Game Review: Hotline Miami (PS Vita)

Hotline Miami PS Vita

Hotline Miami is a top-down 2D action shooter game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS Vita and PS3. Hotline Miami was originally created by the two man team of Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin at Dennaton Games and released for Windows on October 23rd 2012 by the publisher Devolver Digital who then recruited Abstraction Games to port Hotline Miami to the Vita and PS3 for a release on June 26th 2013. Since the original PC release of Hotline Miami; it has became such a sleeper hit that it has garnered many award nominations and awards with a sequel titled Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number set for release in the third quarter of 2014.

The story of Hotline Miami is set in an alternative 1989 in Miami were you assume the role of the mysterious lead protagonist Jacket as he bursts into violent rampages against the shady criminal underworld. Jacket begins to spiral downwards when he starts to randomly see the faces of his victims anywhere he goes, while those around him cannot see them as he has progressively more violent tendencies after listening to the voice messages on his answering machine that ask him to take care of business.

Each level is presented as a new chapter with twenty-two chapters including bonus chapters. The main story of the game consists of a prelude followed by fifteen chapters with a bonus chapter that was later patched into the game called Highball and a special chapter called Exposed, while there are also another four chapters that centre around a different protagonist called Biker. You can go back and revisit any chapter you want to at any given time without risking the possibility of overwriting your progression through the story, which is a positive design choice as it allows you the freedom to search for any of the unlockables the game has to offer whenever you want to do so.

There is a pretty good variety of enemies with two categories separating them into common enemies that you will regularly encounter and bosses that you will encounter when you have brutalised all of their common enemies in order to get to them. There are seven types of common enemies including: mobsters; thugs; dogs; waiters; policemen; detectives; and SWAT, while there are six bosses including: Producer; Biker; Police Chief; Panther; Ninja Girl; and Russian Boss. All of the common enemies and bosses have their own weapons that vary from enemy to enemy and boss to boss, so you should be aware of having to deal with different scenarios with enemies that can attack you from afar and enemies that will attack you in close quarters combat.

There is plenty of variety in regards to your choice of weapons as there are three categories of weapons including: melee weapons, firearms and thrown weapons. The melee weapons include: knives; baseball bats; lead pipes; crowbars; and pool cues; amongst many more totalling to sixteen melee weapons, while the firearms include: shotguns; machine guns; double barrel shotguns; uzis; and magnums; amongst others totalling to nine firearms and thrown weapons include: ninja stars; darts; glass bottles and throwing knives; amongst many more totalling to eight thrown weapons. You will need to use different types of weapons to combat different situations based upon the type of weaponry your nearby enemies have at their disposal, such as targeting a distant enemy holding a firearm with a quick blast of the shotgun, machine gun or uzi, while an enemy holding a melee weapon that is in your close proximity should be taken out quietly with a melee weapon of your own, such as a baseball bat or a pool cue to reduce the amount of noise, therefore removing the threat of alerting other nearby enemies that may be holding firearms. The thirty-three different types and three categories of weapons that Jacket and the surrounding enemies can have their disposal really adds an element of strategy on how to approach certain situations, which is a positive design choice that definitely brings a new layer of gameplay that consistently keeps everything feeling fresh.

There are a total of twenty-seven masks that each provides their own unique abilities with masks being unlocked by achieving a high score for a chapter or exploring the environment to find a mask that is carefully hidden away in a box amongst furniture in one of the many rooms in each chapter. The unique abilities of the masks range from the Rasmus mask making it easier for you to see puzzle pieces by adding a shimmering purple effect around them; the George mask that allows you to see a greater distance ahead of you; and the Ted mask resulting in dogs no longer attacking you; amongst many more masks and unique abilities.

You will receive a chapter performance grade for every chapter you complete. The chapter performance grades are dependent upon the amount of points you score, which include the following categories: killings for the amount of enemies you kill; boldness for how you attack enemies; combos for your length of combos and the amount of combos from two or more consecutive kills; time bonus for how quick you complete the chapter; flexibility for how quickly you are killing enemies; and mobility for how quickly you are moving between one enemy and the next. You will also be presented with some statistics, such as the time you took to complete the chapter; your type of play style; your current score and high score; alongside some of the attacks you used on enemies; and the grade you have received for that particular chapter. There is a huge motivation to attempt to get the best high score and chapter performance grade that you can; as you will be rewarded by unlocking a new weapon and a new mask with a unique ability if you have performed to a high enough standard.

There are puzzle pieces that can be collected across the entire sixteen story related chapters. The puzzle pieces are pretty difficult to find, so you will really need to unlock and wear the Rasmus mask to help you increase the potential of finding them all. The relevance of the puzzle pieces is important as each puzzle piece has a letter written on it that when combined in the appropriate order will spell a phrase, which is the key to unlocking the secret ending of the game.

Hotline Miami supports cross-buy and cross-save between the Vita and PS3. Cross-buy presents a superb amount of value as it means that you will be purchasing both the Vita and PS3 versions of the game with just a single purchase. The cross-save functionality allows you to sync the progression of your save file from your Vita to your PS3 and vice versa, so you can start playing the game on your Vita on the way to and from work, sync your save game when you return home and then resume were you left off by loading the save game and continuing via the PS3 version. The cross-save feature is made possible by uploading your save file to the cloud on one console and downloading it from the other console.

