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Hotline Miami on PC, Playstation Network
"Hi, it's Kate from Hotline Miami's dating service. We have set up a date for you this evening. She'll be waiting for you at Southwest 53rd place. As usual, make sure you wear something fancy!"
Yesyesyeurrrghahhh!!! That, friends, is the sound of me being bludgeoned/shot/slashed (go on, let's play some Mad Libs: R-Rated Verbs) by a Russian Mobster I forgot to deal with and bludgeon/shoot /shank on my own. I was pretty conflicted on what to review and ramble over this time. I'd recently beaten Naughty Dog's great apocalypse survival game The Last Of Us, though what's the point of telling you about a game that already has a centuries worth of almost unanimous praise and reviews? Besides, I'd wrote about The Walking Dead Game already, so it'd be pretty monotonous to do yet another zombie game, wouldn't it? Instead I decided to look at something more surreal, more obscure, a frustrating but addictive game that's like a mess of nostalgic insanity, from the pixelated retro graphics to the Doc Brown style DeLorean the player character drives. Enter: Hotline Miami.
I'm kind of at a loss of words for this game. It's harder to describe it than you'd think. It was made last year on PC and recently released on the Playstation Network, but it's stylized like a game your parents could've played at the local arcade way back when. It's a surreal neo-noir story set in well, Miami, circa 1989. Think something like the movie Drive (the director, Nicolas Winding Refn is even thanked in the credits) if Ryan Gosling's character slowly lost his mind and started head-stomping and shot-gunning even more thugs all while wearing creepy animal masks.
Much like the main character's mental state, at first the story will be pretty incoherent and garbled. Characters like the bearded clerk who shows up at shops between missions, and your hallucinated personified animal mask men make out of order references to things that happen at all different points in the story, and while it'll be confusing, it actually comes together in a pretty clever way. You're an unnamed man ("Jacket", as some players nicknamed him for his choice in outfit) who keeps receiving voicemails from a mysterious source.
On the surface, these messages seem normal and innocent enough, just mundane things with some dark subtext (like doing a "pest control job", "disciplining" and "babysitting" some "rowdy kids", "evening dating", etc.) But for some inexplicable reason, Jacket interprets these as assassination missions, and h so you, the player, have to survive relentless waves of thugs and methodically kill them off. The plot doesn't really give you much reasons as to why, and hell, they don't even tell you outright who the thugs even are (though it's heavily implied that you take on Russian Mafiosi because of subtle Soviet references and the fact that the title screen is written in Russian/Cyrillic).
The gameplay is from a top down perspective, meaning that you see the action from overhead. And while it's not some high tech, hyper realistic First Person Game, well, don't judge a game by it's graphics. You have to relentless beat, shiv, and shoot your way through goons and attack dogs with a ridiculously huge range of weapons like guns, swords, clubs and your bare hands to name a few. For a game with a cartoonish, retro art style, it's soaked in as much blood as it is neon. Every crushed skull, wound and gory injury is animated with pretty vivid and an actually kind of disturbing detail.
Know those creepy animal masks I mentioned? Oh, trust me, those are more than cosmetic. Besides the chicken mask you start off with, there are twenty five other masks you're able to unlock, from Tony the Tiger Mask (real subtle huh?) giving you harder, quicker melee attacks to Don Juan the Horse Mask actually letting you kill baddies by knocking them over with doors. This isn't an easy game by any means. You are no stronger than your enemies, and just as most of them go down in one hit, so do you. It'll get frustrating and punishing at first (even if you're the most experienced gamer, you WILL die a few times) but don't let it discourage you! The whole one hit thing actually builds a lot of tension and forces you to think on your feet with a manic, fast paced fighting style that fits the tone of the game pretty well.
Plus, THE SOUNDTRACK. It's a nostalgic, fast mix of thumping bass, surreal, psychedelic synth, and retro, 80s style techno that really gets you going through the levels. It's probably some of the best, most atmospheric music I've heard in a Game since Max Payne 3 and The Last Of Us, and it's a surprisingly good motivator for workouts.
So if you want something different, give Hotline Miami a try. It's only $9.99 on Playstation Network and most PC gaming services like Steam, and more than worth the ten dollars. All in all, I'd give Hotline Miami a 7.5/10!
Unique, Surreal, and Nostalgic
A wide range of weapons, masks, and levels
Story's pretty confusing
Difficulty might be frustrating/intimidating at times
Controls might be a little hard to get used to if you play the console version/on PC with a controller