Thursday, January 3, 2013

Broke Video Gamer: Hotline Miami Review

I took a break from immersion into dangerously addictive worlds of MMOs this week. However, I needed something else to take up my time (and talk about for my weekly review). A friend clued me into an indie title: Hotline Miami by Dennation Games. It was on sale on Steam for half price. Five bucks for a game normally selling for ten? Sold!

When the game first loaded, my initial impression was: Oh man, what year is it? The game teleported me to the 90s and I’m turning my Sega Genesis back on. It is a 2D top-down action game set in 1989. You play the role of a hitman sent on missions to clear out entire buildings. These missions are assigned via cryptic messages on your answering machine. Then, it gets weirder....

Click for the whole review.

I like the way the story is told. It is easy to perceive the game as a mindless, gory, all-out murder-fest; but there is more to it than that. The game features a disjointed and non-chronological storyline which unfolds as you complete each of your murderous tasks. While not entirely original in its premise, it keeps the player guessing and mostly in the dark. The tale is very surreal and you really have to pay attention to catch what’s going on because it doesn’t start to make sense until the very end. I experienced a very satisfying ‘Ahhh!’ moment as I realized the true nature of this rabbit hole.

The graphics are distinctly 16-bit and appropriately repetitive. It was a little tricky to re-acclimate myself to the “primitive” surroundings as I’ve gotten used to the ultra-realistic graphical surroundings of today. I’m not such a big fan of the free-flowing puddles of blood, but I can understand why such detail is added. It goes back to the days when a blood code was needed to properly play Mortal Kombat on the console. It might’ve been more appropriate and authentic if such a code existed for Hotline Miami. After getting over all of the gratuitous blood splatters, I saw a lot of detail in this game! While you can’t really interact with everything, it’s obvious how it’s not just all for window dressing: The story is being told not just by the cut scenes or dialogue, but also by the surrounding environment. It’s refreshing to find the plot of a video game not being spoon-fed down my esophagus.

The gameplay is quite violent. Guns, knives, katanas, bottles, baseball bats, pots full of boiling water, and a variety of firearms are at your disposal as you WASD your way around the board killing people and canines. Also available are unlockable themed animal masks. What? You can’t walk into a joint, guns blazing, without a mask on. No, not even if you leave no witnesses. These masks grant your psychopath certain abilities that affect the dynamics of how a level is played. One mask will enable you to kill someone by slamming the door open on them (instead of just knocking them down). Another might grant more ammunition, start the stage off with a weapon in your hands, or bestow killing fists of steel.

The way the AI moves is reminiscent of similar games from back in the day. It’s really really bad. The bad guys’ actions and tendencies are wholly inconsistent. You never know if the dude with the shotgun is going to turn around and shoot you. Gunshots can alert goons to your location, but sometimes they don’t even respond to the sound of a fully automatic assault rifle emptying its clip. You could be just behind the door firing away and they wouldn’t even bat an eyelash! Alternatively, a single shot can awaken the entire map and they start rushing you. It’s best to be prepared before you start shooting at things. This results in gameplay that isn’t quite the same every time, even between deaths (you’ll be experiencing a lot of dying and hitting that ‘R’ key for restarts). I found this aspect charming. I wasn’t expecting for the bad AI to keep me on my toes, but it did. While at times this can be frustrating, the overall gaming experience was fun.      

My favorite part of this game is the music. The 16-bit-sounding tunes made me nostalgic for the earlier days of console gaming. The tracks would get stuck in my head for hours. I’d whistle it annoyingly while working. I’m whistling it right now. I’m probably whistling it while you’re reading this. It’s repetitive and it drills right into my brainmeats, compelling me to play the game some more. The soundtrack is available for download here. Oh god...make it stop.

The sights and sounds of Hotline Miami bring pangs of nostalgia for retro gaming fans such as myself. I thought all I was supposed to do was turn entire venues into bloodbaths, so the not-so-simplistic and non-linear storytelling came as a wonderful surprise. And while playing it seemed like putting a totally sweet gaming rig to waste, this game is cash well spent. Purchasing it brings not-so-mindless fun while supporting an indie game developer. So go ahead and spend the cash!

No comments:

Post a Comment