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. 

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