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Hotline Miami Review

See PixlBit's Review Policies

On 11/07/2012 at 12:00 PM by Julian Titus

It's times like these when I'm happy to know that Jack Thompson was disbarred.

Fans of hyper violent games.

There’s no denying that social media has transformed the way we get information about video games, especially when it comes to smaller indie titles. I had never heard of the game Hotline Miami until my Twitter feed began to blow up with hyperbolic praise. It was one of the best games of the year! The best soundtrack in the history of video games! The most fun to be had in the digital space…ever. So when we got a review code for the game I jumped all over it, eager to learn what all the fuss was about. Now I’m sitting at my computer and scratching my head, wondering if I missed something, or if I need some of what the people I follow on Twitter are smoking.

Played from a completely overhead perspective ala the classic Grand Theft Auto games, Hotline Miami puts your nameless hitman protagonist through various levels where the goal is to kill. That’s it—just get in there and kill everything that moves, then get out. The catch is that you can die in one hit, and every enemy has an itchy trigger finger that would make Bob Munden cry. The key is figuring out the best path through each level and eliminating the targets quickly, quietly, and ruthlessly.

Taking the enemies out quietly is one of the biggest problems I have with this game. All of the between level tips and even the tutorial would lead one to the conclusion that this is a stealth game, but the inconsistent AI flies in the face of that logic. There’s no good way to tell when an enemy will react to your character; sometimes you can get right behind someone with no problems while other times an enemy will hear your footsteps from across the building and end your life in a flash. Sometimes gunfire will alert the entire floor you’re on and other times no one will even turn to see what the commotion is.

Most of the time, enemies will react with almost prescient awareness of their surroundings, causing frustrating deaths over and over again. Hotline Miami has more in common with a game like Trials Evolution than it does with any type of action game, and even though I got some small amount of satisfaction from clearing a level, it was far outweighed by my annoyance with the erratic AI behavior. Once I figured out my core strategy (let enemies see you, hide behind a wall, attack when they get close), the game was just a repetitive battle of will between my determination to finish the game and my desire to shut it off.

Hotline Miami exemplifies many of the problems I have with indie game design. The formula for so many of these games seems to be “use classic 16-bit pixel art, make it as violent and gory as possible, and throw in a trance-like soundtrack to distract players from how shallow the actual game mechanics are.” I suppose the violence in Hotline Miami is supposed to be “shocking,” what with the arterial spray painting the walls and the bits of brain matter oozing from the skulls of your victims, but I’ve been over that since Smash TV. I get the idea that 16-bit games were mostly kid friendly, and adding a bunch of gore seems edgy and dark. Personally, I see it as a lazy crutch used to get people talking, and besides, there were plenty of games that did the same thing in the ‘90s (Technocop and Time Killers say hi).

I don’t get bothered by violence in video games, but at the same time I’ve matured in taste to a point that violence for the sake of violence annoys me. That’s all that Hotline Miami is—every time I’d kill someone with a bat to the skull or a knife to the throat it felt like the game was saying “f—k yeah, did you see that?! Wasn’t that extreme?” Well, no, it’s not extreme. It’s not even interesting; it’s just tired.

As hardcore gamers that have a vested interest in this hobby, we’re constantly trying to find games to hold up on a pedestal and show to outsiders that, yes, this is art. We defend video games from people like Jack Thompson who think that the only thing to gaming is mindless violence. Hotline Miami is, to me, the type of game that plays right into the hand of people like Thompson. It’s tasteless in every way, with no point to the violence. There’s a semblance of a story in there somewhere, and it almost gets interesting, but never quite goes anywhere. Ultimately this is just 19 levels of carnage that an angst-ridden 17 year old would absolutely love.

Let’s talk about that soundtrack shall we? Hotline Miami is filled to the brim with electronica, synth music, and trance tracks. I’m sure that appeals to plenty of readers out there, but for me the soundtrack to this game was a special level of hell. Droning, repetitive, and mind-numbing, there were many times when I’d have to turn the volume down, wondering what garbage was spewing out of my speakers. I get where the game is coming from, and the music plays well to the ‘80s backdrop. With that said, I hated this type of music back then and time has only cemented that feeling.

I don’t understand the love people were extolling for this game. Shallow, violent to the point of being trashy, and playing off of one repeating game mechanic, Hotline Miami was a miserable experience for me. I’ve grown far beyond the fascination with blood and gore, and the ugly sprite art did nothing for me. A lot of people that I trust on that Twitter feed really loved this game, and that’s fine. We are, after all, entitled to our opinions, but in the future I’ll be more wary the next time everyone I read gushes over a new indie darling.



Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Our Take

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

11/07/2012 at 11:02 PM

I played this game a bit too, and while I think I had more fun with it than you did, I felt like the game was compensating for it's inconsistencies by making the action fast, furious, and graphic. "Oh, did we just screw you over buy having that guard come out a door that he's never used before? just hit "R" and try again instantly! No big deal right?" 

I'll admit it was fun for a few missions, but there was a reason I turned it off after 5 and went to bed. Here's what happened: I finished my 4th or 5th mission (I can't remember, they're all pretty much the same) and got out of my car to talk to that dude that apparently works the counter at every little store in Miami. I had realized by this point that I was watching my character slowly become unhinged, and was actually pretty interested in seeing how it went. Somehow, after getting out of the car, I accidentally got right back into it and drove off. I realized in order to see what would happen, I would have to replay that mission again. I also realized that I really didn't want to. 
There's a certain "try, die, try" mechanic that 8 bit games are famous for. Take Ninja Gaiden on the NES for example. Yes, that friggin stupid bird will knock you off that cliff if you don't take him out mid-jump, but he's going to be in that same place every time, so once you figure out how to deal with him, it's just a matter of remembering and executing your actions properly. I feel like Hotline Miami is trying to capture the "try-die" style of gameplay, but it's missing the consistency that makes it playable and enjoyable. 
Our Take

Nick DiMola Director

06/27/2013 at 10:53 AM

I played some of this last night (finally) and I couldn't agree more Julian. Literally point for point, your review rings true for me. The stealth is pretty shoddy, the violence is needlessly over the top, and the whole thing was just generally offputting for me. I'm honestly still baffled at how this has garnered so much praise.

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