Wednesday, 28 January 2015

HOTLINE MIAMI - Gamertroll Review - PS4, PS3, Vita, PC

"I was always lucky with the order", said the intemperate psychopath William Munny at the end of Clint Eastwood's definitive western 'Unforgiven'. In much the same way there'll be many times where you'll need to be lucky with the order when dispatching enemies in Hotline Miami too.

Unless you've got the devil on your shoulder or the luck of a Christmas monkey you will die a million instant deaths like everyone else who tries to take on the game's denizens full of trigger-happy Russian mobsters and assorted psychos. There is one hell of a unique catch though: dying is Laugh out loud fun, not to mention perfectly acceptable when you consider the odds you're up against.

Every enemy, whether armed with a vicious melee weapon or a firearm, represents the threat of instant death to the player. The perfectly judged postmodern graphics Hotline Miami employs are not the real reason the game feels so brutal to the senses - it's the way the game transmits the instantaneous shocking violence of killing and being killed that makes the experience stand out. It's in the aftermath of a successful rampage or the sudden stillness you experience after being shot down that gives you a sudden perspective relief on the pooling blood and piles of bodies. Entire buildings can be left spattered and dripping with blood on every floor in seconds.

To clarify, Hotline Miami (from here HM) is so easily restarted that you can run into a room and get shot dead 25 times within a minute. It's actually possible to cathartically rage kill yourself if the urge takes you.

It was reading about the Australian censor's motion to ban the upcoming sequel 'Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number' that Gamertroll's interest was piqued about this 2012 original. Big shout out to Australia's daft censors because otherwise I might have entirely overlooked this diamond of a game.

Really, what could be anybody's problem with a game about a hallucinating vigilante visiting hotels and nightclubs and shooting everyone in the building at the behest of a chicken on his telephone answering machine? Sounds responsible enough to me, the protagonist (only known to the game's fans as 'Jacket') even calls in for a pizza or rents himself a video afterwards. Charming fellow.

HM was made by two Swedes, Jonatan Soderstrom and artist Dennis Wedin under the name 'Dennaton games' (Their names amalgamated). On playing their strange and dark creation it is hard to believe that this is their first game. 
Dennaton's refreshing approach feels like being released from the gravity many contemporary games seek to inflict on the player. Forget storyline, forget med kits and ammo, forget having to remember stuff, forget time wasting restarts back from punishingly distant checkpoints. Don't you feel lighter? After months of go here, do this, collect that, Gamertroll felt free, enlightened in every sense.
That is not to say there's not depth to be found: you can earn and collect David Lynchian latex masks that imbue you with specific abilities and widen your library of useable weapons but you won't have to worry about losing any of these accumulated items. Whilst you can die dozens of times a minute storming a building in blind rage it's equally possible (with a bit of luck on your side) to clear an entire building in just seconds of raging megaviolence. It is in these glorious moments that HM makes you feel like the Saint of all killers.

The player can casually pick up weapons as they go off of enemy bodies whilst the deceptively basic looking graphics allow effective use of doors and even the throwing of empty weapons into enemy's faces. the order of the day here is to cause maximum carnage in the slickest, fastest way possible. 

If someone beats you to the punch and unceremoniously splatters your brain up the wall with a shotgun or you nearly beat the stage only for the last surviving goon to simultaneously shoot you, HM provides an inbuilt antidote for that kind of frustration: next time barge in and blow off some steam by knocking him prone and throttling the bastard. Better yet, If that sounds like fun, get aload of this: When using the PS4 controller you can shake the pad up and down to correspondingly smack an enemy's brains out against the floor. With each motion a sickening crunch issues from the controller speaker. That's some Gamertroll approved pay back!

Unless you're a gaming God, before long you'll find a stage that try as you might, can't be 'aced' using reflexes alone. It's only when faced with a series of failures and you're forced to play the game in a more circumspect fashion that the realisation dawns: HM is actually a quite brilliant reactions-based puzzler. 

The pleasure of planning out an attack and seeing it through to success is a whole new and unexpected layer to the entertainment HM provides, only the most occasional issues with clipping can mar an otherwise excellently executed, top draw game.

Did I mention the pounding 8-bit soundtrack or the fact that it costs just a few quid? 

Hotline Miami takes a perfectly-judged retro psychedelic aesthetic and applies it to an Ultra violent action puzzler that positively encourages recklessness. What the fuck is not to like here?


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