Hotline Miami tried to teach me something. Something about violence? I guess. Probably. It’s hard to tell. It does violence so damned well. Crash through the front door, smash that guy, take his knife, throw it at the other guy, take his gun, spray it into the next room, don’t see the bat-wielding dude, get your head smashed in, press “R”, crash through the front door, smash that guy, take his knife, throw it at the other guy…
Over. And over. Until you get the series of violent actions in the right order and until you’ve cleared today’s den of disrepute, you take down (presumably) thugs in your quest to be the meanest mask-wearing maniac in town. It’s all so smooth. You glide from room to room, smashing and shooting effortlessly until you miss a charging attack dog or just off screen, a punk wielding a shotgun blasts you into a paste. Mistakes are quickly forgotten—you restart the game in an instant.
And that music. It gets me P*U*M*P*E*D, and sets the tone of this video game like few ever have. While listening to the soundtrack at work, I am the KING of spreadsheets.
Levels are divided by surreal scenes telling the story of the character’s journey into madness and violence. I think. I played Hotline Miami over a few weeks, only sneaking in short sessions between brutal workdays which made keeping track of the game’s fever dream plot tricky. I think I’m supposed to regret what I’m doing.
I wish the bad guys were smarter in Hotline Miami, or at least were more varied in later levels. The game’s challenge progression was mainly, “be faster, be more aggressive, kill more dudes.” With especially efficient or ruthless play you can unlock new weapons and new abilities in the form of identity-hiding masks, but those rewards didn’t noticeably change how I played the game.
I’m confused by my reaction to Hotline Miami. I don’t typically like violent games, but I was hooked by its puzzle design and fairly tight mechanics. The game is so frenetic and yet manages to demand reflexive exactness. One late night I was so worked up after playing Hotline Miami, wandering through my dark house, heading upstairs toward bed, the thought of some unknowing burglar breaking in at that very moment made me chuckle. I was ready for anything. That’s a rather grim state to be in after playing a video game.