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.
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?