Is this how low we have sunk? Is this the epitome of humanity? Is this how we will all end? Hell is waiting for us.
Hotline Miami is not a nice game. It is not a clever game. It is not an artistic game. It is not even a well made game. Hotline Miami is either one of two things. Gaming’s crowning glory or the most horrific creation ever. Where you stand on this will depend on your stance towards crack? Do you like crack? Good, then you will love Hotline Miami. This two man indie team, calling themselves DENNATON, have basically distilled the essence of crack into a game. It is not unlike that soul destroying feeling that resonates while playing Angry Birds. It is not unlike that smash-your face-into-the-floor-until-it-bleeds-all-over-the-carpet feeling that drips from Trials. It is not unlike enveloping yourself in the tendrils of the devil’s concoction and drifting away. Except in Hotline Miami the kicks come from kicking in the head of the nearest enemy and watching as it explodes in pixelated glory all over the already blood stained carpet.
In the last two hours, I have brutally murdered hundreds of men. Some covered in bullet holes, others sliced in two with a samurai sword, yet more with boot-shaped caved in faces. Their bodies litter the floor. All because someone on the other end of the phone told me to. I am not even sure why. Is this game making me crazy?
Hotline Miami was made over twenty years ago, but only today’s morally bankrupt society will allow it to be released. At least that is what I’m choosing to believe. The retro pixelated graphics, the grainy simulation of a chunky cathode-ray television, the neon colours of arcade cabinets long since destroyed, funky-madness-inducing-house pumping out über cool beats - Hotline Miami has it all. A retro overhead shooter with a serious attitude problem.
You play a killer. Killing because the game told you too. Killing because it will not let you continue unless you kill. Killing because it feeds the addiction. That’s OK though because everyone wants to kill you too. And you will be killed. One baseball bat to the crotch will down you. One stray bullet will have your guts leaking over the floor. And it all happens in a completely unpredictable instant. That’s OK though because instant restarting is just an R button press away. Constant, unstoppable restarts.
To clear a level, every man on that floor must lay dead. Yet your own demise will see everyone back on their feet again, ready for you to repeat the slaughter. You could argue that Hotline Miami has tactical elements. You could wait behind a door for just the right moment, smashing it into the first enemy knocking him unconscious. You could grab this downed man’s pool cue and fling it at the second enemy who is just readying his gun. You could then ensure that neither of these men will be getting back to their feet by smashing their skulls in. You could do that. Or you could just charge in guns blazing, wake up all the other scum in the building and then gun them all down as they investigate the noise.
The enemies of Hotline Miami are no more intelligent than the game itself. Mindless and idiotic. They will run head-first through a door, even if piles of bodies the size of Everest line the other side. Others will stare blankly as their allies are ripped to pieces right before their eyes. Perhaps, just like me, they are mindless drones - hooked up to the dripping machine that is Hotline Miami.
Sections between missions allow the player to calm down. Get a little bit of perspective. A friendly video store owner may lend you a free film. Strange men in creepy masks will taunt you, prod you, mock you. It is nonsense. There may be the semblance of a plot hidden deep down in its fiery depths but the game is too obscured by its own violent haze to unveil it. Perhaps that is all the game is trying to say. Take a look at yourself. Look what you have done. Hundreds lie dead, and you’re saying a game made you do it?
It seems that the moral code book is not the only code that Hotline Miami is intent on tearing to pieces. Its own code is horrifyingly broken with error messages appearing at every opportunity, music that disappears never to be heard again and levels failing to finish despite every soul now lying choking on their own blood and vomit. It seems the game even takes some small delight in having such shattered code by wilfully stating such things as ‘Use Steam... May not work’. Arguably the game is made by only two developers using the notoriously buggy GameMaker development kit, so we could perhaps give them some slack. Yet I see it as the code revolting against this blasphemy of its use.
Perhaps Hotline Miami’s closest kindred spirit is that of the original Grand Theft Auto, if you were to strip away any driving element. In much the same way it dissolves violence by lathering it in surreal dark humour. It makes it accessible, entertaining and enjoyable, which was an outrage fifteen years ago, yet today seems rather irrelevant in the face of modern games. Much like Grand Theft Auto it rewards you for variations and combinations of killing, but it takes it even further. At the end of each mission you are awarded a score based on how efficient and varied all your killings were and gives you a mark, like a gruesome school exam. Higher scores unlock more weapons which can then be used to rip apart foes in the next area. Each mission, as well as certain other discoveries, unlock masks which the player can don before the start of their rampage. These freaky looking animal masks gift the player unique abilities, such as quicker executions, deadlier door slamming and being able to survive more than one bullet to the chest. They give the game slight variation on playthrough but rarely change the overall feel of the level.
Scoring Hotline Miami is an issue. It has garnered praise across the board for being outrageous and horrendously compulsive, because it really, really is. Yet, for me it has single-handedly proven that the industry is still obsessed with nothing but horrific comedy violence and that disturbs me. Hotline Miami works as a riotous ten minute slaughter fest, but the inherent addictive element of it ensures that the game must be finished in one sitting. It may only be a couple of hours of blood and gore but when the end comes and that comatose state begins to lift, it is a strange feeling to look back and wonder where your life went wrong. Seriously, you just spent two hours eviscerating every human being within range with any implement you could find to hand. You are a horrible person and you were probably laughing the whole time.