Hotline Miami is an action-packed shooter with a distinctive, retro-styled presentation. You'll play as an animal mask-wearing criminal, who receives orders via phone to eliminate occupants of various dwellings and establishments of ill repute. To survive you'll need to think fast and react even faster, because once you set foot in a building, it's kill or be killed. Where you decide to make your first kill, the types of weapons you use, and how you decide to proceed through the overhead-view environments will all play a part in your success.
Hotline Miami has you learning through repeated failures. It's not a question of if you will die, but rather when. You need to know precisely what's about to come zooming at you so you can be ready for it. One false move, a minor misstep, and you'll be staring at your corpse. While it sounds overly punishing, the game lets you restart right where you left off, for as many times as you want. Because of this wonderfully forgiving conceit, you'll stick with the game far longer than you ordinarily would have if you were given a limited number of lives.
Since you are not penalized heavily for mistakes, and since the action is blisteringly fast, you'll want to keep reloading to try new things and plan out an effective, high-scoring strategy. It almost feels like a puzzle game in a sense, as you need to be smart about how you approach each level to be efficient in your killing sprees. You'll earn bonus points for how varied and how violently you take out your foes, whether it's with a throwing knife, a baseball bat, a machine gun, or simply pummeling them repeatedly with your fists while they're down, waiting until a pool of blood trickles from their pixelated heads.
A successful run is a building littered with bodies. And it's oddly satisfying, because of the challenge involved. As you enter a building, the enemies are going about their business, which could mean patrolling the perimeter or sitting on the couch. The moment one enemy sees you, he will sprint toward you at high speeds. If there are more guards nearby, they will all come for you and make quick work of your character. Thus, you need to hone your sense of timing and try to thin the herd by catching enemies off guard and keep moving as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught and killed.
What makes Hotline Miami so exciting is that you're always thinking ahead, hoping your reflexes will respond to the synapses firing in your brain. The trippy graphics and soundtrack are almost hypnotic in nature, which means the visual style might be unsettling for some players, with its pulsating backgrounds potentially inducing motion sickness. The presentation isn't the only potential drawback -- the game has some boss fights that can be extremely annoying and feel a bit out of place, and there are more than a few glitches where you can get stuck in a level and have to restart. Yet if you're tired of mainstream action games and are yearning for an old-school challenge, Hotline Miami shouldn't be kept on hold.
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