It plays like a rush of blood to the head. It looks like an acid trip. It sounds like a massacre in a nightclub, and it’s probably the closest thing in gaming to an actual drug. Hotline Miami is the biggest story in the indie scene right now, and it’s the most out-and-out fun I’ve had in a game all year.
At its core, Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter, similar in perspective and colour palette to the original Grand Theft Auto. You play a drugged-up hitman who keeps his identity hidden behind a selection of strangely terrifying animal masks. You take phone calls, and then you kill people. Lots of people.
The combat is visceral, bloody and brutal, with weapons ranging from broken bottles and lead pipes to silenced pistols and fully automatic rifles. Even the environment is on your side – doors are just as effective at flooring goons as your fists, and kicking a man’s face through his own wash-basin never gets tired. What results from this is a fast, fluid combat system, with plenty of scope for creative slaughter.
Also, Hotline Miami is hard. Straight up bastard hard. Your pixellated assassin is just as weak as those he hunts – one hit from any weapon will end your disgusting life – and knowing that even the slightest mistake will force you to restart the level makes every kill as satisfying as the first. The feeling of working your way through each stage death by death is very reminisicent of Super Meat Boy, evoking the same feelings of fear, rage and elation. When you die – and you will die – you’ll know it’s because you made a mistake. Then you’ll hear the music again, and you just won’t be able to help yourself.
That music, with its thumping bass lines and super fast tempo, is addictive in ways that I still don’t fully understand. Honestly, it feels less like music and more like a form of mood control. “KILL,” it says, “KILL THEM RIP THEM APART KILL THEM DO NOT STOP KILLING”. To disobey it would be blasphemy, and even taking a moment to consider your next move feels wrong, somehow. But that’s exactly when the game stops being merely enjoyable and starts being incredible.
The key to success is to mix a well-formed plan with grotesque levels of improvised violence. Because the player character is just as weak as his enemies, taking on a room full of goons head-on is nothing short of suicide. You don’t even start with any weapons. But if you run in at the right moment you can *SMACK* knock a guy out with a door. Pick up his crowbar and *CRUNCH* pound his head into the floor. You throw the crowbar *WHACK* and the second guy drops his weapon. Now you have a shotgun. *BOOM* the first shot opens the door. *BOOM* as the second shot floors the two goons that tried to rush you. The floor, the walls, the furniture, all covered in blood. More are coming. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
Hotline Miami is literally the game your mother warned you about. Rumour has it there’s an official demo in the works and, trust me, you’re really, really going to want to play it. You’ll swear, you’ll rage, you’ll perform horrendous acts of violence on other human beings, and you’ll enjoy every fucking minute. Just don’t tell the Daily Mail.