Hotline Miami: All Style, No Substance, Mostly Awesome
Music For The Masses (Of Dead People)
Until I fired it up, I expected I would end 2012 with the Fez soundtrack as my favorite bit of video game music, but the Hotline Miami soundtrack is absolutely on the same level. A collection of synthy instrumentals from various artists that manages to evoke both the genre’s original era and the current revival, every track adds a curious layer of verisimilitude that makes Hotline Miami feel rather like something that actually came out in 1989, until you realize that none of the tracks are chiptune. “Berlin Musikk” (by Elliott) nails the Acid House sound that burned up clubs from 1989 to 1991; “Knock Knock” is a perfect approximation of a late ’80s HERO ON THE MOVE montage theme; “Vengeance”, by Perturbator, captures industrial music before the genre became a subset of metal; even the three tracks by M.O.O.N. that sound more like Microhouse and dubstep manage to work. (I’m as shocked as you are.)
The highest praise must be reserved for Jasper Byrne’s theme song, “Miami.” A very obvious nod to College and Electric Youth’s A Real Hero, it does for Hotline Miami what the latter did for last year’s Drive, which is to make you feel like the coolest person in the history of the world whenever you hear it. It’s just one more way Hotline Miami just feels so right, no matter how wrong it kind of is.
There’re only a few things keeping it from being an absolutely perfect experience.
A Slightly Bad Hangover
You might think Hotline Miami is a contender for my Game of the Year, and you’d be right. Alas, it doesn’t come problem-free. Part of the issue is that it launched with an amazing number of bugs. Credit must be given to Dennation, who has devoted countless hours since the game launched to fixing them all in as close to real time as possible, but it can’t be denied that Hotline Miami launched with far more problems than it should have. Steam connectivity was a mess, forcing the developer to insert the ability to disable it. Some levels locked up, preventing users from completing the game, though this was fixed rather quickly. At some points with a particularly large number of enemies, the game lags in the way Nintendo games used to, except this isn’t the pathetic 8-bit processor pf the NES, this is a Steam release using an Intel and Nvidia combo. Probably the biggest issue, however, is the lack of controller support.
Look, I get that most of you out there have no problem with WASD, but for me it’s like trying to write left handed while blindfolded. I cannot make myself un-selfconsciously use the style, and it ends up being as difficult for me as it is playing a 3D game without inversion. I admit I’m a minority, but even with that in mind, it cannot be denied that this game is specifically invoking NES, a console that used controllers, not keyboards. The top down, 360-degree movement and wild aiming require the flexibility of a controller, not the awkward precision of a keyboard, especially when the up, left, down, right of WASD simply don’t translate well to the style. Hotline Miami is meant to have controller support, but Dennation had to disable the feature temporarily due to serious glitches. The result is that you will end up dying far more than you should, even for a game designed to invoke an era of punishing difficulty as a default feature. Hopefully, controller support will be fixed soon, and Hotline Miami will feel even more like the brilliant nod to a past that never was than it already is.
These are obviously small quibbles, however. Yes, Hotline Miami is simple. It’s ugly. It’s buggy as hell. It’s clunky to play, and its wonky controls guarantee you’ll walk way from your PC more than once because it’s easier than having to explain why you’re yelling at your computer. But it’s also a wonderful, socially irredeemable work of shallow pop art that feels like the apotheosis of everything you wished you could do back when NES was a going concern, you know, if it weren’t for that whole inconvenient “kids are the primary demographic” thing going on. That’s f–king awesome. And for 10 bucks, it might be the best possible use of your video gaming dollar all year.
- Brilliant soundtrack, possibly the best of 2012
- Pitch-perfect return to the NES era, with amazing carnage
- Action-movie moment after action-movie moment, despite being 16 bits
- Clever story and writing that makes the most of the game’s simplicity
- Fun, cool and gloriously violent
- Bugs and glitches that should have been fixed prior to launch; lack of controller support is a particularly missed launch opportunity
Final Score: 93/100