The elevator doors open, and I shoot the enemy directly in front of me before he even realizes I am there. Damn it! I should have tossed the gun at him instead of shooting him. Now more bad guys heard the gunshot and are heading my way! But this is no time to think about what I should have done: I think I saw at least two more guys heading my way from the edge of the screen. The first enters the room – bam! – dead. A second blindly follows him – bam! – dead. Now things get complicated. I am out of ammo for my shotgun, so I pick up the nearest gun, a double-barreled shotgun with only one bullet left. To make things worse, I have three more enemies coming for me, and only one bullet. I take cover behind a wall, waiting for them to turn the corner so I can surprise them.
Another one comes – bam! – dead. I’m out of ammo, but before I can react, the second guy turns the corner. I toss my gun at him without thinking twice and knock him out. He won’t be out cold for long, maybe a few seconds, but that buys me some time. As the third and final guy turns the corner, I have no bullets or weapons to throw at him, so I take a risk: I charge. I manage to land a punch to the face before he can pull the trigger. He now lies against the wall. Before I finish his miserable life, I remember the first guy I knocked out will get up any second, so I rush to him, get on top of him and beat at his skull until his face just becomes a bloody pulp. Then I rush to the guy lying against the wall and kick his face against it. That was close – too close. As I pick up an enemy’s dropped gun from the floor and make my way to the next room, I make a mistake; I cross the line of sight of a guard who missed out on the action. This time I wasn’t fast enough, and the enemy shoots – bam! – dead.
Now back to the beginning.
One shot, swing, or punch is all it takes to kill you in Dennaton’s hit indie game Hotline Miami. It’s brutal, both in its difficulty and in its premise: you are a guy – yes, not a professional assassin or a commando, just some guy, for what you are concerned – who receives coded phone calls which give you the location of where you can find your targets. Then you put on a rubber animal mask and kill everyone in the area.
Hotline Miami encourages you to be reckless, to take chances, and to leave no survivors. You earn points for each enemy you kill and for how you much you disregard your own safety. These points are used to unlock more weapons, which can be found in the maps, or more masks, which grant you different abilities. For example, the pig mask makes more guns appear on the map instead of melee weapons, and the dog mask makes it so dogs don’t attack you.
In order to complete your assignments in Hotline Miami, you are going to have to use any means possible. You start off every mission with no weapon, so you usually have to defeat your first few enemies with your fists, but after that you are free to shoot your way through the level or maybe beat everyone with a crowbar, Gordon Freeman-style. Weapons range from your standard pistols, shotguns, and machine guns to samurai swords, beer cans, and pipe irons, so you can really get creative with the ways you want to inflict pain in Hotline Miami.
Compared to the amount of weapons and masks, the story department seems lacking – the game throws many questions at you, to which you will only get a very vague answer towards the later part of the game or sometimes no answer at all. For Hotline Miami, this isn’t really a problem; the lack of story is part of the game’s identity, and the fact that you have so little explanation as to why you are doing what you are doing makes it all the more creepy and disturbed. However, Hotline Miami does a great job of building this surreal environment that makes you wish it would have been explored more.
My main complaint with Hotline Miami is that since it’s a game designed around killing you and forcing you to try the level over and over until you know it to perfection, you sometimes fail because of the game’s fault. For example, a glitch or an enemy shooting you from the other side of the map gets very frustrating. In one level, I had to kill everyone in a dining room before I could access the elevators to continue. The dining room is massive – bigger than your screen. Once you open the doors and get spotted, some of the enemies move out and try to kill you. That’s OK; that’s normal. However, two guys stay at the very back where you can’t see unless you walk into the room (which, by the way has no cover), so it’s suicide. What makes this situation worse is that the enemies can see you and will shoot at you with inhuman accuracy. I had to resort to blind-firing through the open door, hoping my bullets would hit them and I would dodge theirs. I must have spent at least 20 minutes in that room alone, which definitely didn’t help my frustration with Hotline Miami.
You’ll also find yourself often dying because you turn a corner and an enemy was there, waiting for you just out of your line of sight. This is especially annoying if they are one of the last enemies on the map, as it means that you will have to start over again. Too many times I died because an enemy shot me through a window from a room on the other side of the map, which to me is a sign of poor level design. It doesn’t happen too often, but there are a few levels where this happens a lot more frequently than it should. Compared to Super Meat Boy, which uses the same one-hit death mechanic, Hotline Miami doesn’t fare as well. In Super Meat Boy, you know that every death is your fault – the level design rarely, if ever, is the cause of your death.
If you are up to a challenge and are willing to ignore some of the game’s design flaws, you will find that Hotline Miami offers one of the best indie game experiences of the year. It’s fast-paced and it’s brutal, but Hotline Miami always leaves you coming back for more. Whilst the whole story can be completed in under six hours – it took me about five – you can always replay the levels to beat your previous score and unlock more guns and masks. At the low price point of $10 or £7, I recommend the game to anyone who is into indie games or hard games in general. However, when Hotline Miami drops just a little in price, there is no reason one should miss out on this fantastic indie title.