Six Years Later
Hotline Miami was one of those games I’d heard about for years. Having never played it myself, I was unsure what all the fuzz was about. With the release of Hotline Miami Collection on the Nintendo Switch, though, I was finally able to dip into these visceral games to see what I’ve been missing for six years.
Does Hotline Miami Collection prove that the franchise deserves another purchase from longtime fans or new players? Or has it now been outperformed by other games in its genre?
Normally, in collections like Hotline Miami Collection, I would review each game separately. Because Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 are so similar, though, I feel it appropriate to cover them both as a whole and bring out minor differences when necessary.
The games play like top-down shooters. You pick up guns and clear out rooms of enemies. What struck me about Hotline Miami is that it wasn’t a twin-stick shooter, though. Instead, a few different buttons are used for grabbing weapons, shooting, throwing them out, and so forth. At first, I was frustrated by this choice, but it clicked with me shortly after.
Hotline Miami is much more carefully designed than a twin-stick shooter.
Each gun you pick up has limited ammo. Every opponent will die in one good strike. Get hit once, though, and it’s curtains for you. This means that every room in every floor of every level has to be tackled with a bit more care. You get a few seconds to plan your initial attack, then you have to commit to it.
There’s nothing quite like busting through doors with a calculated plan, only for it to be totally thrown out the window. Make no mistake, your plans will often fail in Hotline Miami Collection, but it’s your ability to think on your feet that will make you victorious. It’s a design choice like this that really puts the player in the head of the player character. I felt like I had to become that character and make those on-the-fly choices just to get through by the skin of my teeth.
Everything works quickly, and you’re forced to constantly adapt. There are certain combat elements that feel worse in the second game (like busting enemies when they’re down), but the fast movement and mechanics are otherwise seamless across both games.
It helps that the games will let you restart each floor instantly after you die. Thus, you can retry methods and experiment without breaking the pacing of the game (or seeing a loading screen). It’s the game’s desire to keep putting the player in control that makes it so great.
A big reason why I think Hotline Miami is still talked about to this day is the story. You are in the shoes of a man going through and wiping out tons of gangsters, policemen, and so forth. Who you are and why you’re there isn’t always apparent though. From the first game, there are hints as to the real narrative, but by the end, you may leave more confused than when you started.
Both Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 leave much to the imagination. Depending on what you pick up, you’ll reach a different conclusion than other people playing the game. This has led to a community of people discussing what the narrative of these games is. With an inability to truly distinguish the events of the game, the developers smartly used it as a way of keeping discourse active.
The narrative is less ambiguous in the second game than the first, but there are still plenty of bread crumbs that can lead you in all sorts of directions.
I suppose I should mention that Hotline Miami Collection didn’t appeal to me very much. The game is ugly, gnarly, and doesn’t shy away from the themes it conveys. I respect that approach recognizing it as a piece of art. That said, the degree to which the games embrace this visceral violence left me uncomfortable.
To the game’s credit, though, perhaps that’s the point. It’s important to mention that the game wasn’t intrinsically rewarding as a result. Going through levels felt mechanically satisfying but was internally discomforting.
Every character in the game is ugly, and so are all their actions. Hotline Miami Collection paints a dark picture of the world where everyone is out for their own gain. The player character is included in this picture as well.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Hotline Miami Collection was provided by the publisher.