Hotline Miami is a 2D game played from an isometric perspective (top-down). It is set in 1980s Miami during the cocaine craze. The game has a very simple objective: kill everyone in sight in each chapter. Your protagonist is a nameless guy who doesn’t know why he is being sent to cause so much blood and gore. All he follows is the messages left on his answering machine by an unknown source in his rundown apartment.
The game begins with you standing in a room in front of three men wearing animal masks who tell you about whom you are and what you are doing. However, everything they say is quite vague. There is no audio in any dialogue: you follow the conversation by reading the subtitles. The story begins in April 1989 but there is not much of a story to tell since the focus is so much on violence. The answering machine tells the protagonist to visit a certain address and either teach some people a lesson or clean up the place. The addresses in each chapter are divided in to floors with a limited field of vision. The limited field of vision adds to the challenge in the game. Your chances of killing someone are as good as your chances of being killed. One swing of a melee weapon or one bullet can end your life or the life of your enemies. As soon as you’re killed you can press the restart hotkey (something you will get used to) to respawn at the latest checkpoint. The checkpoints are placed fairly for the most part so you won’t respawn too far away from where you were killed. At the beginning of the chapter you can choose from a variety of animal masks that give you extra powers. For example, a mask named Rasmus can increase your ability to find secrets scattered in a given chapter. Another mask named Jake will give the ability to instantly kill someone when throwing a weapon.
There are different ways of killing people as well as different ways for others to kill you due to the availability of the vast number of weapons. There are melee weapons such as baseball bats, batons, crowbars, knives, among many others. There are throwing weapons such as beer cans, bricks, glass bottles, and throwing knives. The firearms include the magnum, sawed off shotguns, shotguns, machine guns, and Uzis. It becomes necessary to avoid using too much caution when slamming doors to knock enemies down and when turning corners to earn combos by killing many enemies with one swing of the bat. Killer combos of 2x, 4x, 5x, 8x, or 10x feels great because of the life and death nature of the game that you will always feel. After slamming a door to knock down an enemy you can jump on the enemy while he’s on the floor and finish him off by smashing their heads causing more bloodshed. The challenges you face against other enemies is fair they force you to check for nearby windows that enemies can shoot through to kill you with one shot. So the challenges are fair in the aggregate. There can be some frustration when dealing with bosses since you have to use trial and error to figure how to kill them. When fighting bosses for the first time it feels like you have no chance against them. The one guarantee in this game is that you will die many times regardless of the difficulty of the enemies. All the violence occurs while the excellent soundtrack is playing in the background which sounds like a disco beat.
The game also encourages you to replay chapters with a grading system. The grading system ranges from A+ to F. If you are a beginner you will have an extremely hard time earning an A or A+ because the skill of killing enemies requires plenty of practice. You are graded on the basis of exposure, execution, combos, and door slams.
The graphics are so pixelated that the game looks like arcade games from the 1980s. You cannot visually identify your protagonist, but there is really no reason to do so due to the simplicity of the game. But the game is so entertaining because of the thrill of causing bloodshed on every floor in every chapter. You can chop off limbs so easily with melee weapons. Shooting at enemies can make things more dangerous because it can attract the attention of other enemies in the distance. This would force you to retreat to a hiding place because one bullet from enemies that have been alerted can instantly kill you.
I think Hotline Miami is worth buying at $9.99 for the sheer thrills that come out of splattering blood all over the floors and walls. Many games these days give you a reason to kill enemies, revenge being one of the most typical reasons. Hotline Miami, however, provides no motive whatsoever to kill enemies but there is no feeling of guilt that comes from killing so many people and dogs. The game does a very good job of making you feel thrilled that you have killed you so many enemies without a need to justify the killings and the gore.