Do you like hurting people?
October 30, 2012 6:50 PM   Subscribe

"Level 4 is not the hardest level of ... Hotline Miami. Oh, not by a long shot. It’s just the one that, once I finally beat it, made me feel like a god. I had a plan. I made that plan work. Every single action I took, every single movement I made, was with surgical precision. A dozen men died, and their little dog too. I never knew their names. I never cared to know their names. I didn’t even know why they had to die. I just knew they had to die ..." Hotline Miami is the newest game from Swedish developer Dennaton (previously). It is fast paced, brutally difficult, dizzyingly violent, and (above all) very fun. All links probably NSFW due to extreme pixelated violence.

Hotline is garnering critical acclaim in reviews for both its thumb cramping gameplay, and its subtle (but effective) storyline: IGN, Penny Arcade, Kill Screen, Eurogamer, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Gamespot (video). Hotline is winner of the 2012 Rezzed Game of the Show award.

The soundtrack, a glossy haze of dance music and synthesizers, is also drawing lots of praise.

The look and feel of the game is being compared to an interactive version of 2011's hit Drive, especially evident in this trailer. This is a more gameplay oriented trailer.

High level gameplay video (although I reccomend plaything through without spoilers).
posted by codacorolla (31 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really play PC games, but I want to play this one. Thanks for this post.
posted by box at 6:56 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine has been excited about this game for a while. I hadn't heard of it until its release, though I like cactus's work. I guess I had somehow confused it with Retro City Rampage. My friend showed me this Giantbomb quicklook of the game. I've had a low-grade obsession with Hotline ever since.

Unfortunately, I don't have a PC, so I'll have to wait for the Mac port.

The comparisons to Drive, the violence in which made me cringe (the elevator scene in particular), make me think that this is the murder simulator that America's moral guardians have been looking for.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:59 PM on October 30, 2012

Man, hands up if you've been waiting forever for cactus to get his shit together and make a Game.
posted by griphus at 7:02 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

the murder simulator that America's moral guardians have been waiting for.

Word? I thought that was Super Columbine Massacre RPG Manhunt Postal Carmageddon Wolfenstein 3D Mortal Kombat wow, this is a real walk down memory lane.
posted by box at 7:04 PM on October 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Would love a mac version of this... looks awesome.
posted by ph00dz at 7:05 PM on October 30, 2012

The comparisons to Drive, the violence in which made me cringe (the elevator scene in particular), make me think that this is the murder simulator that America's moral guardians have been looking for.

You're referring to the scene in which the female character/audience simultaneously realize that her neighbor/the film's main character is in fact a murderous psychopath?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:07 PM on October 30, 2012

box, I had actually forgotten about Super Columbine and Manhunt.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:07 PM on October 30, 2012

Man, hands up if you've been waiting forever for Cactus to get his shit together and make a Game.

(puts hand up)

I had no idea this was by cactus, who appears to be half of Dennaton. GTA-style ultraviolence is generally not my favourite style of game, but I might try this now.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:08 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm just catching a little of the gameplay videos... it reminds me of Paradroid, which is one of the hardest games I have ever played.
posted by Catblack at 7:09 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Manhunt, to me, was like Irvine Welsh's Filth: I can appreciate what they were trying to do, I have no idea how to judge whether it has succeeded, and I want nothing to do with it whatsoever.
posted by griphus at 7:10 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

nathancaswell, no, of course not the scene where the protagonist kicks a man's face into jelly.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:12 PM on October 30, 2012

There's also a glowing review at The Gameological Society (the video game wing of the AVClub). This game looks absolutely fantastic.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 7:37 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

This game is fucking awesome, and instantly overthrew big-budget contenders like Borderlands 2 and Dishonored for GOTY in my book. The bizarre and heavily ambiguous storyline, the infectious and pulsating quasi-retro soundtrack, the psychedelic neon-streaked pixel effects, and most importantly the furtive pixelated man-murder. The murder is exquisite. (It's probably not for everybody.)

By the way, here's the whole (awesome) soundtrack on SoundCloud. The link in the FPP is only one artist's contributions.

> Man, hands up if you've been waiting forever for cactus to get his shit together and make a Game.

