Feature Article

Mr. Shifty Is a More Empowering Version of Hotline Miami

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Getting shifty.

At first glance, Mr. Shifty is a lot like Hotline Miami. It's a top-down, twin-stick game in which you move from room to room; enemies in these rooms charge at you if they see you and can kill you with a single shot. It focuses on combat puzzles, and initially I felt like I had to move with patience and take out the enemies methodically, just like Hotline Miami.

And then I warp-dashed through a wall for the first time.

This allowed me to feel less vulnerable and more mobile in a way that I never felt while playing Hotline Miami. The warp grants a freedom of motion that lets you careen around a map, circling enemies while they spin wildly to catch up. Because you can teleport short distances, you move faster than the enemies can aim, meaning that you can trick them into firing into walls--or other foes. I delighted in warping through crowds of soldiers and watching as they gunned each other down.

The warp also works to quickly get behind enemies that are waiting around corners. This mechanic doesn't just allow you to move fast, like the drift in Hyper Light Drifter--it also lets you pass through thin walls, so you can flank a soldier standing on the other side of a doorway.

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You don't wield guns, either. Instead, you use the character's fists and two-by-fours you find in the environment to knock out gun-toting enemies. The game's challenge lies in this mismatch, because your limited weaponry requires deft and strategic warping to get in close and deliver punches or blows with a two-by-four. During one memorable section, I entered a room and was greeted with an enemy carrying a rocket launcher. Instinctively, I teleported behind him as he fired a missile, and bludgeoned him to death an explosion engulfed the area where I was just standing.

From my time with the game, its ability to make each combat puzzle rewarding without being punishing, seems like it'll be its greatest asset. Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 earned acclaim for being difficult yet satisfying games, but both occasionally struggled with being unfair to the player. Mr. Shifty fixes this by giving you a brief window to react to the unexpected, which means that the game is fast and fluid. You won't have to peek into a room, trigger an enemy to follow you, and then hide to ambush him (although that works, too). Instead, you can warp into the room, circle around him, and beat him from behind.

Mr. Shifty enhances this sense of strength and control by also implementing slow-motion when you come dangerously close to an enemy firing his gun. This gives you additional survivability, but it also introduces an interesting strategic layer into the mix of punching and warping. Sometimes, it's advantageous to nearly get shot so you can trigger that slo-mo. Occasionally I accidentally warped into very large crowds of enemies, and letting myself get caught in the line of fire actually enabled me to finish off five or six soldiers quickly while in the slo-mo bubble.

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Of course, it's important that your character doesn't become too powerful, and so the warp is balanced by both a cool-down meter--you can only warp five times in quick succession--and destructible environments. Doors and thin walls can be destroyed, meaning that you're vulnerable to determined enemies even if you hide in a different room. My character died several times because I'd occasionally trigger three or four soldiers to all fire their shotguns at the wall I was hiding behind; ripped to shreds immediately, the wall provided no protection from their onslaught. The destructible elements in the levels also helped me in other situations, though, such as when I'd send a door flying off its hinges into a waiting enemy.

Mr. Shifty felt best when events were unfolding at high speeds. Although it's clearly inspired by Hotline Miami, I felt that it established its own identity during the encounters that forced me to rely on the teleport. Mr. Shifty encourages you to play recklessly, spamming the warp button and flying around a level. That recklessness is what's most exciting about the game, which launches sometime in 2017 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

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    newhaus1994

    Alex Newhouse

    I'm a news guy, a student of international relations, and I've put way too many hours into Steep.
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