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Dennaton Games and Devolver Digital really knocked it out of the ballpark with Hotline Miami, it's pretty much gaming's version of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive but with a much darker and more psychologically driven plot device behind it, in plain terms it's a grotesque masterpiece of digital entertainment.
I was compelled to buy the game after Dennaton's Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin became household names amongst the inner-sanctum of core gamers when they confronted pirates and offered to inform them that they should update the torrent with the latest patch so gamers (even pirates) get the best experience possible. The news spread like wildfire and in turn, they got a purchase out people like myself who wanted to help support the indie scene and hardworking developers who are willing to build bridges instead of tear them down.
What I encountered upon booting the game up was something wildly different than some of my expectations. While the game embraces the 1980s culture of excess and neon indulgence, it doesn't do it to mock the genre but instead to embrace it, much like Rockstar with GTA: Vice City. The game, however, revels in the retro culture without becoming a victim of it, and this is what makes Hotline Miami such a standout game, thematically.
But it goes much deeper than that, this game is a seedy undertaking of a disturbing tale of violence and murder. It's no walk in the park. After playing Hotline Miami, all I could think was "this game is a sadistic exercise in disciplined chaos and orchestrated destruction". The gameplay fit the story like a perfectly tailored glove and it neither became tedious nor overburdening, despite being about as frustrating as any action game from the Sega's 16-bit collection.
This brings me to a very important part about Hotline Miami: the gameplay is magnificent. After playing the game I was thinking to myself, “Why the heck aren't more AAA titles designed like this?” If you read any of the descriptions of Hotline Miami usually it always centers around “choreographing your actions” and this is true, as I mentioned above you have to orchestrate destruction like a conductor who uses death to make music with instruments of violence. There's some elements of stealth, tension, intense back and forth shootouts...the game kind of revels in it all but only if you choose that as your playstyle.
You see, in Hotline Miami there is no hand-holding on how you complete most of the levels (there are a few levels that have specific restrictions which limit you on how you can complete very specific tasks, but these are far and few between). The gameplay mechanics allow you to do all sorts of nifty things, like you can kick in a door and knock a guy (or several guys) down, you can throw anything you can pick up to stun or incapacitate foes and you can use sound and sight to lure or misdirect your enemies. It's clever and it works superbly. One of my favorite things in the game is using a shotgun to blast a door open to knock a guy down while simultaneously taking out whoever is left standing. Using the fallen foe as a human-shield and taking out any remaining guys is just a cherry on top of a sundae.
The real challenge, though, is the fact that you die if you get shot or stabbed once....it means you have to really time and tactically plan your route of attack or move like a rabbit on speed-crack to avoid being clobbered, shot or stabbed to death.
The game's combination of dark thematic characterization like Drive, some psychologically disturbing elements of The Manchurian Candidate and exploitation violence similar to movies like Death Wish and The Exterminator sets the game apart from anything else out there, save for maybe Surreal Software's The Suffering: Ties That Bind and Rockstar's Manhunt 2. However, Hotline Miami manages to avoid dipping too deep into grime-culture like Manhunt or The Suffering, which makes it much more replayable than aforementioned titles.
Still, Hotline Miami certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea, but for gamers who don't mind mature themes, David Lynch-style storytelling and new-wave, 80s electronica fused with grunge-synth, will easily take a liking to the amalgamation of gory violence that is Hotline Miami.