Just so ya’ll know, this is probably the most graphically violent game I’ve covered ever so if oodles and oodles of gore and suggestions of sexual abuse aren’t your bag then you might want to check out one of my other posts and a different game.
The year is 1989. The player adopts the role of a character wearing a letterman’s jacket in a dingy apartment, he is never given a name — the community calls him Jacket. His answering machine has a cryptic message leading him to an address. When Jacket gets there, via his sweet Delorian– did I mention this was the eighties–, he dons a rooster mask and kills everyone there (And everyone there is a Russian mobsters) using whatever weapons he can find. Another mask is delivered to his abode and he gets another message a few days later. He knows what he has to do.
Hotline Miami was developed by Dennaton Games which is a collaboration between Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin. Soderstrom made the game in Game Maker and Dennis drew up the art for it. Soderstrom is an ever-busy developer who’s released more than 40 games such as Mondo Medicals (A game full of illogic puzzles) and Hot Throttle (A racing games with people who think they’re cars).
Hotline was based on one of the oodles of games Soderstrom made but didn’t release called Super Carnage. Soderstrom was able to get the game to near release state but he couldn’t get the enemy AI to work correctly– something I’ll come back to later.
Fun Fact: This game was pirated pretty heavily because it’s got such a small file size. In spite of this, Soderstrom helped patch buggy copies of the game whether they were legitimately acquired or not. He’s cited as saying “I want anyone who plays the game to be able to enjoy it without stupid bugs that detract from the experience. Feel free to buy it if you like the game. It would help allowing me and Dennis to make more ‘big’ projects like this in the future.”
Hotline Miami was released on October 23rd, 2012. It’s competition was The Fool and His Money (PC and Mac), Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS), and Killzone HD (Playstation Network).
No two play Hotline Miami the same way — and I don’t just mean their approaches to mass murdering a bunch of mobsters. My Hotline wasn’t about power fantasy. It was about solving a mystery. The game goes as far as to ask the player directly, “Who has been leaving messages on your phone?” and I was totally drawn in by this. But more importantly, I wanted to know why Jacket was so complicit in accepting his commands.
I tried to glean as much information as I could to figure it all out. What did it mean that his apartment was a wreck? Why did he choose the flashy Delorian if he intends on killing hundreds? How strong is this guy? I mean killing people with his bare hands is probably physically demanding.
In the end, I had this strange instinct that Jacket was a character who would do whatever he was told. He was just the sort of person to blindly perform tasks like the input the player gives him. He’s just following orders.
The game is a 2-D isometric fuck ’em up — the difference between a beat ’em up and a fuck ’em up is that in beat ’em ups you punch dudes until they fall down, in fuck ’em ups you punch a dude and then slam his head against the floor until his skull fractures. Your goal in each level is to kill everyone you see — with a few scarce exceptions. The good news is that enemies die in one hit. The bad news is that you do too. You can press R to restart the level and that’ll get ingrained in your muscle memory so hard that you’ll do it before you hit the ground.
Jacket’s a pretty flexible fighter as far as serial killers go. He can pick up and throw any weapon he gets his hands on — with some weapons being more dangerous than others– or he can resort to his good ol’ fists. The game scores you on how well and creatively that Jacket dispatches his enemies. The more you mix it up and the more fluid you are the more points you get.
His array of masks also offer bonuses, large and small, to keep the carnage going — with effects like “Lethal Doors,” “Silent Gunshots,” and “French Translation.” Speaking of guns, be careful where you fire them. Your opponents are stupid but not deaf. They’ll come running as soon as they hear it and be none too pleased about their murdered friends. It certainly doesn’t help that guns give you fewer points.
The music in this game is incredible. It’s a perfect match to the sleazy 80s atmosphere. The whole while I was playing this game my head was bobbing. I listen to it a lot even when I’m not playing the game and this is 2 years later.
The game has this weird way of rewarding the player’s frantic, wild, and unpredictable actions. It almost seems like the AI is struggling to keep up with something they didn’t expect the player to do. It all sort of turns into a blur. Run in, hit guy with the door, pick up his weapon, throw it at other goon, pick up his gun, fire to attract other guys, finish of first guy, throw gun at remaining thugs, punch them all, and then beat them to death one at a time.
I really liked how the optional objective gave some sort of clarity and meaning to the chaotic experience. If you’re itching to figure out what’s going on them keep an eye out for misplaced purple pixels. They’re actually puzzle pieces but what could they mean?
This game is pretty difficult. I know some of you blazed through it easy and but just imagine how discouraging it’s got to be to die as soon as you open the front door. The game’s difficulty is exacerbated by it’s extremely fast pace.
Bonus Story: My old computer was practically a toaster — I named it Rust Bucket. It ran Hotline extremely slowly and slower yet if I ran something in the background. I may have used this to A+ every stage — if it’s any consolation it glitched out quite a few times.
I can’t recommend this game enough if it sounds at all appealing to you. It’s only ten dollars on Steam and that’s a bargain for the barrel full of gore and fun this happened to be — but mostly fun… and yet mostly gore. If you liked this title then it will please you to hear that Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is nearing its release so keep an eye out for it as well.
Next Week: The Binding Of Isaac.