Hotline Miami: The chicken is talking to me, I killed everyone, and what the hell is going on
There are few secrets to earning kills in the upcoming PC game Hotline Miami, at least as far as I can see after playing through the first few levels of the game. You merely have to scan the layout of each building using the SHIFT key, and then you have to murder each person in that building without hesitation, and without giving them an opportunity to fight back. When you find a way to do this successfully you feel like something between the Terminator and the angel of death. Hotline Miami may look like a simple top-down action game, but once you begin playing you’ll feel the tightness of the mechanics, and the thrill of the killing contained within. An arterial spray of blood may gush after you straddle an enemy and cut his throat. Then you’ll begin to ask yourself… why are you doing this? This is, of course, after the game asks the same thing.
Failure is always an option
The game takes place in 1989 Miami, a time when the city was fueled by the profits of the cocaine trade. Your character receives his missions from voice mails on an answering machine. You move from place to place in a DeLorean, because of course you do. “It also has this really abstract story that I refuse to tell anyone about,” Nigel Lowrie, Devolver’s vice-president of marketing, tells me .“I’ve played through this build, and at about the middle of the game it takes this wild turn that’s very dark, very hard to track in a purposeful way.”The campaign begins with a series of men in animal masks asking you questions about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you may want to find out. It’s a dream-like way to begin the game, and the music and graphics work together to create an unsettling, David Lynch-ian effect. Going through each mission and killing everyone you see makes you feel like a bullet fired from a gun; simple and effective, but who pulled the trigger? During one scene your character is overwhelmed, and falls to his knees to vomit on the ground. Just how comfortable are you killing people based on the say-so of your answering machine? The idea of an unreliable narrator has been explored in games like Spec Ops: The Line, but the retro aesthetic and hyper-violence of Hotline Miami is more surreal than war games asking you to think about armed combat. The splashy neon colors that surround each level aren’t due to the fact that nothing was designed around each setting, but to show… something. That void exists in the game. The flicker on your computer screen may mimic the sort of thing you’re used to from defective CRT displays, but it’s done intentionally. There may be nothing that exists outside of the buildings you turn into slaughterhouses. Your expectations are being manipulated.
Do a line, and kill everything you see
“It’s been likened to Super Meat Boy. You’ll die dozens of times on every level, and restart immediately,” Lowrie said. “It’s quick play, trial and error. The AI is the simplest you can get; they hear something, they converge on you, and they can kill you with one shot.” This style of play helps to keep things interesting. You can look around each level and plan where to go and in what order to kill your enemies, and you can knock your targets on their ass with a door if they’re standing too close to an entry way. You have to be sure to move quickly and surely when your target is carrying a shotgun; one wrong move or an attack from the wrong direction and he’s going to paint the wall with your brains. Death means little however, as you’re placed back at the beginning of the level instantly. You’ll learn through trial and error, and the final run that ends with the death of everyone inside the building will feel amazing. There are 25 masks you can find and wear in the game, much like the masks worn by the mysterious gentlemen (women?) in the game’s opening, and they add different effects to the action. Some masks start you with different weapons, others allow you to take a single hit before dying, and others will slow you down or speed you up. One mask changes the game’s language to French and, yes, there is a reason for this. Lowrie refused to explain it to me. The game makes you feel both powerful and vulnerable, and the assault on each respective building has a sort of rhythm: You must find someone with a knife to kill with your hands, and then use the knife to kill someone with a gun, and then use the gun to kill everyone. There are weapons you can throw, and firearms may be powerful, but they’re loud. You’re not super-powerful, so you have to be smarter and more brutal than those you’re hunting. The game would be impressive simply due to its design, aesthetic, and execution, but the extra level of story and uncertainty surrounding the action elevates the project to something truly special. I’ve played the first few levels, and then put I put the game away until I have access to final release; this is something I want to save until I can experience the whole thing, and get answers to all my questions.