Video game related violence is a serious issue in the modern era and games that celebrate gaudy retro violence such as Hotline Miami are a prime culprit of this phenomena. A strewn wreckage of broken knuckles, mouses and monitors is all that’s left in the wake. The games violence is not the culprit, if anything beating somebody to death with your bare hands and the sickening wet thudding sounds that go with it is a satisfying antidote to the hair tearing difficulty Hotline Miami establishes from the outset. Other culprits include bloody retro platformer Super Meat Boy and the ironically soul destroying Dark Souls. Wont somebody think of the children exposed to challenges they may never be able to complete as they find themselves in a rage induced coma from head butting their computer monitors?
The brutal difficulty becomes the most engaging element. The game is played from an isometric 2D perspective and you run around various indoor locations beating bad guys to death with various blunt and sharp instruments as well as guns. One shot will take most enemies out but likewise one shot will take you out and then you need to restart the area because tough shit learn to play. It’s fast, highly twitched based and brutal requiring multiple repetitions to learn the layouts of the levels and the best methods of completing them. Then even after that you’ll want to revisit the levels to work out the best way to score combo-multipliers by killing multiple goons in succession. Like the masochist I am the brutality of the experience just keeps me coming back for me in a vain effort to thrash my way through the bloody tapestry of enemies.
There’s some good nuance to the simple run and thwack premise. Doors can be knocked in which knocks out guards but you need to bash them in when they’re down to finish them off which if others can see you will result in your own brains scattered across the walls. Guns are powerful especially as many enemies can only kill you up close, but they’re loud which can result in hordes of guards running to your location and ammo is limited making you look rather literally red in the face when you run out. Different enemies exist to mix things up, from tougher goons who can only die from bullets to god damn fucking guard dogs which as in most games I find I hate with a cold passion. Multiple masks are unlocked through the game which give you special abilities from making those damn guard dogs docile towards you to increasing your speed or letting you hold more bullets. Some of these are significantly more powerful than others although there’s nuance to all of them are many are good in specific levels in specific situations.
A surreal backdrop of masked men giving you shady phone calls that talk in euphemisms about ‘cleaning up local miscreants’ sets the scene and motivation for why you’re busting down doors and cracking skulls. You’re a hired killer of sorts with amnesia, hallucinations and a love of movie rentals and pizza. A thumping beat accompanies the action and the graphical style is sleek and stylised in spirit with the games obvious 80’s influences . Eventually the story becomes very retrospective of the games violent subject matter which at first glance seems exactly what angry media giants shout at games not to be. There’s a meaty brainy element to all the chaos which is highly interesting to explore through the games progression.
Most of all I just love this game for the unsympathetic way it treats the player, forcing them to learn and learn again from their mistakes and better themselves to complete it which is how many games used to be before silly things like learning curves, lengthy tutorials and cut scene game play were introduced. It’s unflinchingly brutal and you will scream, swear and shout but enjoy every minute of it.