*raises hand, lightly spattered with blood*

Let's hope there's more where this came from. Cactus' partner in crime (Dennis Wedin) seems to have quite the weird streak in him too.
posted by neckro23 at 7:48 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Given that the last two pixellated games I innocently wandered into thanks to a FPP consumed an obscene amount of my free time, I will hesitate before indulging in this one... although likely only briefly.
posted by cacofonie at 8:13 PM on October 30, 2012

Reminds me of a more stylistic CS2D.
posted by Buckt at 8:48 PM on October 30, 2012

Haven't played the game but the soundtrack...I WANT TO GO TO THERE
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:48 PM on October 30, 2012

The developer is a pretty cool guy.
posted by empath at 9:44 PM on October 30, 2012

After my brother introduced me to the game, I've been reading a lot about it. Not to get to spoilery, but the game seems to also comment on violence in games/media in general, kind of the same way the movie Funny Games does it. (I'm not going to link to Funny Games as even reading about it gives me the willies. It's basically a horror movie involving home invasion by two youths).

Listen to the music and read a decent review here.
posted by FJT at 10:28 PM on October 30, 2012

Been playing this. It's got the same "Fuck! Why did you — okay, I'll try agai- fuck! Okay, I'll - fuck!" quality that made Super Meat Boy and a number of other games so masochistically enjoyable.

Love Cactus, and I'm glad something he's worked on is getting solid props from mainstream games media. I saw a review on IGN I think, and thought damn, this guy is cribbing from Cactus hardcore - and then - heyooo!

Buy it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:52 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The developer is a pretty cool guy.

eh makes indie games and doesnt afraid of anything
posted by ludwig_van at 5:19 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

> ...fuck!" quality that made Super Meat Boy and a number of other games so masochistically enjoyable.

I love those kind of games, I call them Die-A-Lots.
posted by lucidium at 5:28 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Been listening to the soundtrack, it is super awesome.

I played an early release, but for some reason the official one doesn't want to work in wine anymore, so I havn't been getting the cool storyline.

Re: Drive... Apparently there is a special thanks to the director in the game. Also I met dennis and cactus earlier this year. Dennis was wearing fingerless gloves and the scorpion jacket from drive. I assume that he made it himself.
posted by jonbro at 6:54 AM on October 31, 2012

Looks good, seems to have a cohesive vibe that's pleasant. Will probably try.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:57 AM on October 31, 2012

The developer is in talks with Sony to possible bring HM to the Vita or other PlayStation devices, which would be fantastic.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:05 AM on October 31, 2012

Just figured out what this reminds me of - A simplified and much faster and maniacal version of the crusader games, mostly because of the ultra-violence and electro-synth music.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:23 PM on October 31, 2012

Crusader as in No Remorse/No Regret?
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on October 31, 2012

That's what I was thinking... Maybe I'm not remembering that game well enough, but those synapses have been firing for a bit and bugging me and just now made a connection.
posted by MysticMCJ at 12:28 PM on October 31, 2012

Here's some insane high level play of Lvls 1-7.
posted by FJT at 3:07 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tip: Don't be afraid of dying.
Tip: Pay for your crimes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:59 AM on November 2, 2012

I wrote this thing about my reaction to playing both Dishonored and Hotline back to back. It's long. Spoilers for both games through-out.


Games of the Year: A Comparative Review of Dishonored and Hotline Miami

Learning to Kill
I've recently been playing two games that are quite different upon first glance, and surprisingly similar with deeper inspection.

Dishonored is a big-budget title in a style that appears to be going out of fashion. A large, gorgeously detailed narrative where player choice is taken in to account. It's a fully realized three dimensional world that manages to blend narrative and gameplay in a way that is seldom seen with major studio titles. Dishonored isn't without its flaws, and I'll discuss those in time, but it's one of the best game experiences I've had in recent memory. It costs sixty dollars and comes from a pedigree of the best designers currently working in the industry.

The other game is Hotline Miami. Hotline is a throw-back both in terms of graphical style and setting. It's a two dimensional, 16 bit nightmare, with pixelated blood and jagged neon environments. The narrative is subtle, but powerful. Your choices in this game are how you kill, not whether or not you choose to. Just reading the description would normally make me dislike Hotline, and symbolize a lot of what I hate about the indie game 'scene'. In spite of this it's one of the best game experiences I've had in recent memory. It costs ten bucks and comes from an independent studio which has mostly produced free-ware one-shots.

So, on one hand, a brilliant, if flawed, continuation of the sort of games that I've loved for as long as I've been playing games. If I had to write down my dream game, it would likely be a bullet point list of Dishonored's major features. On the other hand, an insidiously good game which, by all rights, could be presented in a flash window on Kongregate. I didn't expect to love Hotline, and my feelings with it aren't easily classified as love, but it's one of the most arresting games I've played in a long while.

