Game Review: Hotline Miami [PS VITA/PS3]
A PS3/Vita review code was given for this review. This game was previously released and reviewed on PC.
Hotline Miami is probably one of the rare gems in gaming, that came out of nowhere but took the gaming community by storm. It was a bold new game that seemed to reference to games, like Hitman and mixed it with the violence of Manhunt. That brutal, and surprisingly fresh mixture worked wonders for this title, and it grew famous on PC, literally overnight. So after all the attention it got on PC, this game finally makes its way to the PS3/VITA, and let me tell you right from the start, that it is nothing short of addictive and is the full package, even on vita.
The game follows an unnamed character as he assassinates, or more realistically put, “slaughters” specific gangs and mobs, for the people running the hotline assassination agency, known as “50 Blessings”. However, the more he starts to kill people, the more he seems to get addicted to it. Slowly, but surely he starts falling into a deep realization of guilt, especially with the three masked figures that seem to be keeping tabs on his life. The story is really interesting and definitely requires a lot of thinking from you to make sense of it. It gets especially interesting as it reaches its finale.
The game starts with a message, advising you to plug in your earphones, and trust me, it is a justified advice because the music that I have heard in this game is brilliantly mixed and sounds absolutely amazing both alone and especially in-game where the deep bass lines really pump up your adrenaline. Adrenaline-rush is something that can be experienced from this game, as it plays and controls so smoothly and briskly that you will see yourself clearing out entire rooms and even floors at breakneck speeds.
Furthermore, so expansive are its mechanics that you can use anything to your advantage, most satisfyingly, the doors. Which you can use to knock someone down, provided they are standing behind it. However, unless you wear a specific mask, it doesn’t outright kill them, as you have to go over and execute them. Same thing with throwing your weapons as it only knocks them down for a short while, unless if it is something sharp. Ultimately, these simple yet useful mechanics allow for countless possibilities. Allowing you to strategically orchestrate your blood shower.
For example, in a room ahead of me, there were two gangsters, one was holding a gun while the other had only a knife and was standing in front of the door. So, I knock the guy down with the door, and before he could get up I threw my weapon onto the other guy, knocking him down as well. Then I just proceeded to brutally eliminating them while they were still down. Another situation where the throwing mechanic really helps is when your gun runs out of ammo, so to buy yourself more time, you can throw it at an enemy. It is a really strategic feature that can give you ample time to run away, especially if you are surrounded.
Speaking of Strategy, you can definitely play this game based on your reflexes alone by hitting everything that moves as fast as you can. However, to get a good grade and better scores to unlock more weapons and masks, the game encourages you to dispatch your enemies more methodically and efficiently, in the least amount of time possible. Furthermore, even due to the thinking involved in this game, it never loses its fast pace, and that can be accredited to the varied and fast mechanics of this game.
The main reason these mechanics work out so great is due to the well thought control layout that is simple and precise to use. Basically, for both Playstation versions, you move with the left stick and aim with the right. The L and R bumpers are attack buttons, the L for throwing/picking and R for attacking, with X for executing. The PS3 layout is probably more user friendly due to the amounts of input buttons available, so you can use R3 to lock onto enemies, and L2 trigger to look ahead of you. However since these buttons are missing on the VITA, you have to instead rely on the touch screen support. You have to touch on enemies to lock, and drag the screen to look around. Fortunately though, it doesn’t take long to find a rhythm for the VITA controls, to make these features seamless.
Another outstanding aspect of this game is its brutal set of animations that are varied for every weapon and situation. For example, if you were to execute an enemy with a glass bottle, the character would first break the bottle the slit the enemy’s throat, or if it is something like a baseball bat, he repeatedly bashes it on his victims head. It looks especially amazing when after beating someone to a pulp, you see them crawling away, only to stop and snap their neck later or chocking on their own blood as they take the last few breaths. It adds grittiness to the game, making you constantly realize that you have just taken a life in the most demented way possible.
The main gripe I have with this game, relates to the difficulty spikes, which arise mostly by the last part of the main campaign. It is not because I wasn’t using enough strategy or was rushing through that I kept dying, but was instead due to the unbalanced enemies. You see, in the later section of the game there are these special, stronger types of enemies that just can’t be killed with melee weapons, no matter what you use. Only guns are effective against them. The problem I see with this is, that the game forces you to go loud at times, causing all the enemies around you to converge directly on your position, throwing away any strategy you came forward with. It would’ve been great if there was a silent way to dispatch them to keep the pace you are at, going.
Now, you can mostly solve the aforementioned problem by choosing the proper mask, each of which grant you special abilities, like the muffling of gun sounds or faster speed. However, it sometimes does not work due to how the enemies are placed in the room. It makes for a deadly combination, especially by the last few levels where most walls are nothing but see through glass, and enemies can easily shoot you no matter where you run. Still though, it does not hinder the gameplay much, and after you actually complete a difficult section, you get to feel a bit relieved as the game saves automatically after each section, so you don’t have to go through it again when you die on the next section. Also, if you are wondering. The save game can be uploaded to the cloud, making it easier for you to switch between the Vita and PS3. Furthermore, this game supports cross-buy, meaning that purchasing the copy for PS3 will net you a free version for the vita, and vice versa.
Going back to the flaws, another thing that irks me when I play this game, are the introductions to boss fights. It isn’t that they aren’t fair or are bad. In fact this game has some of the most interesting and varied boss fights, meaning you will never be fighting the bosses in the same way as each have a different method for defeat. However, the way some fights begin are so fast, that you wouldn’t know what hit you. For example, in one of the boss fights in-game, a van smashes through the window running you over. Most likely you won’t see that coming and will die the first time by not getting out of the way, however the game will start split-seconds before that scene again due to the autosave, causing you to probably die again… in the same way. Still, it is possible to get out of the way, but you have to act fast. These kinds of boss fights amount for a lot of trial and error for you to succeed, especially the final one.
Lastly, for the games length, it is neither too short nor too long, clocking in at about 5-6 hours, it hits that sweet spot for a low price downloadable game. Besides other than your main game, which is addictive as heck and bound to promote replays due to its score system and satisfying gameplay, you have got a puzzle mode that requires you to find special alphabetic characters in each level in order for you to solve it. Basically put, great value for its price. Furthermore, this game can be picked up and played any time, it is that simple in its controls and objective.
With facile controls, brutally satisfying gameplay, deep storyline and an amazing soundtrack, Hotline: Miami reminds us that an AAA budget isn’t always required for a game to be both entertaining and compelling. If you think it was already fun on the PC, then wait till you try the console version, and especially the VITA one, for which the game is a perfect match due to its pick and play nature. Even due to some minor gripes with the difficulty and boss fights, this game is easily a classic that deserves to be played again and again.