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Hotline Miami Review

Posted by Jamie Dalzell On Wednesday 14 November 2012Comments Off

Available on Steam and GOG l Published by Dennaton Games l Developed by Devolver Digital l Unclassified l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Dishonored whispers in the tones of Thief, 2D stealth is celebrating its magnum opus and Adam Jensen bears the hallmarks of the cybernetic implants of the Deus Ex of old. Their subtlety is to be applauded, but forget the classics, because this is the year of the generation-shifting assassin. This top down action game features a 1989 setting, 1990s aesthetic and 2012’s most violent protagonist: you.

REVIEW IN FULL > “Recklessness is rewarded,” goads a Hotline Miami loading screen, just a tooltip for some but enough of a callous statement to raise the hair on the back of the neck of a trained killer. Recklessness is the downfall of the careful. A master assassin is subtle. So under the cover of darkness Ezio sprints, feet speeding across roof tiles that would give way to a heavier touch, in pursuit of his target. In the darkest shadows of Dunwall, where the rats wander and harbour bells reach ears on alert, Corvo watches his targets for an opening in their routine. Agent 47 walks with purpose, down a hall in clear sight, shrouded in disguise. For these men, recklessness is the name of a lesser being.

This may well be seen as the time of their renaissance, a year in which the traditions of old were returned and freedom was again granted to you, the puppeteer, to twist and contort: to learn from observation and trial by error. Yet in the sunset hours of 2012, where the classics still plot deviations on a plan, Hotline Miami arrives to bring us our first modern assassin, ironically brought forward from 1989, music blaring as if his pre-slaughter ritual is one of throwing headphones on and turning up the “Murder” playlist on his new iPhone 5. Once the volume’s loud, it’s never coming down.

Where a stealth veteran’s plans crumble is where yours begin. 

His similarities are not in his motto but in his evolved DNA. Like Corvo, he is mute. Like Ezio, he quickest with the knife. Like Agent 47, he is fond of disguise. Yet, for all of his similarities, he is generations removed from his forebears, living under the Florida palm trees that silhouette against a sunset at the end of every level, dissecting his performance. He is a product of the modern day: a life spent in the fast lane, no time to waste in negotiation. He is a mirror held to your face.

Your assassinations start where others would restart. Where a stealth veteran’s plans crumble is where yours begin. Instead of retreating to the safety of F9, you hit someone with a pole. You take their knife and you kick in the door to the neighbouring room and gut two armed guards before slitting the throat of the third. By now you’ve already lingered too long, so you pick up a gun from a body and run amok with a hail of bullets in wanton destruction. This is a classical assassin’s worst nightmare.

All is carried out with a drunken stupor, as the overhead camera acts as your swaying eyes. You watch yourself watch the enemy and it’s from this viewpoint that you detach yourself from your actions. Hotline Miami is an out of body experience.

From room to room, level to level, you are asked to clear each one, before climbing back into your car and driving off into the nether, to home, to your phone, and to the inevitable message awaiting you the next day. The psychedelic retro neon aesthetic hypnotises you, gently rocking you into a murderous haze with its lullaby. “How could you possibly feel bad murdering to a tune like this?” it begs of you, but it’s just another question that goes unanswered, unlike those phone calls.


It doesn’t take long for you to settle into a familiar rhythm, finding your favourite weapons, masks, and ways to attack, mixing it up on the fly.

Rocking . Swaying . Slashing . Stabbing. Ugh. Ugh! UGH!

Your way of leaving unseen is to make sure no one is alive to see you.

Before you know it, you’ve become obsessed, like those assassins of old, with a plan of your own design to clear this three story building and you’re not going to rest until you see it through. The shared DNA is stronger, then, than you’ve given it credit for. You are no lesser being, only a far more brutal one.

There are no reputations for you to uphold here. Ezio’s creed only reaches so far. There is no motive for vengeance that drives Corvo to the shadows and no need for a ninja’s skills at dangling from the ceiling. Instead deals have been made with the devil for these talents: the ability to gut a room as quickly as you gut a man without a change in expression, turning up that music and letting the backing track mesmerise you to murderous sleep.

When you finally wake up to blood on your hands there’s a saccharine quiet, no noise, no movement, perhaps a droning in the background and a reverberating “thwack thwack thwack” in your ears from when you… stabbed… that… man. This is the barren conscience of a violent being.

You stumble into your car with that same drunken stupor. Your way of leaving unseen is to make sure no one is alive to see you. You leave not with questions about what you’ve done, only about how you can do it better. You’ll be back here to do it, too, with rooms refilled for your killing ways. This time you’ll clear all three floors with nothing but a fast moving knife in your hand, letting your weapon do the talking, because you’ll never find any answers here.

That’s when you see that this is the modern assassin’s dream come true.

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