Once you get past the core mechanics, the narrative structure, the choice element, and the graphical representation the games have a striking number of similarities.

Corvo and Jacket Guy are both (mostly) that awkward combination of named protagonist and silent protagonist, not so different from Mario or Sonic. The player isn't exactly creating their own character, and the characters that they are projected in to are blank slates. Did Corvo love the empress? What sort of man is he? What is his history before he started butchering (or sedating) half the city of Dunwall? No real answers, beyond what the player provides through their choices, roleplays themselves, or receives subtle hints about through in-game texts.

How about Jacket Guy? What is his relationship to the girlfriend character? Is he murdering hundreds of Russians for money, fun, compulsion, insanity, or brainwashing? The game actively defies answering any of these questions because its perspective is unreliable. Even in Jacket Guy's sanest moments the game-space swirls vertiginously and hallucinations crop up routinely. So, similarity one: unknowable characters that the player commandeers to act out satisfyling visceral murders. That brings me to similarity two...

Killing is fun. True, you can play Dishonored as a pacifist (or, more likely, as a serial assaultant), and true, Hotline goes out of its way to make you squirm as you cave heads and create cavities where no cavity existed before, but that doesn't change the fact that I hurt a lot of people and had fun doing it in both games. In fact, I'd say it goes deeper: violence becomes a sort of puzzle. Both games pit a squishy main character against a hostile environment. Corvo will probably die if you try to medal-of-honor you way through the city square. Jacket Guy is just as vulnerable as any other character in the game, and it becomes necessary to think your way through any given situation. I think this is exactly why the violence in the games is fun. There are any number of ways to get through a problem in either game, and the act of devising a solution makes you feel ownership. When you blink to the top of a street-light, possess a town guard to send him through a gate of light, rewire the device to target your enemies, and then lure the remainder of the regiment to an ashy death you feel good, because that solution is uniquely yours. When you hit your stride with the soundtrack of Hotline (truly one of the best parts of the game, as an aside) smash the first two heads you come across, throw your bat at a gunman, stomp his face in, steal his gun, and turn around just in time to catch the remaining two guards with a well timed blast it feels good because first, you've probably died a lot to get to that point of perfection, and second because you've surmounted the odds with your wits and beaten the game with its own tricks. In addition to this both games (mostly Dishonored, but to a lesser extent Hotline) give you ownership over your blank-slate sociopath by way of limited RPG elements - you begin to appreciate not only what Blink or the tiger mask do, but how best to use them. You slowly gain mastership over a harsh and unforgiving system, especially as you replay levels to get those ever-tempting achievements. This is where the title of the essay comes from: both games are structured so that, in playing them, you learn to kill. You become better and better, getting incremental set-backs and rewards, and it feels good. But, in both games, the visceral thrill of spilling blood isn't given to you easily, that brings me to similarity three...

Zero Shades of Grey
Both games are cognizant of real-world morality, although the way that they approach morality is starkly different. Dishonored takes a very literal approach. Dishonored uses what is easily the strongest character in the game: the city of Dunwall. In the game's logic, the more corpses you create the more meat rats have to feast upon, and therefore the more readily they can breed and spread. The more you sow chaos by killing guards and providing sustenance for the plague the more chaotic your surroundings will become. This is a great idea, in theory, but in execution it falls short. Unfortunately this comes down to being not much more than the sort of good/bad dichotomy that makes me hate the Mass Effect series (choice 1: 'Yes, I'll save you from that robot', choice 2: 'Yes, I'll save you from that robot... for a price!'). In effect the difference is realized in the ending as you get the good one or the bad one depending on how much virtual blood you chose to spill. The game succeeds in making you think about your actions, and then fails to deliver on this promise.

Hotline, instead, offers you no such choice, but does remind you about what you're 'doing' in the game-space. At each act break you're interrogated by the phantoms in your head. The owl mask asks you, 'Do you like hurting people?' You realize, as your adrenaline pumps and your brutallity matches the beat of the dance music, that the answer is 'indeed I do!' The game mocks conventions of the genre. The secret ending is a funny little bit of nose thumbing at achievement hunting and secret finding (ironically something that Dishonored does well in a very straight-faced way). As the reality that you've been given a god's eye view to begins to break down, corpses talk to you, and they remind you that, for the good guy, you're not really that good. You kill because that's what you do in this sort of game, and you feel rewarded with increasing mastery, but the game never lets you feel entirely comfortable with what you’re doing. Unfortunately, since there is no option in the matter, this is as hollow as Dishonored's false choice.

