Hotline Miami

I’ve always hated using the cop-out “it’s just not for me” in relation to anything.  It just seems so non-committal.  And yet, after putting a few hours into Hotline Miami and simply not getting what everyone else is raving about, I feel “it’s just not for me” is the only answer I can give, because it really isn’t for me.

And that has nothing to do with the violence.  I like violence.  I’m proud that I live in a time where the violence on television is so awesome that it makes even the most grizzled of war veterans become physically ill.  People are talking about the violence in Hotline Miami like we’ve reached the zenith of virtual murders.  Where have you people been the last few years?  There’s shit in the latest Mortal Kombat that would make even the most fetishistic psychopath go limp with shame.  Hell, I’ve played a game that gives you an achievement for tying a nun to railroad tracks and letting her get hit by a train.  And I loved it.  Sorry Hotline Miami, but your eight-bit violence is just not cutting it with me.

The typical after-party at the MTV Music Video Awards.

The typical after-party at the MTV Music Video Awards.

I think the raving is based mostly on the novelty factor.  Violence was never this masterful when games looked like this.  With modern indie gaming, we can take all the theatrical bloodshed we’ve accumulated from years of premium cable shows and modern M rated titles and apply it to games that seem like they could have existed in the 80s.  So the thrill comes from “hey, it’s an old game but it’s really gory.  Neat!”  But it’s not an old game.  I’m not saying Hotline Miami isn’t extraordinarily fucked up.  It is.  What I’m saying is, shouldn’t everyone over the age of twenty  be desensitized to this type of shit by now?

What turned me off most about Hotline Miami was the difficulty.  I just could not make any progress, often repeating stages several dozen times to no avail.  Hypothetically, the game is a bit of a puzzler, a bit of a brawler, a bit of a shooter, and a bit of a stealthy dungeon crawler type of thing.  It’s a cavalcade of ideas and it doesn’t always blend together smoothly.  This also helps mute the violence that is, let’s face it, the chief selling point of the game.  For example, the scalding water thing.  Everyone had been telling me about the water thing for the last year.  Grab a pot of boiling water off a stove and throw it on some dude.  Pretty brutal, right?  But the act of throwing boiling water loses its sting when you have to repeat that upwards of fifty times because of any number of reasons, such as having one of the enemies randomly move off its preset path and blow you away.  Or having enemies that can turn and fire on you faster than you can react.  Or clearing out a room only to miss one dude who gets up and casually blows you away with a shotgun.

My guess is Hotline Miami would have played better if I could have played it with a mouse and keyboard.  Using the PS3 controller was an exercise in frustration.  Locking on to an enemy requires lining up a cursor somewhere near them.  Of course, sometimes enemies bunch together, so trying to line up exactly the right is tough.  The game probably needed something along the lines of Metroid Prime’s lock-on system that generally lined up the closest person to you.  Not that it would have mattered.  The AI is a crack shot every time from seemingly all distances, and it can process information faster than you.  Thus the moment one centimeter of your body is exposed, you’re dead.  The puzzle aspect doesn’t really work right because the AI can be so brutally unfair but also prone to fits of randomness where guys break off their preset paths.  Or sometimes they just wouldn’t play along at all.  I would play rounds where I would fire a shotgun through a door and set off every single dude in the place to come and murder me.  At other times I could fire from the exact same location, killing the exact same guy, and have nobody react to it.  There was no consistency from one life to the next.

As a full disclosure type of deal, I had to play Hotline Miami in shorter play sessions (about 30 to 45 minutes at a time) due to epilepsy concerns.  But I was never bummed when it was time for a break.  The repetition can be exhausting.

As a full disclosure type of deal, I had to play Hotline Miami in shorter play sessions (about 30 to 45 minutes at a time) due to epilepsy concerns. But I was never bummed when it was time for a break. The repetition can be exhausting.

I will say this: if you absolutely do not want to play the PC version and you have Vita as an option, go with it.  It’s a trend I’ve noticed with these cross-platform PS3/Vita releases.  The Vita version always has superior control.  For Miami, movement isn’t as loose, aiming is more efficient because targeting is handled via the touch screen, and scrolling is done by dragging your finger around.  By comparison, the PS3 port is clunky, cumbersome, and imprecise.  As if the too smart, too quick, too accurate AI isn’t enough of a problem, you have to deal with controls that never feel intuitive or smooth.

