Posts Tagged ‘Dennaton Games


Hotline Miami 2

Hotline Miami 2

There’s a lot that can be said about a game like Hotline Miami 2 and its predecessor, as well as the audiences that play them.  These are very violent games, but in such a low resolution as to merely suggest a more graphic depiction.  It’s a very clever method to broadening the vocabulary of the game by sacrificing visual fidelity, while ensuring that more squeamish audiences who would otherwise be interested the game aren’t turned off by graphic violence.  These games become a meta-discussion at points where its super-natural characters ask you, acting as the protagonist, if you “like hurting other people.”  Those are moments when you might stop to wonder if your avatar is the one being addressed, or yourself.  It’s another fascinating angle to the games, which can lean heavily on the fourth wall without actually breaking it.

What I found to be extremely interesting though about Hotline Miami 2 was its world-building, and the messages it delivers through it.  It’s world lingers on cold war fear that is taken to a mad extreme.  This is an alternative late 80s/early 90s world shaped by that madness, where Soviet Russia sphere of influence readily encompasses Hawaii, and exerts influence over the entire United States via a Russo-American coalition.  It’s a world where the over-the-top violence of the American, martial culture of the 80s and 90s is expressed in a way that simultaneously captures the over-the-top action movies of the time and contrasts it against the fragileness of life.  While completing a level and getting an S ranking can be very satisfying, the path along the way is littered by countless player deaths, and many more enemy deaths.  The message to take away may not necessarily be whether or not you “like to hurt people” but the acknowledgement that this is the logical conclusion of American fear and martial culture of the era.  In this same vein of thought, Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 draws from a similar creative heritage as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

HM2 offers an array of different characters who are in some way entangled or aligned with the events of the original game.  These are people who are either driven by their own psychotic need for violence, or by those who feel compelled to coerce others into it to serve their own psychotic ends.  While the Russo-American conflict can be read literally as the struggle of a resistance group against oppressive forces, HM2’s non-linear storytelling provides an immersion into the world without getting preoccupied on the high concept.  This allows the game to focus more squarely on its character vignettes, which tell the player of the larger conflict indirectly.  While all of the player characters engage in extremely violent battles, they are characters that solicit your investment, and to varying degrees, even your sympathy.  For those who wish to engage the game on the merits of its gameplay alone, there’s nothing to get in your way.  But audiences who find themselves intrigued with the game’s world will be able to piece it together and take in the consequences of all of the involved parties.

It’s not the game I was expecting to play.  It is a great game in as far as it’s taken HM’s mechanics and design and expanded upon it.  It has a coherent and compelling presentation that stands on its own merits.  But it also delivers a world and plot that, while not immediately obvious, is engrossing and nuanced.  I enjoyed Hotline Miami quite a bit, but Hotline Miami 2 makes itself a very memorable experience as well in ways that most other games wouldn’t even attempt to achieve.  Yes, it captures an 80’s aesthetic, with pumping music, trippy graphics, and action that rivals anything that John Rambo has accomplished on screen.  But that’s icing on a cake of the world that Hotline Miami 2 has delivered.  And I’d love to dive into more of the reasons why that is, but I’ll reserve spoiler topics for another post.  Hotline Miami 2 is an early favorite of the year for me, and a game that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to other video game enthusiasts or fans of the original.



Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami sings a song of death, and its beautiful.  Not in the sense that the grimy 2D sprites and blood spattering effects are aesthetically attractive, but in how the composition of the game mechanics harmonize into an intense and satisfying experience that will still leave you harboring questions about what the game’s protagonist (?) is doing.  I played the majority of the game in a single sitting, and within the next day had finished it and played through half of the levels again.  It lasts between four to six hours on the first play through.  Long enough to explore the spectrum of the game’s systems, but not so long as to exhaust players and deter them from playing again.  I can easily see myself playing it for another 10 to 20 hours.  So what exactly makes Hotline Miami compelling?

HM is rich with verbs, the first and foremost being kill.  The player wakes up, checks the message machine and is given a location.  He takes off in his car, and once on-site your job is to kill every target in the building.  There isn’t much more context than that.  Before entering, the player is allowed to select an animal mask to wear.  Besides obscuring the character’s identity, it will also endow you with a special perk.  Your targets anticipate your arrival and are prepared to greet you with pipes, shotguns, sub-machine guns, knives, machetes, and a whole host of other brutal weapons.  You can take-down targets several different ways:

  • Stealth kills dispatch targets with a single button press, assuming you can get close enough without alerting anyone.
  • Targets can be knocked over with doors, punches, or thrown objects.  Once down, the player can finish them off in a brutal fashion depending on where they fall and what you have equipped.
  • Weapon kills are just that, the player outright kills a target with whatever is in hand.

Every enemy can be killed with one lethal attack, but so can the player.  Weapons can be acquired from enemies and are scattered about levels.  Melee weapons can in many shapes and sizes.  They will also take varying amounts of time to wield.  Since they require you to close the distance between yourself and the target, these can be a gamble.  On the other hand, there are also ranged weapons with a preset number of bullets and cartridges that can be fired.  You can clear a room in a flash, but it will alert all enemies in nearby rooms as well.

HM shines in the design of its spaces.  All of the action takes place from the top-down perspective and is presented through the lens of hyper-stylized 80’s visuals.  It’s as garish as the violence is unsettling.  In combination with the music, it has a hypnotic effect that’s difficult to ignore.

Levels in Hotline Miami almost flawlessly demonstrate what levels are meant to contribute to a game.  Each introduces new game mechanics and verbs while reinforcing existing ones.  It teaches the player how to execute the designers’ vision of action and culminates at the height of the player’s ability.

The player can die in a flash, and while this can become a source of frustration, that frustration is short lived as each floor can be restarted instantaneously.  The player must be aware of their surroundings, but the game encourages you to take your frustration back out on the game’s targets and actually rewards you for this.  You will find yourself slowly becoming more efficient at becoming a cold-blooded killer of sprites.  Slam open a door, kill the guard, grab the gun, launch into another room, shoot everything, throw the gun at the enemy that runs in from the next room, rinse and repeat.  When the strategy comes together, the effect is incredible and encourages you to take on the next challenge.

Your performance on each level is graded on a number of factors from time to complete the level, combos, recklessness, and the variety of weapons that are used.  There are many ways to complete each level, and your final evaluation will categorize your approach with a “play style” which will give you hints to how you may want to change your strategy in the future.

High scores unlock new weapons that will become available throughout levels, which provides incentive to replay levels even if you aren’t paying particular attention to how you’re playing.  New masks are also unlocked as you play and can be discovered as hidden items in the levels.

Of course, with all of these factors coming together there’s the ever lingering thought that you are kind of a dirt bag for getting this invested in being an assassin, and the game isn’t afraid to remind you of this.  And I’ve always been a fan of games that create this kind of cognitive dissonance: teaching you how to be a monster while pulling you aside every once and a while to say “hey, you remember that you’re probably not very comfortable with this, right?”  And when it’s a creepy person in an animal mask telling you this, it really drives the bizarre and surreal experience home.

Hotline Miami Screenshot

The fact that Hotline Miami hasn’t inspired sensational headlines about violence in video games and children’s access to them is a good sign that we’ve gotten past the post-Columbine panic in American culture.  While we shouldn’t be comfortable with this level of violence, that doesn’t mean that the theme is off limits to exploration in games.  And it’s hard to beat what Dennaton Games has accomplished with Hotline Miami.

Official Website

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.

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