I first answered the call for Hotline Miami back when it came out last winter on PC. As I’ve mentioned before, my mouse and keyboard skills are laughable. I managed to stab, shoot, and stomp my way to chapter four of the surreal bloodbath before rage quitting. I just didn’t have the skills to handle the insanely accurate and viciously aggressive AI. I even stumbled with the patched-in gamepad support. The white-suited gangsters meant business. I failed, but I kind of liked it. When I heard Hotline Miami was coming to PlayStation 3 and Vita I decided to give it a second chance.
I downloaded the game to my Vita and prepared to crack some heads. Hotline Miami is an incredibly violent game, if heavily pixelated blood strikes you as violent. The top down twin-stick brutalizer features fast gunplay and an almost medieval level of melee violence. Shotguns blow enemies apart, swords cleave torsos in half, and boots smash brains into the pavement. It’s so stylized and over the top it doesn’t really have any lasting effect, which is probably the idea. “Violence as normalcy” is kind of this medium’s thing. It works well here.
The game is set in the dayglo Miami night life of the totally rad 1980’s. There’s a unique pop-noir to the whole experience with an obvious and credited nod to Nicolas Winding Refn and his film, Drive.
I would begin a typical chapter by taking control of the main character, “Jacket.” (You see, he wears a jacket, so they call him “Jacket.” It’s not complicated.) I’d wake up in my $#!&$ty apartment and check the answering machine while one of the many absolutely stellar tracks from the soundtrack set the tone. The innocuous message would ask me to perform some menial task, like picking up cookies or DJing at a club.
Here’s a very minor spoiler: It doesn’t matter what the message asked me to do. It was always a not-so-super-secret code ordering me to kill every bad mamajmma at whatever location was mentioned on the tape. I would hop in my Delorean (naturally), roll up, case the place, pop on my Tony the Tiger mask, and proceed to murderpunch everyone into a nice red puddle of pixels.
I’d burst through the door, knocking down the nearest thug, beat him to a pulp, steal his weapon (which could be anything from a baseball bat to an assault rifle) and throw it at the next schlub who got in my way. If I was quick I could chain several kills together, increasing my score. Occasionally I’d use a gun to off the last few gangsters. Gunfire is a good way to bring the whole trigger-happy house down on your head.
The Vita’s touch screen lock-on system made the game much more accessible for me. The twin-sticks might not be ideal for adept mouse and keyboard users, but I found them more that adequate. I died often, but I was having too much fun to care. Missions can take 10 to 20 minutes on an initial playthrough, but once I had the basic enemy locations scouted I could blast through a level in a few minutes, making this an excellent pick-up-and-play title.
Hotline Miami features several masks which give you special powers or change some other aspect of the game. Some grant more weapons, others mess with the controls or increase the violence. As I mentioned before, I was fond of the tiger mask. It allows you to kill enemies with one punch and you can get it early in the game. This made everything a little too easy --especially once I realized how easy it was to kite enemies into a kill zone. The AI has only two settings: Sit and shoot or advance and kill. I started to change things up with different weapons and techniques to increase my scores.
A bizarre underlying story plays out through the eyes of our damaged narrator. It adds a nice backdrop to all the curbstompings, but I was a little let down by the "true" ending.
Hotline Miami is a PS3/Vita Cross Buy title. This means $10 bucks will get you both versions, and you can share save files between copies. I played almost exclusively on the PlayStation Vita. I highly recommend picking it up if you passed on the PC version. It’s not very deep, but the gameplay has a satisfying simplicity and replayability. The badass soundtrack and surreal story elevate it beyond most other indie games.