Lets put this into context. Imagine if you took the video game Grand Theft Auto Vice City (set 3 years before the events in Hotline Miami, which is set in Spring/Summer of 1989), and stripped it down to about 15-20 missions. Then you add a surreal story to it, about a man wearing jeans, a varsity jacket and 1 of many animal halloween masks collected throughout the game. He receives answering machine messages that all sound innocent enough. But then your character goes to these addresses in his Delorean, arrives to find them filled with white-suited Russians…and then your goal becomes simple – You kill everybody in the level.
I mentioned Grand Theft Auto Vice City, I’ll mention something else. About 90% of the graphics in this game are presented in the 8-bit style (like computer and video games in the ’70s and ’80s), while the rest of it is like a flowing, colourful, psychedelic picture that Windows Music Player was known for. If you’re used to post-PS2 graphics, this 2012 addition will come as a shock. The blocky visuals are very “old school”, the colour palette is heavily saturated, and in general, it is all really ugly to look at. But it could be argued as a stroke of genius. It makes the game visually memorable, it’s not just “dated graphics”, but a visual style based on the times, and will stand out when you look through gameplay images. It could therefore be a challenge; Are the graphics dated? Or are they simply a style that suits the game?
On top of this, due to the content, it’s basically a video game that would have been labelled a “Video Nasty” in the UK back in the 1980s. So I could imagine if this game existed, it would possibly be infamous for its violence and have many copies buried at a landfill in the desert.
So despite being newer and having really awful graphics compared to Vice City…does it play better than the legendary PS2 game? Possibly not, if more means better. What Hotline Miami actually offers is a more realistic experience of being 1 man against many. While the Grand Theft Auto games feature a main character who could be shot numerous times, tens in fact, and still complete the mission and walk the street afterwards with no medical bills to pay – in Hotline Miami, your character dies after 1 hit, whether he is shot, hit with a blunt or sharp instrument or attacked by a guard dog. In the process, you could die hundreds, maybe even a thousand times in 1 playthrough (Thankfully you don’t get Metal Gear Solid’s Game Over screen after each and every time you die). But in doing so, it actually provides a challenge. It ups the blood pressure, sharpens the mind and puts the nerves on edge. When you complete a mission, you can feel a great sense of satisfaction…until you receive your grade, telling you that you were either too repetitive or not reckless enough or fast enough; D minus! And trust me when I say, it does bring you down, knowing that you didn’t earn a new mask with a different power-up, or a new weapon that appears in levels afterwards. Or maybe it doesn’t matter, you’re just glad that you can now move onto the next level, because that last level nearly cost you your controller or TV. The controls work very well, require mastering in the later levels, and oddly enough the game rewards you if you’re both skilled and reckless at the same time
The music in this game is 1 of my favourite aspects. Much of it sounds like it would be done in the 8-bit style, and yet it’s done mostly with musical instruments and synthesisers, giving it that ’80s pop and dance sound, other times it sounds psychedelic and drug infused. I’ll name some bands and songs so you can youtube them:
Sun Araw: Easily the most psychedelic band on the soundtrack, possibly providing music that represent the sanity of our main character. Including “Horses Steppin”, which is that weird song in the main menu, and “Deep Cover”, which is played at our main character’s apartment.
M.O.O.N: They provide the fastest sounding tracks in some levels. Very action-based and sound very 8-bit in nature. But it’s debatable whether you would want to listen to them outside of the game itself.
Jasper Byrne: Byrne provided the song “Miami”, which plays when your results are given and during the shortcut on the PS3. It is the 1 theme on this list that (for me) brings both Miami and the 1980s together in terms of its simple but powerful sound. Perfect for a sun-set drive. His other song, “Hotline”, is played in a level, and while it sounds great within its intended context, I don’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as Miami.
Scattle: Scattle provide music that’s perfect for an ’80s action movie, and at times reminds me a little bit of the soundtrack to the movie Fight Club (like “It’s Safe Now”). They evoke a lot of emotion, whether in adrenaline (like “Knock Knock” and “Inner Animal”) and or the low points in the game (like “Flatline”). “To The Top” didn’t do much for me.
Elliot Berlin: This guys 1 song “Musikk per automatikk” it very like an 8-bit video game, and sounds good but not a favourite.
Perturbator: “Electric Dreams” reminds me of Mr Mister a little bit, while “Miami Disco” is straight 80s Pop. Easily the the most pop of the bunch.
Eirik Suhrke: His song “A New Morning” sounds like something you would hear at the end of an 80s movie where the battle is won or the guy gets the girl. 1 of the happier sounding tunes on this list.
Coconuts: Other than Sun Araw, this is the most psychedelic group here. using heavy bass and screeching guitars, it sounds like a bad trip going wrong. Not the nicest sounding tune on the list, but it makes its point. It is also the tune that plays when your main character enters a dirty room full of men wearing animal masks. Which reminds me of the Graveyard that Yuri goes to in order to meet the 4 masks that talk to him in Shadow Hearts.
El Huervo: Very ’80s in “Turf”, but also very laid-back and cool in “Daisuke”. Daisuke is played in between missions when our main characters meets the same guy working in different places, such as a convenient store or night club or Video Rental Store. A great little tune.
If you’re looking for a meaningful story and well-developed characters, buy Persona 4 or The Last Of Us, because you won’t find them here. ‘Understand that the game’s major emphasis is on the gameplay and the look. Yes, there is a story, and a complicated 1 at that, which has lots of show but don’t tell in it. Your main character has a lot going on in his head, but even at the end of it, I feel like I don’t know anything about him. He’s just a man taking orders with no redeeming qualities, other than suggest that he really is suppose to be me, and therefore I have done these horrible things throughout the game. The story does have a bigger picture, which is explained in its 2nd ending. But the game can be left alone after the 1st ending, if you’re satisfied with completing the game rather than being really good at it. Something you would carry out if you really enjoyed the experience and wanted to do it again and again.
The level design is very good, and thankfully you’re given a checkpoint when you clear a floor and then either take the lift go use the stairs. It allows longer levels to be manageable. The game also provides you with everything you need to complete it, so if you can’t finish it, that means you’re either not very good or you’re unlucky, because the game will occasionally change on you, even if you’ve figured out a strategy that you’re happy with, and hope that the definition of insanity doesn’t eventually lay eggs in your brain.
8/10 for the well-made but intentionally dated Graphics, 10/10 for the Music, 10/10 for the Gameplay, 9/10 for the Level Design, 9/10 for the Art Style, 7/10 for the Story, 6/10 for the Characters, 10/10 for the Controls. Overall: 86.25/100 ( between ***1/2 and ***3/4 out of *****)