami‘s combat, being able to target an enemy should be easy, regardless of the situation. While these controls weren’t bad enough to truly harm the game, it did add frustration that I never found using a mouse and keyboard to plan my attack in the PC version. As for the PS3 version, targeting an enemy never felt easy. Having to actually aim at an enemy to lock on took longer than just touching the Vita’s screen or scrolling over an enemy with a mouse, which ends up slowing down your character’s actions and leaving you wide open to get blown away by your adversaries.
That being said, the analog sticks feel great when playing on either piece of Playstation hardware. While the PC version is superior in locking on with precise aiming, moving with the analog sticks feels very fluid and less jerky than the aforementioned PC version.
Hotline Miami may have one of the best soundtracks ever for a video game – period. The pounding electronic beats fill the game with pure adrenaline that only further aids the fast-paced nature of the game. Wearing headphones while playing this game isn’t just a suggestion: it should be almost mandatory. Blasting through a room with multiple enemies while firing an assault rifle feels even more tense when the echoing beats encompass the overall feel and style of the game, and offers just another level of integration that many games so obviously lack.
Hotline Miami may be superior on PC in more ways than not, but the PS3 and Vita port is equally as fun as the original with just a few minor hiccups. With its killer soundtrack, ridiculous gore, and hectic combat, Hotline Miami is a must buy for any gamer looking for a truly unique gaming experience done with surprising finesse. While the main storyline may only take an afternoon to complete, the quest for an A+ in every mission is a great challenge for those looking to stretch out their time with Hotline Miami. So plug in some headphones, sit back, and enjoy one of 2012′s best games in all of its brutal glory.
This review is based on a review copy of the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita version of Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games distributed by Devolver Digital.