Hotline Miami
Gameplay 9
Graphics 8
Sound 9

Hotline Miami is a surreal, brutal, and bloody top-down shooter where players are given access to a bunch of weapons and set loose on Russian mobsters. Almost everyone, including the protagonist, can be killed in one hit, which, coupled with the speed of the game, makes for a very intense experience. The neon-tinted color palette used for the retro 16-bit visuals and the synthwave soundtrack further enhances the experience and draws players into the seedy game world. The game is extremely challenging and not without flaws, but the overall experience is one that comes highly recommended.

Gameplay: The game is fast-paced with brutal violence, but one misstep can result in instant death.

Graphics: The visuals are pixelated but detailed, and the overall aesthetic is quite memorable.

Sound: The soundtrack is easily one of the highlights of the game, and the music is a perfect match for the action

Summary 8.7 Outstanding
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Summary 0.0 Terrible

Hotline Miami

Developer: Dennaton Games | Publisher: Devolver Digital | Release Date: 2012 | Genre: Action / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Hotline Miami opens with a tutorial where the unnamed protagonist is instructed to kill three people. The first has to be murdered with your bare hands, the second with a baseball bat, and the third via a shotgun. It is a grim, dark, bloody, and violent start that makes it very clear what can be expected from the next nineteen or so levels. The story is intentionally kept murky as players go on a murderous rampage against the Russian Mafia at the behest of voices on their answering machines. However, the protagonist is not a superpowered hero that can slow down time or withstand lethal damage to take down foes with ease. Instead, he’s just a normal person who requires a lot of skill and a lot of luck to survive the insurmountable odds.

The game is set in an alternative version of Miami of 1989, where players move from one location to the next while leaving a bloody trail of carnage in their wake. Each mission opens at the protagonists’ apartment with a seemingly innocent voice message instructing players to go to specific locations. While the messages mention innocuous activities, they are actually euphemisms for violently murdering everyone at the location. Each location usually has multiple floors or areas, which must all be cleared to advance. Typically they are also teeming with enemies, all of whom can kill players in one hit. The result is a fast-paced and frenzied game where players must kill enemies as quickly as possible while trying to avoid drawing too much attention to themselves.

Hotline Miami is viewed from an overhead perspective and uses retro-style visuals to depict the carnage. Each level is started unarmed by default, but thankfully there are plenty of weapons strewn about inside the locations. Killing enemies also gives players access to their weapons, which can help even the odds. However, there’s never an opportunity to become complacent as death lurks around every corner. Getting a shotgun for the first time might feel great, but it soon becomes apparent that not only are your shots limited, but the noise will attract dozens of other enemies to your location. So, while going in guns blazing can be extremely satisfying, it usually also results in sudden and violent death. A melee weapon such as a knife, crowbar, baseball bat, or even brick might not be as glamorous but can get the job done a lot more quietly. Regardless of what weapon players pick, the result is usually rooms littered with blood and bodies, along with a body count that would make John Wick envious.

Opposition in Hotline Miami comes mostly in the form of Russian mobsters, but eventually, players also have to deal with dogs and the police. In addition, some levels pit players against bosses that won’t go down as easily as their lackeys. The game does not present players with the option to choose their difficulty, so the only way to beat the game is to get good at it. Fortunately, while death can be swift, restarting is just as quick, and players can take another stab at the level in the blink of an eye. The only caveat is that things might be slightly different in terms of what weapons appear or where enemies are looking. Death means having to restart a level, but each floor serves as a checkpoint, which is a relief. The game only saves after completing a level, though, but with enough practice, this can be done quickly.

