The majority of game journalism is game reviews—many reviews are broken. Judgment Day is a column designed to highlight those reviews that stand out among the rest—reviews that are intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful.
This week, I wanted to highlight some smart writing about Jonathan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin’s brutal top-down action game, Hotline Miami. The indie game can be purchased on Steam and is simultaneously one of the most satisfying and disturbing games I have ever played. In short, Hotline Miami owned me for three days straight.
Also it may very well have the best soundtrack of any game ever. While a full soundtrack has not been released, you can check out Jasper Bryne and M.O.O.N.’s contributions which represent some of the game’s very best tracks.
What is Hotline Miami?
Chris Plante has written an excellent review of the game for Polygon in which he succinctly gets at what the game is all about:
If murder simulation is a genre, Hotline Miami is its new exemplar.
The top-down action game coerces players to take life in the quickest, ugliest and most ironic ways. It’s caustic. It’s filthy. It’s one of the best arguments against casual violence in videogames. . . .
Killing — aggressive and violent — is the core of the game. The player can murder with a number of weapons, ranging from the traditional (pistols, machine guns) to the improvised (a pan full of boiling water). Points are rewarded and multiplied by stringing together assassinations and mixing up weapons. Earning the most points requires the player to do the most awful things, turning a high score into a symbol of how depravedly its players behave.
Where does Hotline Miami miss the mark?
Allistair Pinsof, writing for Destructoid, points out an area many players will take issue with but actually works within the game’s narrative:
The game’s AI is dumb as rocks but it suits the pacing and style of combat. Yet, one has to wonder why enemies can’t hear their comrade’s shotgun fire or why they continue to sit on a couch after you blew their friend’s head off. Maybe it’s best to not think about these things, as they are the least of Hotline’s problems and contribute to the bizarre world the game creates. You’ll be grateful of the AI’s quirks once the difficulty ramps up. You’ll savor every cheap kill you can get, even if it means repeatedly swinging a door to knock down 5+ guys.
What makes Hotline Miami Great?
Tom Bramwell, writing for Eurogamer, nails what makes made the game such a deeply compelling experience:
. . . maybe the thing that stays with me is the way that, after you kill the final guy on a level, you have to walk back to your DeLorean parked outside, past all the bodies of all the guys you’ve killed. They sprinted in your direction with knives and bats or shot you a hundred times, and you are conscious of all the violence as you twitch and restart your way past them the first time – but it isn’t until the music’s stopped and the threat is over that you really notice the fact that there are so many and they’re all cut in half or piled on top of each other and swimming in puddles of bright red blood. It’s not haunting or anything like that – this is a silly video game, right? – but it’s something to think about. It’s the only time you can think about anything.
What is the best review you have read?
That is a loaded question, but since I am asking myself, I will tell you that Alec Meer’s “Wot I Think” review for Rock Paper Shotgun is undoubtedly the smartest review I have read of the game. Meer lays a number of scenarios of what will likely happen when you play the game and in so doing nails how the game feels and plays and why it’s special. You should really read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:
Every action matters. You cannot charge in firing. Well, you can, but you will die. HOTLINE MIAMI’s levels are navigational puzzles rather than battlegrounds – how to get from the entrance to the exit/next floor, killing everyone along the way, but with the minimum of actions and action. You will die. You will die. You will die. That is not failure. . . .
You could argue that it’s nasty. It is. This is a murder simulator, and it is not pretending not to be. Though you do only ever fight other murderers. Not that that’s any excuse. HLM is indefensible. That’s rather the point.
You could argue that HOTLINE MIAMI is brilliant, vital, a tactical and aesthetic masterpiece as well as a pixel-art odyssey of ice-cold violence. It is.
And that soundtrack. Action to beat, in perfect, twisted harmony.