I can’t really explain how I could enjoy a game like Spelunky and not enjoy Hotline Miami.  Both had control issues.  Both are based around frequent dying, trial-and-error gameplay and unfair design.  I wish I could explain it.  It would probably save me a lot of grief that I’m already getting from fans of this game.  I can’t even say I hate the game.  Maybe it’s been the year of crushing hype that everyone has been showering me with.  People talked about Hotline Miami like it was the second coming of Grand Theft Auto.  But I don’t think it’s that.  I really don’t think this game is as good as everyone is saying.  What it does do is meet the three rules for an indie game to get critical acclaim no matter how flawed or broken it is.  They are:

1. Have retro graphics.  Because if you hate a game with retro graphics, you’re pissing on gaming’s heritage and thus your opinion is invalidated.  Even if you’re talking about a brand new game released this year (or the port of a PC game released last year).

2. Be insanely, unfairly, unreasonably difficult.  Because if you hate a game that’s all of those, you’re just a low-skill gamer whose opinion is invalidated by the sheer force of your sucking.  Or you’re too young to remember a period when all games were this hard (there’s no such thing) and thus your opinion is invalidated because you’re a whippersnapper used to be coddled by games that hold your hand from start to finish.

3. Be gratuitously violent and shocking in ways so brazen that if you were to describe them to a psychiatrist out of context, you would be committed.  Disliking games like this means you’re a prude at best, and an anti-gaming sissy in league with the Jack Thompsons of the world at worst.  Clearly someone whose opinion isn’t valid.

Me?  I’m a neo-retro loving, violence embracing gamer.  Okay, fine, I’ve never understood the whole “be as insanely difficult as possible” thing that some people thrive on, but I can put up with it if I’m having fun.  I didn’t have fun with Hotline Miami.  Not just for the controls or the unfair AI.  I just didn’t like it.  It was boring to me.  Almost everyone else seems to like it.  Which is fine, because the groundwork for something spectacular is laid here.  I just couldn’t get into it.  So I’ll chalk this one up to “it’s not for me” and move on.  By the way, Brian is noting right now that I’ve used the “it’s not for me” excuse to avoid watching F1 with him, so I can’t claim this is my first use of it.  Fine.  I’ll you what Brian: when drivers start throwing scalding water on each-other and are allowed to use firearms during the race, get back to me.

imageHotline Miami was developed by Dennaton Games

$9.99 admits that I didn’t make it very far, but not for a lack of trying.  Having said that, I spent five hours failing again and again, so I feel I have enough room to talk about this game in the making of this review. 

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

12 Responses to Hotline Miami

  1. Even I’ve been on the receiving end of the ‘coddled whippersnapper’ argument and I’ve been playing games since 1986. That seems to be wheeled out whenever someone says a game is unreasonably difficult or unfairly designed. Pfft.

    I haven’t felt any desire to play Hotline Miami so it’s nice to see that not everyone considers it the Messiah of games.

    • Tim Hurley says:

      I almost hate to admit it, because it makes me look out of touch, but I honestly didn’t know what Hotline Miami was until reading about it here. I’d heard of the game, knew it was a hit with the general crowd, but had no clue what the game was about. From screenshots, I knew it had an overhead view… There, I admitted my ignorance.

      Sadly, your three tenets for indie praise are dead-on accurate… I’m guilty of it on occasion. I’m with you and Alan in saying I don’t get the ‘obscenely difficult’ edge some games goes for. I suppose that has something to do with age, though like Alan, I’ve been plugging away on games since the mid-80s myself; you can’t call me a rookie at this.

      All that said, now that I know -what- the game is, I will check it out, as I do love some of the ultra-violence.

      P.S. Happy Early Two Years Old!

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  3. Homi Alafar says:

    I’ve only visited this website for 5 minutes and I’m spotting a trend.

