Hotline Miami PS3 / Vita review – A near flawlessly executed arthouse video nasty

Hotline Miami PS3 Vita

It’s a shame Hotline Miami is only available as a download. It feels like the kind of game that requires you to ask for “Rufus” after hours at your local pawn shop, then be ushered into a back room to collect it in a brown paper bag. The rattling tone and unashamed ultraviolence of Hotline Miami is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive forced, kicking and screaming, into a SNES while a gang of disaffected rich kids from a Bret Easton Ellis novel watch for lurid enjoyment. It might be the most disturbing demonstration of 8-bit gore seen since the 80s but it also delivers a standout instant-hit on both PS3 and Vita.

Hotline Miami PS3 / Vita review

You’ll do horrible, unspeakable things in Dennaton Games’ 2D top-down shooter. And although there’s a strong stealth element to its lightning-paced combat, you’re never allowed to spare a single enemy, no matter if they’re a) not blocking your way, b) a troublingly cute attack dog, or c) crawling towards you with a shattered skull. This is a game that forces you to think and act like a merciless contract killer, and it’s an exhilarating, dirty rush.

Hotline Miami PS3 & PS Vita review. Subscribe for more PS3 & PS4 videos.

Where else could it all begin than with a homeless man teaching you how to kill people in an alleyway? Here, in neon shades, you’ll acquire the basic tools of your trade: press L1 to pick up something dangerous, press R1 to hurt someone with it. If your baseball bat blow didn’t dissemble your victem’s head sufficiently, mount him with X and finish him off. Then you’ll hone your technique clearing room after cocaine-strewn room of identical mobsters, completing jobs left on your voicemail in cryptic messages like, “It’s ‘Dave’ from Miami Pest Control… A client at SW 104th street is having vermin problems. Try to handle it as quick and swiftly as you can.” Can do, ‘Dave.’

Where else could it all begin than
with a homeless man teaching you
how to kill people in an alleyway?

At first the difficulty’s startling. While you’re slowly figuring out how close you have to be to connect a melee hit or from how far away an enemy can see you, the game will kill you like it gets paid every time you hit retry. Then the moment comes when you’re no longer afraid to die, and you realise each level is about writing the script of your perfect assault over hundreds and hundreds of redrafts and, rather than feeling frustrating, each failed attempt becomes hilarious blooper reel material.

In drafts one to twenty, you die instantly upon entering the building. Drafts twenty to twenty-five consist of figuring out the timing to knock a guy out by opening a door as he walks past it, storming his friend and pushing your thumbs into his eyes. By the final redraft, you’re throwing spent shotguns through windows, waiting behind a corner for the dog you know is coming for you and ending three men’s lives with a drill in an eight-second, perfect run.

Design choices to make your respawns instant and your AI adversaries as primitive as the 8-bit sprites they’re drawn in – they’ll happily patrol the same predictable route, stepping over their disemboweled colleagues, until hearing a gunshot – are all focused to this end. Death doesn’t matter.

Of course that statement extends beyond HLM’s gameplay, and I’d hardly be a pretentious games journo if I didn’t acknowledge it. By repeating your heinous actions until you can perform them on autopilot, you’re desensitizing yourself to the violence. So when the game goes all meta and asks you “Do you enjoy hurting other people?” you’re supposed to feel bad, and consider your actions and how the art form’s manipulated your thoughts. Here’s the only area Dennaton Games don’t entirely succeed in. The narrative isn’t as revelatory as it’d like to be; it’s too wilfully opaque and prone to sixth-form philosophising for that. But like its inspiration Drive, its arthouse approach to story is captivating even if it’s only pretending to have serious discourse on the violence-as-entertainment debate.

Unless you’re anti-games lawyer Jack Thompson, you’ll enjoy Hotline Miami for what it is: an impossibly stylish indie tour de force about playing with your food. With its incredible soundtrack in your ears, neon flashes in your peripheral vision and endlessly, shamefully gratifying combat in your hands, you’ll learn to stop worrying and love the wrong.

Our Score

Score: 9