Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hotline: Miami (PC)

Reviewed on PC, available on PC

In Hotline: Miami, you take the role of a mysterious character (known by the community as "Jacket") as you are given discreet jobs to kill people. Not much is known or revealed about Jacket, but it becomes clear that he has serious psychological problems. Reality frequently distorts, and the game often keeps you guessing about what is really happening, and who is giving Jacket the jobs. I'll admit, I wasn't quite sure what to think of Hotline: Miami at first look, but it's really an interesting play.

Gameplay wise, Hotline: Miami sticks to a simple style reminiscent of ye old arcade games. The action is lightning fast, and player deaths occur after a single hit by any enemy. Upon death, the player can restart the area instantly by pressing the 'R' key and try it again. There are a large variety of weapons with slight strengths, and more are unlocked as stages are completed.

This game is a straight-up murder simulator. No, seriously.

Enemies are very basic, and don't offer much challenge except when you are taken off guard. Loud weapons, such as firearms, will cause all nearby enemies to rush you from any direction (which frequently results in death). Silent weapons, such as melee weapons, will neutralize most enemies without making noise, but are still a risk to use. Keep in mind you will die in a single hit from gun or melee, so choose your approach carefully.

Before each stage, you are given the choice of which mask you wear. In addition to changing your appearance slightly, you are given a boost depending on your mask. Masks are unlocked by completing stages, and an additional mask can be unlocked by getting a high score on certain stages. Unfortunately, some of these masks have bonuses that are very circumstantial, so you will find yourself using only a handful of different masks from the large selection.

There's a good selection of masks, each with their own name.

With the mask being the only thing truly customize-able about your character, I couldn't help but feel like there could have been more. Unless you pick a mask that specifically gives you a weapon, you will always start the stage empty handed. Why would a hit man show up to a job with no weapon, when there are numerous targets involved? It seemed like an oversight, but doesn't take much away from the game.

At the end of each stage you are given a score and a rating. Surprisingly, the game tends to reward the Leroy Jenkins approach, and will give low scores for cautiously killing your targets. If you want a high score (which yields more masks), you will want to charge through as quickly as possible and rack up as many multi-kills as you can. This can be a little frustrating, as you will die a lot from that random guy who walks out and shoots you from behind.

A cautious approach will label you "Generic" and yield a poor score.

Gameplay - 8/10
The game is fun, although a little repetitive. Combat is simple, but jumping onto a downed enemy and smashing his head into the floor does satisfy. There are some moments in between stages that qualify as the game's cut scenes, which help balance out the adrenaline-fueled kill fest from moments before. 

Design - 7/10
The visuals are simple, but get the job done. I would go as far to say they add their own flavor to the game, rather than detract. Watching Jacket gradually lose his sanity is a high mark, and personally drove me to complete the game. The story will seem very confusing the entire game, and only truly makes sense after completing the bonus missions. 

Replay - 8/10
There's a ton of stages, each with a reason to replay them. A high rating will unlock new masks with different perks, and your cumulative scores will unlock different weapons that appear in all stages. Unfortunately, there aren't different difficulty levels, so you cannot replay Stage 1 on hard to adjust for your new strong unlocks.

Final - 25/30 Great Game
It's a dark game with a lot of frustration to be had, but highly satisfying. The beginning is arguably slow story-wise, but definitely picks up and finishes with a bang during the bonus missions. Mask selection also satisfies, and gives an incentive to do better. If you enjoy playing a protagonist with questionable morality and psychological problems, then this game is up your alley.

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