Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hotline Miami Review: An 8-Bit Bloodbath

This isn't Zelda.
+ 8-Bit Top Down Beat 'Em To Death.
+ 19 levels full of enemies to slaughter.
+ Various masks that grant special abilities.

- A few bugs, such as background music not playing.
- Some levels can be incredibly frustrating.
- Foreshadowing spoils most of the story.

Hotline Miami begins in a dark alley, with a bearded man announcing, "I'm here to tell you how to kill people." This single sentence sets the tone for the game, and it's only going to get bloodier from there. Despite its colorful 8-bit graphics, and catchy 80's inspired soundtrack, Hotline Miami is filled to the brim with violence and brutality.

You're an unnamed killer, with a letterman jacket and a collection of animal masks, who keeps receiving messages about various odd jobs on the answering machine. These messages are actually code for paid hits that require you to clear out multi-level buildings with pipes, guns, and even your bare hands.

To help you through the various levels of carnage, there are more than twenty masks that provide special bonuses when selected at the beginning of a stage. These bonus powers range anywhere from allowing you to kill enemies with doors to surviving a single gunshot. Unfortunately,many of the masks unlocked in later levels pale in comparison to early game staples such as Tony (it lets you kill people with a single punch).

Guns play a major role in the mid to late game.

Hotline Miami may be a top down beat 'em up focused on brutality and bloodshed, but it's also a stealth-based puzzle game. Taking the time to prioritize enemies, find available weapons, and locate safe areas will lead to more success than running around spamming the left mouse button. If you don't want to spend the day hammering the R key to respawn, you'd better slow down and plan your next move.

That said, death is a big part of the game, for both you and your enemies. You will die frequently as you learn where the enemies are positioned, which bad guys have guns, and whether or not dogs are patrolling the halls. This kind of learn-by-failure game design can be frustrating, but rapid respawning helps to keep the deaths from feeling like punishment, even if you are sent back to the beginning of a stage.

Uh, yeah?

The surreal storyline doesn't really pick up until the third part of the game, and when it does, heavy-handed foreshadowing tends to spoil most of the plot twists. Major revelations are frequently preceded by a cutscene where someone basically tells you what's going to happen next. This is unfortunate, but not really detrimental to the overall game. You shouldn't play a game like Hotline Miami for the story, you should play it for the unabashed ultraviolence.

All in all, I found Hotline Miami to be an enjoyable experience from beginning to end, excluding a few moments when I was cursing the developers to hell. Some areas are definitely frustrating, but by the end of the game, my frustration gave way to warm feelings of satisfaction. The game may not be perfect, but it is still pretty damn good.