The TV and internet service where I live tends to get a bit sketchy in crummy weather. So when I heard that a full blown hurricane would be heading into my area I figured at the very least I would be losing my precious internet connection. I did. I also lost power too for a while, but that was about it. I was pretty lucky considering how much damage the storm has caused everywhere else. For me it wasn’t about surviving the storm but surviving the boredom.
I didn’t realize it until I had lost my internet, but many of the games I’ve been playing recently require an online connection. I had thought I was a fairly well rounded gamer, but apparently I’ve become somewhat obsessed with multiplayer titles; LoL, CS: GO, and Chivalry are some of the online games I’ve been playing over the last few weeks. This time, however, I had planned ahead. Just before the storm arrived I went over to Steam and picked up Hotline Miami. It was only $10 bucks and I had heard good things, besides, unlike many of my other games it didn’t require an internet connection. For ten bucks I had figured I would get a couple of hours of mindless fun, instead I was mesmerized for three brutal days of electronically synthesized death and violence.
I don’t think that I can accurately describe Hotline Miami. To say that it’s simply a game with an 80s theme would be an understatement. It’s a game that actually feels like it was made in the 80s. It’s brutally difficult, has those cheesy Ninja Gaiden-like cut scenes, and plays one of the most pervasive and addictive soundtracks I’ve heard in quite some time. As some sort of emotionally unstable mask-wearing Hitman, I receive jobs, take out the bad guys, and receive my payment. It’s like a twisted and violent 2D combination of Contra and the film Drive. As you can see I’m clearly having trouble putting it into words.
A small but poignant story.
The first thing I noticed when I turned the game on was the music. By then hurricane Sandy was in full force; it was dark out, the wind flickered the lights, and bands of rain pelted the windows, but all I heard was the instantly addictive 80s inspired electronic music of Hotline Miami playing in my headphones. Each sequence of the game has its own specifically tailored jams. The menu is pretty chill as are some of the game’s less violent moments, but once you head into a mission the music immediately changes, pulsing like a heartbeat as you clear each level by what always feels like the skin of your teeth. Usually for me music is a great way to reinforce a theme or setting, but the music in Hotline Miami is straight up hypnotizing. I couldn’t stop playing because I didn’t want the music to stop.
Why would I want to stop playing you ask? Well the game is hard, very hard. The Contra reference before had a lot to do the game’s graphics, but it also had a lot to do with the level of difficulty as well. Just like in Contra the player dies in one hit, meaning that each stage must be memorized and handled with brutal efficiency. Death isn’t just likely it’s necessary; the only way to figure out a level is to die repeatedly trying to beat it. Normally if a game seems really difficult I might go online to see if there is anything I’m doing wrong, but with the internet out and the power soon to follow I figured that I would just dive right in and play the old fashioned way. So instead, I died a lot.
I almost wore out my R key.
The game is divided into chapters of which I’m currently on number eight. Each chapter has a few stages and each stage is a room full of armed men and angry dogs just waiting to kill you, and they will most likely. Before each mission you select a mask to wear with each giving you some sort of additional ability such as starting with a knife, faster walking, or improved sight. You can collect more and more masks throughout the game, each with their own special ability to exploit. Seeing as you normally start each chapter without a weapon, some masks help in making the first few kills a bit easier.
While you do start unarmed you can pick up the weapons off of dead or incapacitated enemies. Some carry pipes or baseball bats while others have shotguns or assault rifles. Its fun to equip the rifles, but one shot is all it takes to get every enemy in the mission to rush you. Sometimes a quieter melee weapon is the way to go. Successful strategies will most likely utilize a combination of both ranged and melee weapons, forcing the player to swap between weapon types quickly and think on their feet. Aspects of the environment can also be used to your advantage as kicking a door open into the face of an enemy will stun them, forcing them to drop their weapon.
Even with these graphics it’s still surprisingly satisfying to kick a door into someone’s face.
Using all of the different skills, weapons, and tactics available creates a brutally rewarding experience that sometimes feels like a violently choreographed masterpiece. It’s difficult, but taking out a room with three armed-thugs like some action star is pretty bad ass especially when you kill one straight-up with a door to the face. The frenetic, cool, and risky gameplay is made all the more spectacular and violent with the game’s consistently hypnotic and engaging soundtrack. These elements come together to form a hellishly fun and immersive experience that I didn’t think was possible for $10.
If it wasn’t for hurricane Sandy I don’t know if I would downloaded Hotline Miami, but I’m sure glad that I did. Even after the storm had passed and my internet was restored, there I was, bouncing my head to that addictive music, murdering my way through chapter seven. I wouldn’t say it’s a revolutionary title, but it has definitely set the bar higher for every other $10 game I buy from now on. It’s such a brutally simple experience that I simply must recommend it to anyone who enjoys a challenge served with a hearty dose of blood and violence.