Hotline Miami is not a game for everyone. It is extremely violent, incredibly difficult, and everything about the presentation feels as if it was fueled to emulate a drug-induced haze. In many ways Hotline Miami represents the worst parts of video games; a murder simulator in which the main reward is the pile of corpses left behind. Has this game become an indie darling because of this, or inspite of it?
Each level starts up with the same basic mission structure: you receive a phone call and proceed to go through and murder everyone in a specific location. You enter each mission empty-handed and outnumbered. The trick is that the game expects you to die, over and over again. Hotline Miami shares a lot of the compulsory rinse-and-repeat mindset of Super Meat Boy. Both games have hypnotic music that isn’t interrupted by player death. Instead the music keeps going, and a single button press resets the current level. The enemy placement remains the same, but the weapons they carry do not. Suddenly the first person you deal with might have a shotgun instead of a knife. This drastically changes how each level plays out, making each play through feel all the more dynamic.
The combat is made up of a few simple mechanics. Barring boss battles, everyone can only hold onto a single weapon at a time. Each of these weapons are lethal in one hit. Every weapon can also be thrown to knock down or possibly kill an enemy. Gunplay is far more effective when dealing with a large amount of enemies, but your shots alert enemies in other rooms. This results in a game that’s mostly about managing your resources and how to best clear each room.
The game can be beaten in under five hours, but there are a number of hooks to keep players enthralled. The scoring system encourages repeat playthroughs. Granting higher multipliers to players that throw caution to the wind and clear rooms utilizing risky behaviors. Most levels have a mask that can be unlocked if a certain score is reached. These masks are used as modifiers for levels. At the start of each level, the player selects one of the unlocked masks to wear at the offset. Some of these masks can increase a particular statistic while others grant the players with a weapon at the start of the level.
Hotline Miami is the essence of a guilty pleasure. It’s not a game for everyone. That’s part of it’s appeal. The game has an authorial voice behind it, one that shaped every gruesome frame of animation. It is worth checking out.