Did you see the Ryan Gosling joint, Drive? If you did, you’re likely in one of two camps.
Camp A: “That movie was a perfectly executed achievement in a balance of action, tension, and…silence. And good Gosh, Gosling is an achievement of a man.”
Camp B: “What the hell was that pretentious bullshit? There was a grand total of like two car chase scenes. What a doo-doo of a movie. And good gosh, Gosling is an achievement of a man.”
Whichever side of that argument you’re on, you have to admit that the movie had style. I think the developers of Hotline Miami saw Drive and decided to make a game that both sides of that argument could dig.
Hotline Miami is a barebones, twitch-based action game that follows the hot new trend introduced by Dark Souls of “unforgiving difficulty”…also more accurately termed as “fuck off and die”. The game is firmly grounded in a “neo-’80s” environment–a setting that is consistently emphasized through the neon color schemes that pervade the game levels and menu along with the retro Nintendo-style text boxes and most notably, the immersive electronic soundtrack that rings throughout nearly every moment of the game.
The stylish aspect of the game makes the inevitable frustration of it that much easier to deal with. Hotline Miami serves as a bit of a jolt to most gamers in that it offers very little story or context for the player–in the same vane that games objectives in the ’80s and ’90s had very little context. Except, your main objective in Hotline Miami is to arrive at designated locations and kill everything and everyone inside. Obviously, this mission isn’t new to video games. The new approach in Hotline Miami comes from the nearly surgical precision that the game requires from the player.
Hotline Miami asks that you move your assassin with the arrow keys and attack with the mouse, and it demands that you be damn quick with it. The enemy AI in the game is unapologetically fast and lethal, and its also much more accurate than you are. This means that you’re going to turn a lot of corners only to have your head turned to bloody meatloaf by a shotgun-wielding foe. This means you’ll start the level again, only to be immediately mauled by a guard dog that heard your pistol fire. Your constant failures will give you two options: rage-quit or experiment with your offensive approach until it’s been fine-tuned into some sort of blood orgy dance.
Here’s where I feel like this game appeals to both sides of the Drive debate: the game offers extremely simplistic controls and objectives with wild action that helps appeal to any gamer while also offering a deeper level of complexity. At face-value the game is an exploration of mowing people down in reckless fashion. But like any great game, Hotline offers optional gameplay elements for the more discerning player. Players unlock new weapons and masks as they accrue more points–points which are gained through more stylish and experimental playthroughs. Weapons obviously grant more destructive options while masks present the main character with a slightly different look along with gameplay perks such as “faster movement” or “fists of fury”. You can simply stick with whichever mask you think looks the coolest OR you can wear a different mask that will support your offensive approach in the newest level.
Through this fusion of old and new gaming features, Hotline Miami mixes the hyper-violent content present in many of today’s games and mixes it with the “just because” justification of retro-gaming to leave players with an interesting experiment in hyper-violent gaming. It might just be a game about killing people as fast as you can, though.