Hotline Miami built quite a reputation for itself with its original release in 2012, its top-down retro graphics and rapid-fire gameplay quickly making it a darling of the indie gaming scene. That positive reception was one built on the game’s extraordinarily compelling narrative as much as its shocking levels of ultraviolence, and both elements prove just as powerful on Sony’s consoles as they were on PC.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Drive, you play a nameless courier for a Miami gang. Set in 1989, and drawing on the music, style and video gaming culture of the time, missions almost invariably see you forcing your way into rival gangs’ strongholds and slaughtering all around. It’s not quite the shooting gallery one might imagine though, as a mixture of stealth and environmental tactics (slamming doors into enemies to stun them, for instance) allow you to plan your assaults. However, with end of chapter rankings scoring you on the brazenness of your play style, there’s incentive to be ballsy.
Where the game starts to get just short of trippy is its story. Each chapter yields a new animal mask to wear; these same masks are worn by the people giving you the missions, leaving you to wonder as to the sanity or reliability of anything experienced or told to you through the game. Playing Hotline Miami is, deliberately, a mind-warping experience. Frequent deaths, instant restarts, an irresistable soundtrack of distorted chiptune synth and the bizarre plot – all combine to create an almost hypnotic experience.
The PlayStation release benefits from enhanced controls, with movement and aim linked to the thumbsticks and attacks assigned to the shoulder buttons. It’s quick and snappy to play, and the short levels make the game perfect for the Vita, which also adds tap-to-target functions thanks to its touchscreen. Cloud saving allows you to continue between versions, too. Either version is a brilliant way to play.
As for the ever-controversial violence, while the sprays of blood that will inevitably be splattered, Pollock-style, over Miami’s finest digital real estate are almost comical in the wake of more realistic (and three-dimensional) fare found elsewhere, it’s probably best kept away from younger players. Otherwise, this is a near-perfect love letter to fans of classic games such as Smash TV, given a spit and polish for modern consoles.