In case brutally dismembering mobsters wasn’t gratifying enough for players, the game also offers some incentives in the form of scores and rankings. These are based on things like time, flexibility, mobility, boldness, and combos and can reward players with new masks. The masks are the closest thing that the game has to special powers, as each one bestows the protagonist with a different ability. For example, Tony, the tiger mask, enables players to kill enemies quicker with their fists as well as execute them faster. Graham, the rabbit mask, allows players to walk faster, Ted, the Dog mask, prevents other dogs from attacking the player, and so on. Some masks can only be obtained by finding them inside the levels, but usually, it is worth the effort. Another reason why players would want to take a bit more time to search the levels is the hidden password letters. These are represented by a purple pixel and, when picked up, reveal one letter of a password. There is one of these on each level, and finding all of them is the only way to access the true ending of the game. While not essential, the game is short and entertaining enough that players won’t mind replaying levels for the secrets, masks, leaderboards, and achievements.

Visually, the retro-style 16-bit visuals fit the surreal aesthetic of the game, and the color palette really sells the eighties Miami vibe. Although pixelated, the visuals are detailed enough for some disturbing blood and dismemberment. The only downside is that enemies can sometimes blend in with the environments, which caused us to be blindsided a few times. For many, the best part of the game will be the synthwave/electronic soundtrack featuring the likes of Pertubator, Scattle Sun Araw, Eirik Suhrke, El Huervo, and more. The tracks are a perfect match for the gritty, grimy nature of the game and make it obvious that the developers were very influenced by movies such as Drive. The sound effects are also good, but the game does not feature any type of voice acting for the cutscenes.

Hotline Miami can be played with a keyboard and mouse or controller, both of which offer responsive controls, which is a big plus considering the speed of the game. In addition to punching or shooting enemies, players can also use doors to knock down their foes before executing them. Another neat trick is to throw enemies with weapons, which is also useful for knocking them down. It’s quite satisfying to burst into a room, empty your gun into two enemies before throwing it at the third and then stabbing him with his own knife. Of course, nine times out of ten, this ends in complete failure, but the few times when things actually go as planned makes it worth it. The game does feature combos, so killing enemies in quick succession is rewarded, but in most cases, it’s better to exercise some caution before getting used to the layout of the level. Enemies are thankfully not very bright and won’t react to the bodies of their friends, but if they spot you or hear your gunshots, they will come swarming at you in droves.

Overall, Hotline Miami is a great game that has a lot more lurking underneath its pixelated surface than meets the eye. The story is delightfully surreal but very compelling, and the action is relentless. Even the presence of one annoying stealth level halfway through the game and bosses with unskippable dialogue wasn’t enough to sour the experience. Even better, after completion, the game offers a chapter selection, so players can jump straight to their favorite levels. The sheer violence, speed, and difficulty of Hotline Miami won’t endear it to everyone, but players looking for a solid challenge and great gameplay should definitely not pass it up.

System Requirements

  • OS:Microsoft® Windows® XP / Vista / 7
  • Processor:1.2GHz processor
  • Memory:512 MB RAM
  • Graphics:DirectX 8-compatible graphics card with at least 32MB of video memory
  • DirectX®:9.0c
  • Hard Drive:250 MB HD space
  • Additional:Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller or Direct Input compatible controller, OpenGL 2.x or better highly recommended.
  • OS:Microsoft® Windows® XP / Vista / 7
  • Processor:1.4GHz processor or faster
  • Memory:1 GB RAM
  • Graphics:DirectX 8-compatible graphics card with at least 32MB of video memory
  • DirectX®:9.0c
  • Hard Drive:250 MB HD space
  • Additional:Microsoft Xbox 360 Controller or Direct Input compatible controller
  • OS:Mac OS 10.6+
  • Processor:2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or better
  • Memory:1 GB RAM
  • Hard Drive:130 MB HD space
  • OS:Mac OS 10.6+
  • Processor:2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or better
  • Memory:2 GB RAM
  • Hard Drive:130 MB HD space
  • Processor:1.8 GHz Dual-Core
  • Memory:512 MB
  • Hard Drive:130 MB HD space

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2 Comments

  1. bionoid June 26, 2023
    Reply

    Couldn’t agree more with what was said …. now, are you ready for the sequel ?

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