Hotline Miami is a game about killing everyone in sight.
Sure, there is more to this game: It boasts a unique art style, an incredible soundtrack and tight controls. All of these elements are solid on their own, but developer Dennaton Games brings them together in Hotline Miami for a single purpose: to make the act of killing enjoyable. Whether or not that sounds agreeable to you will dictate whether you will believe Hotline Miami deserves veneration or outright hatred. However, most gamers will find it worthy of praise on the level of pure enjoyability.
Released way back in 2012 — but recently put on sale in celebration of the release of its sequel — Hotline Miami is a top-down, fast-paced, bombastic shooter that presents you with the singular task of murdering everyone that you come across. It’s not a realistic looking game — if it was, the violence would be gruesome and revolting. At times, the story attempts to give great weight to your actions, but the pumping electronic music of the soundtrack, the satisfying sound effects of the weapons and the brightly colored blood that spills from the enemies are all designed to release as much adrenaline as possible. In that sense, this game really does just glorify violence to a somewhat unprecedented degree.
This violence might seem overdone if the game simply fed you mindless victims that had no way of fighting back. However, every enemy taken down yields a reward for doing something right. The people you’re sent to kill are faster than you, always begin armed and never think before taking a potshot at your face with a shotgun from off-screen.
Every time you die it’s because you did something wrong. Maybe you took too long waiting in a hall, and an enemy found you; maybe you forgot that there was a window in your room that someone could see into. Every death is deserved, and the game’s precise movements and controls make sure of that. Responsive and well-balanced, this game gives you complete control so that you only have yourself to blame for your mistakes — and you will make mistakes. Part of the process of completing a level is running through it with repeated deaths and learning where the enemies are, what weapons you can expect to use and finding what powers — which are unlocked through discovery and movement — are most beneficial for the situation.
When you finally work your way through a level, having bounced between rooms so that you’re never caught, and once you’ve chained together kills to get the most points, you feel an incredible sense of accomplishment — not from the kills but from accomplishing a task that previously seemed insurmountable.
There’s not much else to say about Hotline Miami outside of its gameplay and aesthetics. Its story isn’t well-developed or essential, and the characters are forgettable. But that doesn’t ruin Hotline Miami, because the game isn’t afraid to be itself. It attempts to tell some strange story of why you feel the drive to kill, but that’s not the most important aspect of this game in any sense.
Fundamentally, this game is about being slick. It’s a piece of art that has beautiful colors and technique but lacks any depth, which is fine. Not every game needs to be a well of knowledge or reinvent how we experience player-driven narratives. This game is pure, unadulterated fun, injected straight into your veins.
If this game sounds abnormally simple to you, you’re absolutely right, but don’t let that stop you. Just enjoy the rush.