The controls are well mapped with a combination of a face button and touch screen control scheme. The combination of the face buttons and touch screen control scheme consists of pressing X to interact with a story related object, to finish off an enemy when close to the enemy, to use an enemy as a human shield when close to a fallen enemy, to skip or advance dialogue during cutscenes or to restart when your character has been killed; pressing O to drop a weapon when armed; pressing L to pick up a weapon when close to a weapon or to throw a weapon such as throwing a gun when out of bullets; pressing R to punch an enemy when unarmed, to swing a melee weapon such as a baseball bat or to shoot a weapon such as a machine gun or shotgun; changing the direction of the left analogue stick or alternatively pressing up, down, left or right on the d-pad to move your character; changing the direction of the right analogue stick to aim your weapon; and pressing start to display the pause menu, while the touch screen allows you to drag your finger around to scope out the positioning and movement patterns of your enemies in the surrounding environment and tapping on an enemy to lock onto that enemy, so your gunfire will be aimed at that particular enemy.

Graphically, Hotline Miami has an art style that is certainly influenced by retro games harking back to the days of 2D side scrolling games with a top-down twist. The environments are colourful with lots of different contrasts and tones that elevate the graphics up on a technical level from just being a simple top-down shooter.

The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface that is navigated by the face buttons with support for the left analogue stick and directional pad across various menus such as the main menu, online leaderboards and options menu, although there is no support for navigation via the right analogue stick, touch screen and rear touch pad. The background of the main menu screen features a flashing club sign with the title of the game and some other stylish branding in the foreground as palm trees pass by in the background.

The audio consists of music and sound effects with a 21 song soundtrack that is full of psychedelic music, while the sound effects essentially cover the brutality of the game with gunshots, punches being thrown and blood splattering, alongside various other sound effects such as doors opening and closing, although there are no voice-overs with the dialogue from the messages left on his answering machine instead being available as text.

The trophy list includes thirty-five trophies with eighteen bronze trophies, eleven silver trophies, five gold trophies and one platinum trophy. Some of the easier trophies include the Karma bronze trophy for dying 1,000 times and considering how many times you will die as you progress through the game it is most likely the easiest trophy of the entire game; the Let In Some Air bronze trophy for destroying 200 glass panels which is another trophy just like the Karma bronze trophy that can be farmed at any stage, but you will most likely earn it naturally by destroying glass panels as you progress through the game; while there are also a lot of trophies that you will get without even trying by stumbling into a scenario of having plenty of enemies come at you at once as you have a powerful weapon, such as the Combo Beginner bronze trophy for performing a 4x combo; the Combo Intermediate bronze trophy for performing a 6x combo; the Playing Pool bronze trophy for hitting an enemy with a weapon bounced against a wall; and the Domino Effect bronze trophy for throwing a weapon at an enemy, so that his weapon hits another.

Some of the harder trophies include the Combo King gold trophy for performing a 12x combo; the Aced It silver trophy for achieving an A+ performance grade on any chapter; the Zoo Keeper gold trophy for collecting all of the masks by achieving various objectives attached to each chapter, such as beating the high score for each chapter or collecting them by carefully exploring the levels; the Get A Life gold trophy for achieving an A+ performance grade on every chapter; and the Eye For Details silver trophy for collecting all of the puzzle pieces across the first sixteen chapters. I would estimate depending upon skill, timing, conservation of ammo, a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips and applying your tactics appropriately that it would take between eight to ten hours to platinum the trophy list.

There are no difficulty levels, although the difficulty will naturally be provided by the erratic behaviour of your enemies that tend to start wandering around on a different route entirely, which might result in you being caught red handed as you attempt to get closer to kill your next enemy. A major element of the difficulty comes from the fact that a single mistake will result in you being fired upon or hit with a weapon from an enemy with the consequence being instant death and having to restart from your last checkpoint, although as the checkpoint only takes effect when you have progressed onto the next floor of the building; you will have to restart from the beginning of the level if you have not progressed onto the next floor of the building yet.

There are no online multiplayer features, although there are online leaderboards. The online leaderboards focuses on friend rankings, global rankings and top scores across all of the eighteen chapters with each leaderboard containing each player’s rank; name (PSN ID); score; and the mask used while achieving that score with the positioning of each player based upon the score that has been accumulated on that particular level of the game.

The replayability of Hotline Miami is produced by the motivation of replaying levels to improve upon the high score in order to achieve a higher chapter performance grade resulting in unlocking weapons and new masks, while finding all the puzzle pieces lead to unlocking a secret ending. The relentless difficulty will see you naturally having to replay entire areas of chapters as one mistake will often be costly and fatal.

Overall, Hotline Miami is an addictive action brawler that will have you returning for more mayhem quite regularly. I cannot criticise the game on any level as it is quite possibly the best indie action game to date with plenty of content that will keep you coming back and replaying chapters long after you start playing the game. If you are a fan of action or brawling games, then look no further than Hotline Miami, especially considering the cross-buy price of just £6.49 for both the Vita and PS3 versions! Hotline Miami has me excited for the sequel and you should be excited too with eager anticipation for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number.

Jason Bonnar

At A Glance

  • Title: Hotline Miami
  • Publisher: Devolver Digital/Dennaton Games/Abstraction Games
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Cross Play: Yes (Cross-Save)
  • Online Multiplayer: No
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 423Mb (Version 1.01)

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