It’s been said that nothing inspires people to mischief like being told not to do something. For that reason, upon hearing that upcoming splatterfest Hotline Miami 2 had been refused classification in Australia, having being deemed unsuitable for even the highest R18+ rating, I decided to pick up the original to find out what I was missing.
The first thing I did in this game was die. This is not an experience restricted to just Hotline Miami, though; I have quite the history of failing games’ first missions (in the Grand Theft Auto series alone, I have been shot off my bike by Ballas, accidentally drowned Mercedes and flipped my car and exploded Misty into a mess of twitching limbs). However, just like in Super Meat Boy, death is not the end in Hotline Miami. You’re expected to die; it’s how you learn. And in just the first mission, I learned a LOT.
Your goal in each level is simple: kill everything. This is no simple task, however, as while almost all enemies only take one hit to kill, so do you. Therefore, a little strategy is advised; the top-down view effectively lets you see through walls, to evaluate how to hit each room. Melee weapons are silent, but obviously short-ranged, while guns give you the safety of distance, while making enough of a ruckus to lure most of the enemies in the level your way.
Hitting an enemy with your fists or an opening door knocks them to the ground, where they’ll need to be finished off (usually with several bloody blows to the head). You don’t always have time to do finishers with other enemies en route, however, so it can be a bit of a juggling act. Once you get the basics down, you’ll find yourself pulling off combos like something out of an uber-violent action movie: knock an enemy to the floor as you kick in the door, grab his knife, slash the two guys next to him, throw it into the guy with the shotgun, grab it just in time to blast the attack dog that ran in after you, pump four more shells into the doorway as goons come running, charge out after the last two, using your last shot on one and throwing the empty shotgun at the other, knocking him against the wall whereupon you kick his head into mush.
However, such sublime sequences are more of the exception than the rule in Hotline Miami. You’ll spend an enormous amount of time making tiny but fatal mistakes, such as starting your melee swing a split second too late, not ducking behind cover fast enough or simply not anticipating that an off-screen enemy might go for a wander, spot you at the end of the hall and gun you down without so much as a how-do-you-do. It can be maddening, to the point where if you only die a dozen times while trying a level, you’re doing quite well.
There are technically a lot of weapons in Hotline Miami, but you’ll mostly only use three. This isn’t a matter of choice, but of availability; you get weapons only by looting dead enemies, so you’re restricted to what they carry. This limits your arsenal to shotguns, assault rifles, and melee weapons. While melee weapons come in many forms, they all function largely the same, so it makes little difference which one you have. This is a real shame, because on the occasions you get to use a silenced pistol or machine pistol, it freshens the combat up enormously.
Fortunately, you can choose which mask to wear on individual missions, with each one granting a special boost. These can be fairly basic, such as carrying more ammo or walking faster, or practically invaluable, such as making your fists lethal, quieting gunshots and letting your survive a bullet. You’ll collect most of these just by completing levels with high enough scores, though a few have to be hunted down.
One thing I was really not expecting to get out of Hotline Miami was a good story. I figured it would just be level after level of increasingly difficult massacres, and while that does make up the bulk of what you do, the game is peppered with clues and details that really make you wonder why all of this is happening. Without giving too much away, the elements of distorted reality make it difficult to know which clues to trust, and even though things become clearer by the end, so much is left open to interpretation.
While I had a fun – if frustrating – time with Hotline Miami, I don’t think it’s a game I’ll come back to very often. Uncovering the story was my primary motivation for continuing to the end, and trying to get A+ on every mission just isn’t enough incentive for me to come back. I will, however, be looking for a way to get my bloody little mitts on Hotline Miami 2.