'We're-revelling-in-violence-but-wait-maybe-that's-not-good' isn't exactly a novel narrative device, and you have to look no further than the obvious inspiration of Drive to find it. The homicidal misogyny of Patrick Bateman, the unflinching cruelty of Rorschach, and the gleeful slaughter of the boys in Funny Games (to name but a few of many) have commented on this phenomenon, and I would argue more effectively in each case.

This isn't to say that either game is a failure, since they are both excellent from a mechanical standpoint (that is to say they're both really fucking fun), but instead it's to suggest the following:

We're at a strange moment in the very brief history of video games. You can't go very far in any critical discussion of games without running in to the themes that both Dishonored and Hotline raise: can games be more than shallow and adolescent thrill rides? what else can we do in games except give a bloody power fantasy to the player? and is it even worth putting this much thought in to a pass-time? I can't claim to answer any of these questions. I have half-formed opinions on all of them, but I think that, as Ian Bogost suggests, what we're seeing is a period where games are becoming 'domesticated'. Just as movies were turned in to sitcoms, political ads, training films, high art and any number of the other devices we put motion pictures to today, we're seeing games begin to struggle through this same awkward adolescence. This brings me to my fourth similarity, something that both games do incredibly well...

A Tale of Two Cities
Aside from novel (if stunted) attempts at narrative maturity, and amazing gameplay mechanics the two games excel in another crucial way: atmosphere. Dunwall is amazing. Games like Skyrim try to present a living, breathing world by offering you a theme-park sized 'country', and their attempts look foolish compared to the fully realized world of whalers, weepers, tenements, mansions, masquerade balls, and squalor. The art assets, the modeling, the music, and the environmental design are beautifully realized. This is a place with history which feels as if it existed before you pressed start, and will exist after you delete it from your harddrive.

In a similar sense Hotline is able to represent a neon-tinged bizarro-Miami that is nothing short of amazing. The visceral blood splatters, the disorienting camera shifts, the strange tension between having godlike powers of killing and always being a single mistep from death. Hotline is a trip inside of a character’s mind that rivals the best sort of movies without falling back on eye-rolling mimickry of movies: set pieces where stuff explodes and everyone tells you how awesome you are. Ultimately it's a flawed experience, but it's still quite the ride.

Both games fully realize something that is ironically underused in game design: creation of a narrative through the act of play. Both of these experiences could be nothing BUT games - they are darkly beautiful embodied experiences where the player drives the action and is subsumed by the reality that has been crafted for them. The games are more than an idle test of reflexes, or a barely interactive mockery of a movie, instead they are a conversation with the game designers. That brings me to my final point...

In most books and movies the creator(s) tell you a story and you react to it. In a video game the designers set up any number of paths, and then let you engage in a strange post-modern sort of performance art where you create your own narrative. This is something that both of these games do well, and in doing so include my final similarity: very literal embodiments of the game designers…

If you're a homicidal asshole, then what does that make them?
Hotline has the janitor characters: stand-ins for the Dennaton design team. The voice on the answering machine is likely these two, and it represents a nice metaphor for the game designer. Here are these enemies. Kill them. Move on to the next level. The game asks you not only to question what sort of person willingly kills and enjoys it, but also what sort of person (or people) sets up a situation that requires this. You don't have a choice (beyond opting out of the game) to kill or not, but they had very real choices in what sort of game they designed.

In a similar fashion Dishonored has the character of the Outsider: a god of death and destruction who gives you the power to kill, and then checks in every so often to give you feedback on what you've done. Are you using his powers? Are you going for the abilities that let you incapacitate rather than kill? As you seek out the tokens that let you become a supernatural agent of death the Outsider will pop up to let you know (in the unfortunately awkward fashion of a man reading a checklist) his opinion on your actions.

In including the designer-character these are both games that are aware of themselves in some fashion. This is handled with varying levels of success, but it's an interesting feature, especially as it’ss repeated in both.

In short, Dishonhored and Hotline both succeed and fail in the same way. They both create amazing experiences where the player feels the narrative unfold through their actions. They both attempt a preachy morality tale which ultimately wrests control from the player to make a tired point. Still, that failure aside, they require attention beyond the typical 'pretty fun, good controls, 8.5' review. They force both players and designers to question what this medium is capable of, how it fails, and how it may be possible to move forward.
posted by codacorolla at 4:37 PM on November 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I love me some Crusader, so if this game is anything similar I'll definitely be checking it out.

P.S. Both the Crusader games are on Good Old Games, and are currently 60% off in their weekend sale. Timely!
posted by Lucien Dark at 8:19 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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