Anyone fancy a bit of the old ultraviolence? Hotline Miami comes to Sony’s portable console with a bang. Also, several thuds, splats and a kicking soundtrack.
Hotline Miami: On the plus side
The populist media view of video games is that they’re simple, moronic violence dressed up for the kiddies; an excuse for the worst kind of excesses in digital form. Indie title (and one of my favourite games of 2012) Hotline Miami could practically be the poster boy for such excesses, but its relatively low-key stature means it’s not likely to feature on Today Tonight. Which is a good thing, because they’d almost certainly miss the point.
At its core, Hotline Miami is a pixellated, top down action game that tasks your character with taking out rooms full of highly agitated foes with whatever weapons come to hands, be they shotguns, katanas, steel pipes or your own blood soaked fists. Everything in Hotline Miami is punched up to 11 on the excess-o-meter, in order to make it particularly visceral. It succeeded in that on the PC, and it does exactly the same on the Vita. There’s no reason for it not to. It’s not as though Hotline Miami’s visuals would tax anything beyond about 1995 anyway.
Hotline Miami is set in the neon drenched excesses of 1980s Miami, with a plot that wobbles precariously between being a hitman for hire (of sorts) through themes of drug use, psychosis and redemption… sort of. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot of the game, but a core theme that underlies everything you do is that it is indeed, grimly violent.
At the end of each level you’ve got to flee the scene in your car, and that means walking past all of your brutal acts, which are fully persistent. It’s a sombering task after some breakneck adrenaline soaked action, but it’s also one that means you’re always aware of what it is that you’re doing. Very few games are quite this good at eliciting an emotional response, even though for anyone except the truly maladjusted, the emotional response should be quite confronting.
Hotline Miami also excels at offering freeform gameplay within what at first appears to be a heavily constricted world. All weapon drops are randomised, so you’ve got to be ready to think on the fly and react with split second timing unless you truly fancy being a dalmatian’s dinner.
Hotline Miami: On the minus side
Hotline Miami isn’t a game for the kids. I’m going to repeat that:
HOTLINE MIAMI ISN’T A GAME FOR THE KIDS.
It’s simply that brutal, in a way that games that theoretically should appear more visceral (what with improved audio and above all visuals, and yes, I’m looking at you stupidly-macho-war-themed-FPS-of-the-moment) can only dream of. That’s with a very specific artistic intent that only becomes apparent when you delve further into the plot in mind, but it’s still a decent point to make. If you don’t like violent games, you’re going to totally loathe Hotline Miami.
The transition to physical controls is an interesting one. I can only comment as someone who played the original PC version with keyboard and mouse; while Xbox 360 controls were added in a later patch, I never took up that particular opportunity. Getting to grips with Hotline Miami’s control scheme always had a learning curve, but if you come at it from the perspective of a mouse player it’s even tougher as you adjust.
There are some elements, such as touchscreen tapping for enemy selection that work but aren’t terribly useful.
The brisk sense of danger remains as each encounter carries the very real risk of character death with it. On shorter levels this is no chore, but for the more complex later levels it can get frustrating to silently pick your way through dozens of enemies only to be taken out by one last dude.
While stealth is a necessary component of the Hotline Miami experience, you couldn’t accuse enemies of having anything approaching artificial intelligence. Again, that’s rather the point within the way that the game is constructed, but those after a more considered stealth approach may find it lacking.
Hotline Miami: Pricing
Hotline Miami for PS Vita costs $11.75. It’s well worth that, although if you were just after the experience of the game, the PC/Mac version is quite frequently discounted, and was recently part of a Humble Indie Bundle.
Hotline Miami: Alex’s Verdict
I utterly adore Hotline Miami, both for its brisk gameplay and the underlying themes that pervade the experience of playing it. The Vita version doesn’t hit any important steps wrong, although the use of gamepad rather than keyboard and mouse does change things a little.
My only real concern with the Vita version is that this is a particularly bloodsoaked game, and the Vita is portable; if I’m honest I’m not entirely comfortable playing it in public on that basis. If that doesn’t fuss you, it’s an absolute must-buy for mature Vita gamers.