The Backlog: Hotline Miami

So many game come out every year that's its impossible to play them all. When trying to balance work, family and play, a number of video games often  fall by the wayside. Fortunately, the summer months give us time to go back and play some of those game and even write about them. If you missed last week's look Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, check it out here.

Steam Sales are both a blessing and a curse. I purchased Hotline Miami during the winter sale but had issues with performance and would often crash out before hitting the title screen. I was able to play a little at a time but problems kept arising. According to Twitter, others were having similar complaints, so back to my virtual shelf the game went and was quickly forgotten about.

Then I hear about the sequel coming soon and decided to give it another chance. I was quickly reminded how amazing the music is in Hotline Miami, starting with the hypnotic trance main menu. Then playing through the first few levels helped me understand why so many people rave about Hotline Miami. I finished the game but kept thinking how great my time was with it. I enjoyed everything about it,  from the gameplay to the eerie setting, making it one of my favorite Indies I've ever played.

You control an unnamed guy who people refer to as Jacket due to his attire of a letterman jacket. You start each chapter by waking up and checking your messages for a cryptic voicemail from some unknown person. These messages basically are metaphors for killing everyone at a certain location. You get rewarded in the form of free stuff from the pizza place, deli, video store, and other perks with the same bearded man working at each location. The story is bizarre but watching your character slowly go insane is quite enjoyable. I don't want to go into specifics with the narrative, but I was often confused on what was presented in front of me until I came to grasp that Jacket was going insane and you as the player are seeing through his perspective.

Hotline Miami is played from a top-down perspective controlling Jacket with the W,A,S,D keys and the mouse. Your objective is to clear the floor of everyone in one successful swoop. Everything is one-hit kills, both you and most enemies. If you get shot or hit with any object you restart at the beginning of the floor instantly. The quickness with how you can hop right back into the action kept me motivated to try the floor again.

Everything moves quickly. Enemies will rush you if spotted and are armed with guns, knives, and baseball bats. While you might think you have the pattern of the enemy movements down, each situation ends differently depending on your approach. You can blast your way through, but that will alert everyone to your whereabouts and they will rush you. Or you can stealthy work your way through picking off enemies one by one. I normally would work through a hybrid of both depending on what weapons were available in the situation.

The pixel aesthetic, the dubstep soundtrack, the brutal death animations all are great. It handles exceptionally well and often made me twitch going around a corner where multiple enemies are waiting. Jacket picks a mask at the beginning of each level that gives him a perk such as being faster or starting with a certain weapon. My favorite was Don Juan, a horse mask that made crashing through a door lethal to whoever was behind it. I stuck with that mask throughout the entire game.

I would often get frustrated and knew I had to take a break, especially if I have been playing for a while. My approach would be to bust through the door killing one enemy, then frantically running toward or shooting whoever is left to finish the room. If that didn't work, one click and I was back at the beginning of the floor. Time would pass by in the same vein with how I would play Civilization where you tell yourself: "just one more round" then boom, it's 3:00 a.m. I would never leave a chapter open though, I had to complete it before I could quit. That just means clear out the multiple floors of the building then hop in your car and speed off.

I still think of the soundtrack. It easily fits the mood of the game. It kept playing during the 100th episode of the Darkcast. I often listen while studying or writing. I have a collection of game music I cycle through, but this one seems to stick out more to me. I'm excited for the sequel, and anticipating another top notch soundtrack.

You should check out Hotline Miami if you haven't. I played it on PC but it is also available on PS3, Vita, OSX, and Linux. I haven't checked out the other versions so I don't know from experience how it translates to a controller but I hear it plays fine. The sequel sounds like it will be more of the same, with some upgrades, but I'm more than ready to hop back into this world.

So goes this week's Backlog. Care to share your thoughts on Hotline Miami? What did you think of the music? Ready for the sequel? Tell us in the comments below.