Like your games with a bit of a bite? You’ll want to buy Hotline Miami when it lands on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita this week then. I wasn’t totally convinced until the game appeared yesterday – I’d not previously played the thing myself and only seen it in the form of passing glances, but – wow – it kicks like a mule. Two ports, same game, but whilst on the Vita it’s a smart, slick port that perfectly lends itself to mobile play; on the PS3 it’s a bombastic, pulsing big-screen LSD trip.
Whichever format you choose (note the game is Cross-buy and saves carry over between the two consoles) Hotline Miami is a top-down, pixelated old-school twin stick shooter set in the late 80’s with a vicious, hyper-violent angle that blends perfectly with the dusty, blurry snuff movie style filters and ridiculously pulpy, albeit text-based dialog.
The plot – delivered by an uneasy trio of badly disguised gun-for-hire answer phone messages; kooky, between level interludes and a series of unnerving flashbacks (or are they forwards?) – is quick and accurate, but it’s the gameplay itself that whips around at a pace we’ve not seen in a video game for years. Death is frequent (and it’s normally one hit kills, on both sides), restarts are instant, checkpoints are numerous. You’ll die in Hotline Miami – a lot – but you’ll also feel great when you win.
And that’s victory punctuated with shotgun blasts, knife stabs, baseball bat swings and katana slices – you’ll burst open doors to surprise the enemy; you’ll hide around corners and take out multiple foes with a single throw; you’ll run for cover as dogs chase you down corridors. Hotline Miami is so fast and decisive it feels nothing but constantly fresh, and it’s relentlessly exciting to play as a result.
Released this week on PSN
Features exclusive mask
Runs at 60 FPS on Vita
Has some touch-screen options
The visuals are one thing – and they’re certainly playing on that 1980’s theme with their blocky corners and limited animation – but it’s the audio that really makes the game. Specifically the soundtrack, which draws from a wide range of artists and recreates elements of what made Drive (the movie) such a hit. It’s full of synths and chiptunes but feels current and modern, perfectly clicking together with everything that’s happening on screen.
It takes a little while to get used to the controls. The left stick is used to move and the right stick aims the player, but you need to tap the right trigger to fire, swing or punch. The left trigger throws your current weapon (or picks up a new one), Circle drops it gently and Cross is used to interact with various parts of each level, or any individuals dotted about that don’t instantly want to kill you. It’s also used to finish off any not-quite-dead bad guys, with some degree of unwavering mutilation, even in the chunky pixels.
On the Vita, you can drag and move the screen around to see what’s ahead, which can be useful, and you can also tap on enemies to target and lock onto them – this works in theory but the game rapidly becomes too fast for this to be too much of a bonus unless you’re opting for a sneaky, stealthy approach and want to take down each enemy individually. The levels determine whether this is possible early on, and you’ll soon learn to play with a mix of trial and error and a little bit of intuition.
Hotline Miami’s pacing shifts back and forth as the gameplay sections make way for scrolling cut-scenes and interspersed dialog. There’s a couple of neat touches to the plot (which I have no intention of spoiling) and an occasional puzzle piece to find among the debris, but the game’s really smart idea is the use of myriad masks, most of which tweak your stats (like the ability to survive two bullets, or increase your chances of finding a gun) and are hugely collectible. In fact, one of the game’s Trophies requires you find them all.
I have to admit, I adore this game. It’s punchy, deliberate, rapid and damned difficult. Each level takes multiple attempts – that’s just part of the game – but it never feels like you’re being cheated, the game is always tough but fair. But it’s the blend of old-school graphics, the VHS-esque filters and the sublime backing music that really ties everything together. Really smart stuff, and it’s great to see such a solid port on the Vita.
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