Do you like McDonald’s? I do. I bloody love McDonald’s. It’s a massive, cheap, sugar-drenched guilty pleasure that goes down real easy, induces a massive high, and leaves you feeling empty and disgusted with yourself afterwards.
Hotline Miami is gaming McDonald’s. Gaming McDonald’s that explodes into your face and overloads your senses in a smearing blaze of hot-pink neon and 80s synth. Its retro pixelart and filthy techno soundtrack grab you by the genitalia of your choice and refuse to let go until you’ve smashed through its 2-3 hour runtime in a kinetic, dopamine-fuelled sugar-rush. And the guilt? It makes you feel like a dirty great serial killer.
From day one you’re tasked by mysterious and oblique messages on your answering machine to visit unspecified buildings, don an animal mask and violently batter, shoot and scald to death the everyone. With its top-down perspective, the game plays like a high-octane, closely-zoomed in GTA writ small, as you breach each room, trying to best take out the guards in a way that is quick, efficient, lusciously violent, and doesn’t get you killed.
And you will get killed. Lots. Part of the brain-fuzzing adrenaline rush Hotline Miamicreates is the instant restart system. Because whilst your enemies are dispatched with one bat / bullet / broken pool cue to the head, so are you. Storming a room can – if you’re not careful – just as easily result in a fatal crowbar to the nut as it can to a multiplier-increasing wade into a stack of corpses, with you wailing on a dude with a bat, just smashing his brains into that tiger rug again. And again. And again. Just press “R”.
And you will kill a lot of dudes. Hotline Miami‘s terrifying appeal is making this so seductive. It’s only at the end of a tense mission, when you’ve cleaned out an entire three floor apartment and the music drops pace – leaving you free to stroll to the exit – that you realise you’re picking your way through mounds of pixellated dog corpses, mangled men in white suits, and a veritable ocean of gore. It’s an intentional lull that forces you to question how much you should be enjoying this. Then you get your score and blast off into the next mission on an adrenaline high, desperate to do better at murdering.
The soundtrack is greatly responsible for this; influenced by the film Drive, (so much so that director Nicholas Winding Refn gets a mention in Hotline Miami‘s credits) it has that same dreamlike crunch-synth that pounds the experience into an urgent haze. It’s one of the few gaming soundtracks I have paid for as a separate entity, and I’m listening to it right now, fingers shaking as I think about my next fix.
Contributing to the dream-state is Hotline Miami‘s story, which is as tense, lean and headache-inducing as the gameplay. Those of you who read the blog will be aware of my mild disdain for spoilers, but suffice to say it goes places, fucks with your head, and leaves you breathless and bewildered at the end.
But Hotline Miami‘s greatest achievement is compression. So many titles are bloated blockbusters that consume weeks of your life and demand total immersion. Not so with Mistress Miami; you sear a bloody arc through its crumbling buildings, countless bodies in your wake, desperately keeping the high maintained knowing the low is waiting just around the corner. And as you hurtle through to the other side, you look back at all the carnage you’ve wrought, and are forced to answer the question: “Do I enjoy hurting people?” You may not like the response. Such an emotional engagement in so short a frame of time is a huge achievement; flabby, unfocused behemoths like Assassin’s Creed III can barely dream of such a hit, despite gameplay twenty times the length.
At time of writing, Hotline Miami costs £6.99 from Steam. That’s a mere £1.31 more than a large Big Mac Meal with Diet Coke and a Toffee Sundae. Buy it, turn off the lights, plug in your headphones, and prepare to have your senses savagely assaulted. Just don’t expect to feel good about it afterwards.
I’d liken it to cocaine, but I’ve never done cocaine. I have McDonald’s.
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