Hotline Miami: PlayStation review

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  • Format: PS3, Vita
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Devolver Digital
  • Developer: Dennaton Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://hotlinemiami.com/

If you’ve been after a game that allows you to murder thousands of bald men in an extremely messy fashion, with the added bonus of sharing the same save across your PS3 and Vita, then (a) you have some extremely specific demands, and (b) Hotline Miami is perfect for you. Just don’t expect your moral choices to extend far beyond “should I make this gangster explode with an assault rifle, or with a baseball bat?”.

This game goes to great lengths to scream “Eighties!!” at you. Not just with the dates given for events, but with the pixellated graphics and old-skool synths used for the soundtrack. In fact the soundtrack, while beloved by many Hotline Miami players, is something of an acquired taste. The tracks that play during levels are purposefully repetitive and, while suiting the game perfectly, can begin to grate.

Also purposefully outdated is the AI. If enemies spot you across the room, or are close enough to hear you using a firearm, they’ll attack and/or give chase; run far enough away however, and they’ll forget all about you. This aspect of the game is there for you to manipulate and, without it, some stages would likely be literally impossible to complete. Nonetheless you’ll soon find yourself pushing forward as much as possible, thanks to the final idea taken from eighties arcades: chasing high scores.

Inside out bodies, broken glass on the floor, big points… yup, that’s Hotline Miami.

Hotline Miami’s basic structure is simple. Receive an order to kill via the telephone in your apartment, go to your car, arrive at a building, smash apart everything that moves, make your way back to the car through a lake of blood and gore. A few clever exceptions aside, that’s the game in a nutshell. Your final score for each level (or ‘chapter’) depends on a number of factors such as time taken, how many times you were spotted, and – crucially – combos achieved. Your combos are how many kills you make in a row within a fairly strict timer.

There are two main factors which make the game brutally addictive, and will ensure most players keep coming back to improve their scores. Firstly, this is a one-hit-kill game. Your enemies kill you with one hit (firearms and melee weapons alike) and, likewise, you kill them instantly (unless you’re unarmed, in which case you must finish them off after knocking them down). Most levels are split into two or three stages – die, and you restart the current stage. This means you need to be careful not to mess up and have to restart, while being determined to chain kills for a higher score.

The second factor is the masks your nameless character can unlock. Each mask bestows a perk of some kind, but you can only equip one per level (though you can restart at any time and choose a different one). For example, you can prevent dogs – which are faster than human enemies – from attacking; give yourself the ability to survive one bullet; speed your character up; and much more. Which one will give you an edge in the latest level is for you to figure out, and you can go back to earlier levels with masks that you didn’t unlock until later.

The field of view afforded by the top-down perspective allows you to see some enemies before they see you, and planning is often essential for success. Your main problem will be gangsters with guns, who often hang around in groups of two or more. Do you grab a gun and shoot them from afar, risking unwanted attention from other angles? Draw them out and kill them silently? Wait for an opportunity to knock one out with the door, quickly kill his friend, then finish him off? Rush in and hope you can splat the whole group with a crowbar before one shoots you?

It wouldn’t be in the style of an ultraviolent eighties shock flick without at least one scantily clad lady.

You’re essentially playing it as a twin-stick shooter, though you can also target enemies one at a time (though this is far too awkward if you’re being rushed). On the PS3, you scroll your view around and target enemies by holding L2 while moving the right stick. It’s awkward, but does the job when you’re not under pressure. Looking around the environment is quicker and easier using the Vita’s touchscreen, and targeting an enemy by tapping on them makes more of a difference to the flow of the game than you might expect. While we’d say overall that Hotline Miami works slightly better as a Vita game we did find that, for some reason, extended sessions with the Vita’s control setup led to hand cramp.

Story considerations aside (there’s not much to the main storyline and the secret ending, which requires a lot of legwork, is disliked by many), the only issue we have is with the inconsistency in the AI. Yes, the whole point is that it’s very basic; but while gangsters in a completely different room might hear a pistol shot, you’ll sometimes find an enemy doesn’t notice you blowing his friend apart with a shotgun simply because he’s facing the other way. Quirks like this are easy to forgive in all the chaos, but they can sometimes make planning your attacks trickier than it really should be.

Don’t let the relentless ultraviolence fool you; this is an intelligently designed experience that will drag you back again and again. There are even some significant gameplay curveballs thrown your way in later stages, to keep things fresh. If the sequel can tighten up enemy behaviour, it’ll be little short of an essential purchase.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you’ll find something he’s written in there.

Luke doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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