Miami circa 1989 is an extremely violent and sinister place, where mask-wearing vigilantes are ravaging the city's criminal underworld - between bizarre acid trips.
Hotline Miami is brutal. While the game's graphics are kept in a deliberately rough and heavily pixelated style reminiscent of the 16 bit era, it is still one of the most grotesque and violent games that has been published in a long time.
Blood, guts and brains are floating all over the place, depending on the weapon you use. When you execute an enemy that has been knocked over by smashing his head with a bat or metal pipe, or just knocked him to the floor with bare hands, it gives way to a few more beatings than are really necessary.
But it is not only the violent bloodshed that makes Hotline Miami - it's as much the mechanics and gameplay. It reminds heavily of a freaky version of the classic GTA.
Hotline Miami is hard, and there's rarely more than a split second of difference between life and death. You are always massively outnumbered, enemy reflexes are razor sharp, and death comes quickly. One blow or shot is usually enough.
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Therefore, you will die often. But it only takes a single press of a button to reload, without a shadow of load times. Much like Super Meat Boy, repeated death is a part of the experience, and you'll be on the receiving end of pain a lot before finding the perfect route through the hordes.
Although there are plenty of firearms, and you can not complain about their performance, one quickly learns the advantages of being quiet, as the sound of gunfire is usually enough to see enemies come running.
You can slam open doors and knock down enemies on the other side, and it takes a while for them to get back up. Therefore timing and determination takes pride of place, so before long you're controlling exactly when to smash into a room and who to kill first, and then pull back and wait for enemies to come running through the doorway.
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It's hard, and you get as I said you die a lot - but that means the relief in surviving the onslaught is all the greater.
But Hotline Miami is more than red splotches and lightning-fast reflexes. It's 80s pastiche with David Lynch-like atmosphere. You're quickly in doubt about what is reality and what is a dream world.
Mysterious answer machine messages tell you where to go and to kill everything that moves, and after each mission there's a small intermission were you visit a pizzeria, convenience store, cafeteria, video store or similar, in which there's always the same man behind the counter, who always insist on what you get now is "on the house".
Bizarre incidents and psychosis is apparently everyday for our hero, and although the game is not exactly direct in its narrative technique, one gets the clear impression that there is some context for all the callous violence. But what that is, you'll have to discover for yourself.
It's all tied together by one of the hottest soundtracks we have ever heard. Pumping techno beats and filthy synth bass underlines the hectic atmosphere when you are out and smashing skulls, and stands in beautiful contrast to the more rocky and dream-like pieces that you meet in the game menu and sequences between missions.
And although the graphics, as stated, are not exactly nice, it sets a bold line under the brutality and madness in what you are doing. The background flashes every time you hit somebody, and the ground tilts and rotates gradually with the more people you send to death.
Perhaps Hotline Miami says something wise about games and violence and how we dispense our leisure. Perhaps it will just be a hard-hitting, dirty, freaky, sinister and bizarre action game.
But the combination of the simple graphics, the brilliant soundtrack, the frenzied violence, the mystical and nightmarish atmosphere, and the fast-paced, challenging gameplay, makes this one of the best action games I've tried in a long time. Hotline Miami is terrific on all counts, and a wonderful example of how much can be achieved with simple means, as long as you have a clear vision.
Given the cost is about the same as a pizza, there's is no excuse not to engage raging over this top-down fuck 'em up . Buy it. Buy it now.
9 / 10
+ Insanely catchy
+ Difficult without being frustrating
+ Superb soundtrack
+ Sinister mood