Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Hotline Miami Review (Switch)

Hotline Miami’s legacy has lasted long after initial release on the PC. A retro themed, neon trenched, blood bath, It has found favour with both gamers and critics alike. It now seems to be an ever present in the gaming world, moving from system to system as each new console releases. It has now arrived on the Nintendo Switch and is still as vibrant and frenetic to play as ever.

The game casts you in the role of Jacket. An unreliable narrator, we view the world through his eyes as he commits acts of horrific violence. Without giving too much away it’s clear from the start that something isn’t quite right and you will likely spend much of your play through trying to work out exactly what is real and what isn’t and what on earth is going on.

Our anti-hero is drawn to each new location via the answering machine in his apartment. Each night a new message is left detailing a location and time. This then leads into the next level where you must choose which mask to wear and go about causing chaos and mayhem.

Viewed from a top down perspective, the game has a highly unique visual aesthetic. It’s certainly retro styled and characters and levels are built to look like this in an old eight bit game. The colours used though are often vibrant and strong. This makes things like the constant flow of blood seem to stand out and highlights just how much damage you are doing. Indeed, we can’t recall when pixelated violence looked quite so painful and disturbing.

Along with the strong visuals comes an incredible soundtrack that keeps the adrenaline pumping throughout. The film ‘Drive’ is a heavy influence and the sound certainly seems to have taken inspiration from artists who had their music on the film. Kavinsky is the heaviest influence as the beats pump and pound away while the bullets fly and bones crack.

Indeed, if it ever came out that the game was based on the Drivers untold back story it wouldn’t really seem that surprising (minus the surrealism perhaps). Although it’s very hard to tell, it seems to us that the main character in Hotline Miami is also donning the iconic white scorpion jacket, but perhaps that’s just our imagination running away with us.

Of course, all the style in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the game doesn’t work. There’s no need to worry on that count as once you get used to how the control system works it becomes almost second nature. The ‘gimmick’ as such is to chain kills together for as long as possible. In order to do this you need to move quickly. Taking a single shot or hit will also kill you and require a restart of the current stage.

There are a vast array of weapons at your disposal to deal out the death and destruction. Guns are plentiful, but firing one will alert other enemies in the level to your presence and send them charging after you. It’s often better to use a bludgeoning weapon and sneak up on enemies before dispatching them. Simply punching also works but only stuns your opponent (see also - hitting with doors or throwing a weapon) and you will then need to spend a few seconds finishing your opponent off by smashing their head repeatedly against the ground.

To aid your progress are the different masks which can be worn throughout. Some you get for completing stages while others will need to be found hidden away in the levels. These all have different properties and allow you do things such as kill with punches or kill people by bashing them with doors. Finding a mask to fit your style is all important as you will want to return to completed stages to better your time, score and overall grade. It’s incredible how much better you become at the game as you progress and stages that took ages will soon turn into a race for the biggest kill combo. Levels also never become repetitive with the layouts offering up different types of scenario to play around in. There are also more than a fair few surprises to keep you on your toes as you progress.

Each stage is set out to test not only your reactions but also your puzzle solving skills. Often gunmen overlook corridors safely from behind windows or an enemy may be sitting down and thus hiding the weapon they carry. Working out the order to take out enemies is as vital as actually trying to kill them as one wrong move and it is all over. There are variables as well and enemies don’t always patrol in the same way or carry the same weapons upon restarting after death. This means you also need to be able to think on the move in order to make it through.

The games controls do take a bit of getting used to and feel awkward to start when using handheld mode as the Switch buttons are just that little bit too spaced apart when using multiple inputs at once. As you progress things do become second nature though,

The lock on control can also be a bit fiddly. It would have perhaps been better to lock onto the enemy who is nearest to you as you can often be left firing a gun at a character two rooms away rather than the three gangsters bearing down on you. We also found the lock on cursor to be very hard to see on the handheld screen and colour blind gamers will struggle even more. A number of times we had to unlock, and lock over and again to try and work out exactly who we had targeted. These are very small flaws though and there was nothing here that prevented us from making our way through the game.

A few (mostly colour blind related), niggles aside it is no over exaggeration to say that this remains a master piece of game design. It’s hard but fair and it always leaves you wanting one more go. Aesthetically perfect it has managed to capture an ethos and moment in time and as such remains visually iconic. This remains one of the most essential games to come out on any format and is perfect for the handheld nature of the Switch.

9/10

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