    And yes, Hotline Miami is violent given the way it’s presented, but isn’t that a bit beside the point? Who honestly has ever played this game and said “Wow! This game is violent so it’s great!”? Did the conversation really just end there? I guess it’s not manifest on the ps3 version, but the reasons this game holds are the tight controls, the easy-to-restart grind on stages while refining your approach over multiple attempts, and the thumping soundtrack encouraging you the whole way. Speaking of, why is the bass and drum soundtrack not even mentioned in passing?

    The game also has a story. It’s sort of like how you could say Sonic the Hedgehog 3 has a story, but it’s a little bit more subtle, tasking the player to figure out which events on screen were actually real, and why they were real. It’s like I said, though, only a little bit more subtle. Maybe only games you complete should be tagged as reviews.

    I couldn’t complain if you took all of the above into account and disliked it all, or at least mentioned it, but this “review” is actually what’s lacking. If I didn’t know the first thing about Hotline Miami, I’d know more about your opinion on retro style gore than the game itself after reading this. I’m not even trying to be rude. I’m giving an honest criticism of this article in the hopes that this site can improve.

    • I rarely comment on music here or graphics unless I feel they are exceptional, and I didn’t feel that way about Hotline Miami’s music. I focus on gameplay.

      Anyway, I put about five to six hours into this game, and I paid for it with my own money, and I feel that qualifies me to share my thoughts on it with whoever cares. If this review wasn’t for you, maybe one of the hundreds of positive reviews it’s had elsewhere online will suit your need.

      I don’t feel I need to finish a game to say what I think of it. It’s not like I owe it to the developer or fans of the game or anything. I paid for it. I have an opinion. I’m going to state it. I’m also not a professional and I don’t pretend I’m one.

      Sorry you didn’t like this (or the White Noise review). I don’t know what to say. Better luck at any of the millions of other gaming blogs out there that might better line up with your particular tastes?

      • Homi Alafar says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I like your writing style, and I think it’s a fantastic plus to this site. I don’t really read up on gaming blogs, but your site was the one of the first that came up when I was looking for a little coverage on White Noise (few others have given it the time of day).

        I didn’t defend Hotline Miami simply because I enjoyed the game, and I’m not so tone-deaf to only seek views that align with my own. To quote, “I couldn’t complain if you took all of the above into account and disliked it all.” I took issue with the review because there were unconsidered aspects of the game in your post, and that really leaves an incomplete picture of the game. Any game. I understand that I’m just some yahoo on the Internet making remarks, though. Who am I to come here and start making a ruckus? Thank you for your response.

      • Out of a dozen or so opinions I’ve encountered on Hotline Miami, including a few from friends and running a wide range of ages this is the first time I’ve heard someone say the music was unexceptional. I love the music. I was as frustrated as you were with the difficulty and it was partly the music that kept me coming back and I can see why it won awards. This is a game where you veg to the great music and get in a rhythm as you repeatedly try to clear a floor. This isn’t for overachievers who want a goal. I also agree with others the story was intriguing & the overall ambiance was very appealing. And YES you need to play this with keys & a mouse. It must have been insane with a controller. Btw – I paid $2.50 for this on Steam. You couldn’t have paid much more than that yourself. Obviously a cheap price doesn’t mean you can’t criticize, but it certainly makes me more forgiving of a game’s annoyances. : )

  4. Guy Montag says:

    “My guess is Hotline Miami would have played better if I could have played it with a mouse and keyboard. ”

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Playing through on the PC makes the difficulty JUST RIGHT in my opinion. The only parts where it’s still stupidly difficult is the final boss, who’s really just a pain because it’s difficult finding out exactly how to beat him.

    But yeah, it’s supposed to be a hard game, I just think they made a bad decision porting a game that is so obviously built for a mouseXkeyboard to the console. I’m sorry you had to have such a bad experience with a really decent game!

  5. Daric Sanchez says:

    Cool review, I would assume this particular review is really made for a target audience.

    I would like a previous poster say though, finish a game before you really sit and write a review.

  6. I have only played PC version of the game and I LOVE IT! Trust me it’s not gore or retro graphics or some stupid shit like that. It’s just that this game is really fun to play. It’s hard but once you win a level the feeling you get is awesome!

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