Also On: PSN, PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Dennaton Games
A short list of things I hate in gaming:
- insanely hard difficulty levels (I'll play on the easiest settings available every time, and I've been known to play games like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and Madagascar 3 for fun [though also for platinums]);
- graphic gun violence;
- letter-grade scoring systems (note: this means games, not gaming sites);
- retro graphics;
- any levels where you need to progress slowly and plan out your every movement.
On top of that, I don't usually like drug-fueled art, and I usually can't stand lo-fi music. (Note: these two things are almost certainly related.)
In other words, I should probably hate everything about Hotline Miami. It's ridiculously hard, it's brutally violent, and it requires meticulous planning every step of the way. It gives you a letter grade at the end of each level. Its 16-bit graphics revel in their grittiness, its music is heavy on the reverb, and the whole thing is drenched in a cokey neon haze.
Here's the thing, though: I love Hotline Miami. I love every little aspect of the game, from its difficulty to its gameplay to its atmosphere. I don't know if I'd call it my mid-year Game of the Year (that's still Thomas Was Alone), but it's most definitely in my Top 3.
Oddly enough, I think my love of the game is rooted in some of the things I'd normally hate — in the difficulty and the planning. You see, deep down, Hotline Miami is a puzzle game. Look past the blood and the weapons and the masks with their special powers and the woozy-sounding music, and you'll find a game that requires you to think through every move carefully, and that expects you to carry out those moves with near-perfect reflexes. And as much as I might hate some aspects of Hotline Miami — or, at least, as much as I'd hate them in other contexts — I love puzzle games. It just so happens that in this game, when you can't solve a puzzle, you get your head blown off and you find yourself lying in a pool of blood and brains.
Clearly, as that last sentence indicates, Hotline Miami isn't for the faint of…well, anything. Because make no mistake, this game is extraordinarily violent. The thing is, however, that violence gives a surprising sense urgency to solving each puzzle. Think about it: when you can't solve a puzzle in a Professor Layton game, you get a disappointed look from the Professor or Luke. Here, you get murdered in an absolutely brutal fashion. If that's not motivation, I don't know what is.
As for the graphics and the music…again, in any other context I might hate them. Here, however, both work in the game's favour. If Hotline Miami were as violent as it is and it had modern graphics, I'm quite sure I wouldn't be able to stomach it. The same goes for the music; divorced from the game, the druggy, hazy atmosphere it creates would probably come off as unbearably pretentious. In the context of a story that's all about weirdness and uncertainty, it works fantastically well.
And that, to me, is the essence of Hotline Miami: it's a game that does everything so perfectly, it even makes me love stuff I would normally hate. Which means that if we're talking about stuff you'd normally love — extreme violence, extreme difficulty, druggy music — then this right here could end up being your favorite game of all time.