Hotline Miami Hands-On: What If Vice City Was A Period Piece?


In the QuakeCon demo, which was quite limited, missions began by giving the player the option to choose which of the 4 crime bosses (including one rather disturbing character with a Rooster mask for a head) to talk to. Once selected, things begin in your house with a nice period touch as you move your character into the living room to check your answering machine (your phone is the titular hotline). Listening to the message gives you your mission, which in my playthrough generally consisted of a contact speaking in hilarious coded language (Paraphrasing one such message: ‘We need you to take care of some sick kids.’) Once selected, you leave the house and climb into a car (another nice period touch: it’s a DeLorean); this triggers a brief cut scene showing you driving to your destination. Once you arrive, the goal is to enter a premises and kill everyone inside with extreme prejudice.

Difficulty increases with each subsequent mission. The player always starts out without any weapons, which must be acquired once you arrive on site. In the first mission, you simply beat your target to death, knocking him down and then selecting to climb on top of him and smash his face into the floor until his face explodes. In later missions, you’ll find melee and ranged weapons lying about, or get them from dead opponents. For instance, one mission requires you to bash through the front door of a house, knocking an enemy unconscious. You then must kill them and take their weapon, then go through the house taking out their associates. However, the weapon they spawn upon dying cycles, which means you might get a gun, but you may also end up with a baseball bat or a knife. Both weapons are useless against the other enemies in the house, all of whom have guns. I died on purpose several times because I kept getting spawned knives, and I was told by representatives on hand that the game’s light randomizations are intended to encourage strategic play as well as compulsive restarts. Meaning very, very old school whether you like it or not.

The game’s top down view is a it disorienting at first. If you’ve played the original Grand theft Auto games, you’re used to how it works, but the difference between GTA and Hotline Miami is that the OG GTA graphics were relatively detailed (it was the late 90s, after all). Hotline Miami is totally 8-bit, which means big, tile sized pixels and blocks of color that suggest white blazer-clad tough guys and random weapons. However, the control scheme is easy, WASD + mouse, with the shift key available for aiming and Function keys for other options. (The game will, so I was told, eventually support multiple control styles but for now, WASD is the only option.) Once you get used to the graphics (more on that shortly), it’s very easy to play.

The Aesthetic

As you can see in the images accompanying this article, the game is as authentically 80s looking as you can get. If you told me it was an unearthed, forgotten classic from the NES and DOS days, I’d have probably believed you, at least until the veiled drug references and copious violence emerged. Playing is a bit like playing the original Metal Gear, though it is considerably easier than that impossible thing. But it isn’t just the graphics that nail the era. Every single character is designed to look like a cliche of the era. Your character is dressed like Scarface, random enemies look like the Crocket and Tubbs version of What Not To Wear, you even drive a DeLorean! If you have any living memory of the era it’s enough to make you want to play for hours.

And that’s not even taking the soundtrack into account. If you want to get an idea of what it feels like to play Hotline Miami with the sound turned way up, immediately rent (or better yet, buy) Drive and fast forward to all of the montages. If the synth heavy music and sunset-heavy scenes of romance and/or violence makes you feel like the coolest person in the world, then congratulations: you now know what playing Hotline Miami feels like. (This trailer gives you a good idea of what I mean.)


As I said, the Hotline Miami demo was relatively short, and definitely did not contain anything close to the finished game. Presumably, some polish and gameplay tweaks will be added before the final release on Steam later this year (and perhaps even more for the planned console release). Still, what was on display was surprisingly fun. Gory, in a pixelated way, trippy, in a simplistic way, engrossing, if you’re into old timey games, I had a blast. It won’t replace GTA in your heart, though what 8-bit game possibly could, but if you’re looking for a good way to violate our prevailing moral sensibilities, this might just tide you over until Rockstar finally stops jerking us all around.

See the official site for more. Here’s the origina trailer.

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