Hotline Miami: Much more tactical than it appears

November 6, 2012

Hotline Miami is, quite simply, the bloodiest puzzle game I’ve ever played. But it’s also one of the most addictive. It takes a top-down action game and mixes it with puzzle elements that keep you coming back.

The game is split into chapters, each containing several floors, with a checkpoint at the beginning of each floor. To progress, you move from floor to floor, eliminating everyone before moving on.

There is a retro style all over the game, from the pixely graphics to the characters and setting, borrowing from the seedier side of the 1980s. While this isn’t anything new, it adds disco-themed background music that is hard to forget, and fits the theme perfectly. Catchy, yet not something that gets tiring over time.

The story is delivered piecemeal through flashbacks, full of possible symbolism. You essentially go out and murder people wearing a creepy mask, simply because of messages on your phone. However, like the games of the ’80s that Hotline Miami is borrowing from, it doesn’t make excuses for what it is. You aren’t on a quest for vengeance, or anything like that, and the game never really explains who your victims are. Somehow, the fact that these places are full of goons armed to the teeth gives me the impression they aren’t quite on the up and up either, but you’re just a really crazy dude who goes on killing sprees wearing creepy masks.

Screenshots might make this game look like a straight top-down action game, but when you start playing, you really come to learn how the puzzle aspect comes together. As opposed to simply being fast and lucky, dodging enemies while shooting them all, the way the game is designed encourages stealth and strategy when attempting to clear a room.

Guns are loud, and will alert most of a floor when you use them, so it’s best to stick to melee whenever possible, until you have reduced the number of targets to something more manageable. Melee weapons can be thrown to knock down an enemy (with the exception of the knife, which can kill outright if thrown accurately). Proper use of weapons and awareness of the layout are both needed to complete a level, though you can choose to do more run-and-gun if you want.

Like the “hard platformer” style that has cropped up in the past few years, checkpoints are close together, and reloading is near-instant. The game expects you to fail, and makes the process of trying again as easy as possible. Similar to many platformers, the music is uninterrupted between reloads, something that greatly improved my enjoyment, and reduced my irritation due to failure. And you will fail. A lot. But it’s fair in how it dishes out failure, and it feels like an accomplishment when you get through a tricky level.

I did run into a few bugs, though fairly minimal in nature. On several occasions, I was unable to properly finish an enemy, having to wait for them to get up, and knock them down again, and on one occasion, I punched an enemy through the side of a level, forcing a reload.

Hotline Miami doesn’t make excuses for what it is, but through wise use of both action and puzzle elements, it manages to make you feel that even when you lose, you don’t want to stop playing.

Pros: Addictive gameplay, tough but fair
Cons: A bit lacking in extra modes once the main game is done

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.