Perspective is reality. What we can see and understand is largely what informs our notion of what is real and what is not (this is why psychedelic drugs are a thing). But the reality goes much deeper than our physical perspectives. Our morality and conscience define our motivations and pass judgment on our consequences. It doesn’t take a Milgram to understand that getting people to believe they’re doing what’s good is a great way to get them to do what’s bad. There’s one game from the PS Vita era that exists at the intersection of these weighty questions, dressed up in a neon ‘80s bloodbath.
It’s called Hotline: Miami, and it was a breakout hit for Dennanton Games largely due to the addictive hyperviolence that gets you in the door before leaving you in an existential quandary.
Like many indie games, Hotline Miami finds success in pairing scaled-down aesthetics with boundless creativity. This isn’t to say it’s ugly or bad, far from it.
The flashy beach vibes and funky-yet-ominous grooves do much to support the richly textured top-down playstyle. But in a world of AAA ray tracing your first look at Hotline Miami might be that it's too retro or scaled down to really grab you. This would be a mistake. Anyone who’s played it before can tell you this game is as fun and addictive as anything out there, even ten years later.
Part of it is the hyperviolence.
There is a lot of blood and a lot of dark themes running through Hotline Miami. Your character is an amnesiac hitman of sorts, donning a wide array of animal masks for anonymity as you take on contracts from various employers who leave you messages on your phone. You burst into buildings, grab whatever you can, and kill at breakneck speed. The hook of the gameplay is you are as fragile as any opponent. There is no life, no armor, no cover mechanic. You hit them, they die. They hit you first, you die. Simple.
This pacing is what gives the gameplay its magic. You’ll go through whole buildings and painstakingly assassinate dozens of thugs only to be felled by one last guy in a bathroom somewhere, then do it all over again. It creates the need to design runs through the buildings, causing you to memorize who you splatterize first, second, third, and so on.
Hotline Miami goes from good to great in its execution of a story that leaves you wondering what’s real and what is not. As a player, you genuinely feel like someone recovering from some sort of brain trauma who can’t make sense of the world. Characters look creepy, anonymous messages and threats get increasingly intense and the ending is more complex than you’d think. Ultimately, Hotline Miami is a game that lures you into celebrating violence before revealing that what we perceive as acceptable violence, in reality, is anything but.
Hotline Miami is available on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch.