I wasn’t around for much of the ‘80s, and I didn’t live in Miami, but if gaming has taught me anything, it’s that the 1980s were almost exclusively fluorescent. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was the first game I played that really got the 1980s right, as far as I can tell, and now Hotline Miami, a fantastically violent top-down… I don’t know, I think real time strategy would be the most appropriate thing to call it, is here. It’s as if someone merged Command & Conquer with the first Grand Theft Auto game and painted it pink. And added gallons of blood. And made it 50 times harder.
Yes, this is not a forgiving game. You are very unlikely to get through any of the levels the first time, but each death teaches you something about how the level works. Killed that guy but then another guy immediately shot you in the face? Take a different path. Being an indie game, it’s hard to pin down to any one genre – it has elements of the RTS, but it’s also a puzzle game. You can’t just run through the level, guns blazing, and expect to not die. You don’t have a health meter – if you get hit once, you die. That’s it. Restart. You need to plan your paths very carefully.
But from all this, the sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a level is just phenomenal. I’ve been stuck on levels for ten minutes or more, and that’s a long time in this game, until suddenly everything I’ve learned from the previous three billion or so retries all just comes together and everybody dies. That’s a feeling that is like gold dust in gaming, and nowadays I find that a genuine sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from a game is very rare. More often than not it’s frustration tempered with anger and eventually sarcastic gratitude when you finally finish that one particularly evil part of a game.
Stylistically, the game feels a lot older than it is. And I’m not saying that derogatorily, but if it was going for an ‘80s arcade vibe, with classic 8-bit graphics and blazing fast twitch gameplay, then it hit the nail right on its gun-toting, machete-wielding head. Even the story, which is completely obscure to start with, fits the image of a drugged-up ‘80s Miami – you don’t know what’s going on, the character doesn’t know what’s going on, and the only people who seem to be able to shed any light on your situation, and use the term people very lightly, are several animal masks. And I think there would be a good time to end this review. I suddenly have the urge to go and watch Miami Vice.