Last year, an indie game developed by a pair of Swedish chaps hit the PC, leaving a trail of claret in its wake. Now you can play it on Vita
That game is Hotline Miami
and the sensationalists among us might call it a murder simulator. The 20 or so levels all follow the same format – your character gets a voicemail with a location, you go kill everyone you find there. That’s it.
Mechanically, the experience is just as spare – you’ll start out beating enemies with your fists before graduating to blunt objects and bladed weapons. It isn’t long before guns enter the fray and you’re encouraged to use a combination of all types for maximum points.
That’s right, your pulverising prowess is rated in a point score – giving you a reason to be even more bloodthirsty on a second run through of the short and incredibly frantic levels.
But while HotlineMiami
may foreground brutal violence, it real identity is as a puzzle game. The frequent failures and immediate respawns bring to mind the slick resurrection games of Super Meat Boy
but with added gunplay and a backround story which takes the player to some seriously twisted places.
The game is presented from a top down perspective, letting you see an open plan of the building you’re in and giving you a glimpse at enemy movements. Your character moves from room to room, planning strategies as you go to evade, eviscerate and all out kill everyone you can see. Throwing a crowbar can take out an enemy while you leap on another to crack his head on the wall, before grabbing his gun and letting loose on his remaining comrades.
The controls are simple (movement, attack, grab) but the variation in how you tackle the level is more subtle than you might expect. Doors can be used to knock enemies off their feet, while gunshots can attract foes, letting you set up a crossfire of death. New masks mean new perks, like the ability to survive two gunshots, which help to amp up the gameplay. Be warned though, it’s still very, very easy to die.
It’s clear that the developers have something to say about the mindless violence of most videogames (and about violence in general) but this isn’t the gaming equivalent of a video nasty. The gameplay is finely balanced and the unique pixelated aesthetics, plus some 80s inspired tunes create a unique atmosphere. It’s all very unsettling, right up to the brain bending finale.
If you’ve come from the PC version, the Vita
controls might initially seem a little stiff. There’s no beating the keyboard/mouse combination so the developers have added a lock on function which lets you tap an enemy to track his movements. It’s a workable solution but hard to really implement mid fight, while it’s next to impossible to target someone else if they rush you.
Other issues do frustrate from time to time – the random movements of enemies can sometimes make scenarios feel utterly unwinnable (until you do) and the infrequent boss fights force you into a different play style which can feel jarring. And once you do figure out some strategies that work for you, the game is over in around three hours, complete with a deliberately ambiguous ending which some may find less than satisfying.
That said, the transition to Vita
makes the game feel oddly refreshed. The graphics have been translated perfectly and the short, sharp, shocks of the bite-sized levels work brilliantly on the portable. Plus there’s the added frisson of playing something so incredibly and deplorably violent mere feet away from innocent fellow commuters.
And Hotline Miami
is also a cross-buy title, so for just €8.99 you also get access to the full game on PS3, complete with cross-save functionality. On the big black box, the graphics are impressively crisp and the carnage just detailed enough to not drive you totally demented. The controls still aren’t perfect, especially the awkward lock on, but it’s still a decent port.
Bold, brutal and bizarrely beautiful – Hotline Miami
is not a game for everyone but it’s not as stomach churning as you might imagine. Well worth discovering on Vita.