Hotline Miami is the quintessential indie game. It straddles several contrasting genres and has a striking art style that is all of its own.
What's more it asks questions of players that mainstream games just don't seem to ask. Ever.
The main thrust of the story is that you seem to play as a hitman with a penchant for rubber animal masks and whose favoured target is white-suited Russian mobsters.
He receives missions in the form of bizarre answerphone messages featuring an address then sets out in his Delorean to deal some death to the underworld of 1980s Miami.
Afterwards he'll indulge in a video rental, pizza, drink at a bar or just a midnight snack and then head home to do it all again the next day.
The gameplay is gloriously simple. The character starts out with no weapons and only a rubber mask for comfort. The object of the game is simply to kill every person at the given address. One hit with a weapon kills and the enemies will kill on sight.
Players must use strategy, timing and patience combined with a level of boldness. Make no mistake, in order to complete a level you must put a lot of thought into how you are going to kill each target in each room in order to make it out of the level alive.
Scores are awarded for each kill, with bonuses for speed, style and boldness. Combos are available too for dispatching multiple enemies in quick succession.
As the game progresses more masks become unlocked affording gamers different perks for each mask, each with a mans name, that gives the player distinct tactical advantages like being able to kill with doors or to be ignored by guard dogs. Players also unlock more weapons as well improving the variety of deaths that can be inflicted on the white-suited targets.
All of the action takes place in a top-down, neon-soaked 16-bit world. It flickers in the same manner as old fluorescent tube lighting and the colour palette reflects the kind of washed-out tones that only come with soft lighting. Only the blood from each victim is truly vibrant and there is a lot of blood in this game.
The music is key ingredient to the game adding a kind of trippy atmosphere with a selection of eighties-inspired electro tunes that are a perfect fit for the game's surreal and oddly hypnotic atmosphere.
As the game progresses you will get the sense that there is something not quite right about all of this and it has a knack of forcing you to confront the violent acts you have committed by leaving the bodies lying around the level making you walk back through the level once you have completed it.
The game's controls are a bit awkward using a twin-thumbstick scheme for moving and aiming and the shoulder buttons for picking up and attacking. It can get a bit clunky at times but it also feels that this was a deliberate attempt to make players feel every kill. The addition of a touchscreen aim-lock in the PS Vita version is very welcome and allows a bit more finesse than in the PS3 and PC versions of the game.
As well as the touchscreen functionality in the Vita version, the PS3 and Vita also include online leaderboards encouraging the competitive side of the game to show through and there's a special mask called Russell which allows players to experience the game in monochrome except for the blood which stays red.
Hotline Miami is so much more than just an ultra-violent indie oddity. Part strategy, part action, it forces you to experience every kill in a different way from other games and asks questions that other ultra-violent games always skip. Very quickly you ask yourself “why am I doing this?” and “is this all necessary?” which is very in gaming today.
With the nifty little tweaks and additions that have been made to Hotline Miami for the PS Vita the game has grown into itself even more. This is not only a must have title for the Vita but a reason to own it; and a very good one at that.
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