I thought I heard the door open but I disregarded it. I was too lost in my task, rationing dirty cash for my crew of big money games, to notice even a breeze of wind. My crew is loyal, experienced, and have a variety of skills, but at the same time they're loud, cocky, and always trying to get the attention of the world at large. Tucked away in my room counting bills that I'd not long hold, I paid no mind to the commotion my games were making outside; that's what these guys did during down time. I should've know something was amiss when the flat fell silent, but I wasn't paying close enough attention. Moments after the unsettling quiet my door violently swung open, and before I had the chance to even question what was happening, Hotline Miami crushed my skull with a baseball bat.
Hotline Miami is hard to explain. While playing I'm reminded the original Grand Theft Auto, GTA: Vice City, Metal Gear Solid, and Drive, all at the same time. That is quality source material right there. The story centers around a hitman tangled in a web of nasty jobs handed down by secretive bosses, who mask their identities using .. Animal masks. This transpires within Miami of the 1980s, an American epicenter of hard drugs, violent crime, and killer fashion. As simple as I make it out to sound, if you delve there's quite a bit to enjoy from a mind-fucking storytelling perspective, provided you're into that sort of thing.
Throughout the game, the static top down view is never broken, invoking memories of the aging but lovable action games of the late 80s/early 90s. The maps normally consist of 1 to three levels within an apartment complex, where it is the hitman's duty to exterminate the rats, or clean the hotel, or DJ a killer set, or random other euphemism for murderous actions. If it were only so easy. Upon arriving at your tasked destination, you are too quickly greeted by bullets, bats, knives and miscellaneous other methods of brutality. Miami's thugs are as efficient as they are clairvoyant, leading unwary gamers to a quick and unassuming death.
There are many different ways to kill or be killed, and various methods of implementing them, like that old song 6 Million Ways to Die. There are more than 35 weapons to be unlocked and put to good use, in both ranged and melee categories. From the very basic knives and pistols to the more perplexing additions of a pot of boiling water, many things can be weaponized. I hope the recently confirmed sequel will expand on this, instead of using strictly weapons and reflexes, incorporating more environmental kills into the mix. Though breaking an NPCs face with a violently opened door never gets old, shouldn't I be able to shoot a fish tank filled with piranhas causing them to spill out and clean an enemies bones? It doesn't have to make sense if it's cool, and that is cold as ice, my friends.
This punishing difficulty lends to the title becoming more of a thinking man's game. You'll think twice before barging into a room of guards when each one has the ability to spin 180 degrees and place a single shot between your eyes in .7 seconds a la Trent Tucker, all while rolling the sleeves of their suit jacket. As your plans of action begin to fail, you start to see the stages differently. Go left instead of right? Use knife instead of gun? Kill patrol before entering guarded room? Most choices, which tend to be spur of the moment, have their consequences, for better or worse. You'll know quickly if they're for the worse.
The theme of the game seems to be animal masks, which are not in short supply. Your shady governing body wears then to conceal their identity, as do you, though yours comes with perks. Progress through the game to unlock some masks, perform well to unlock more. The masks, aside from making your avatar look like a total creep, allow you power-ups such as faster executions, lethal door slams, single bullet invulnerability, and more. It ain't much but it provides some semblance of customization to help keep things fresh through each level, and tailor the game to your individual style of play.
Hotline Miami pulls together a selection of semi-established underground artists to make up its jumping soundtrack, which immediately sucked me in with Sun Araw's downbeat psychedelic chords. It's a pretty solid mix of that type as well as electro-chiptune-house with slight influence from the game's period. I'm not really describing it well, so do the soundtrack the justice of listening to it yourself, free of charge, here. There was obviously a great deal of thought placed into the curation of Miami's music, don't let it go to waste.
Hotline Miami isn't the most compelling game I've played, but I enjoyed it for its presentation, music, and uncompromising difficulty. When I pay $10 for a game I expect at least 2-3 hours of enjoyment and I received just that, multiplied by the rejection of anything less than perfection.
BONUS: Hotline Miami is on sale at Steam for half price through this weekend, at the $5 price, this buy is a no-brainer.
The Score: 7 outta 10 Blasters!