I watch a lot of movies. Violent movies, on occasion. I’ve seen Nicolas Cage smash open a man’s skull in a hotel lobby, Vincent Cassel bludgeon a man to death with a fire extinguisher in a nightclub, Ryan Gosling repeatedly stomp on a man’s head until there was virtually nothing left in an elevator, Christian Bale swinging a chainsaw in an apartment building, Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing away over a dozen cops on their own turf, to say nothing of Statham, Stallone, Jaa, Jackson; the list never ends of tough dudes doing horrible things to people on the silver screen for our enjoyment.
Hotline Miami summarizes all that carnage and more and, for the first time, placed me in the shoes of all of those cinematic psychopaths to the point where my perception of violence was altered. Make no mistake, this game is all about doing horrible, vicious, savage things to little 16-bit characters. Each level presents you with a location (some akin to the cinematic locales I just described, including a hotel, nightclub and police station), perhaps a dozen or more cronies, and a mask. What happens after that are some of the most intense action scenes I’ve ever taken part in.
I could describe the flow of the combat, the mechanics of it all, but others have already done that quite admirably. I’d just like to add to the conversation my perception of the cinematic flavor of the whole experience. I’ve heard whispers the developer, headed by Jonatan “Cactus” Soderstrom, took particular note of Drive when making the game, both stylistically and (based on that motel room scene…you know the one) I’m guessing some of the gameplay particulars as well. But so many other films have also been evoked during my time with the game. Every cinematic showdown I’ve seen that takes into account the fragility of the hero crept into my mind as I was setting about my dark tasks. Remember that hallway fight in Kick Ass? That drug deal gone bad in Boogie Nights? The motel fight in L.A. Confidential? That deleted scene from Cronenberg’s A History of Violence where Ed Harris’ bloody corpse spoke? (too specific?) Again, the list goes on and on.
For those less versed in cinema, comparisons are perhaps more difficult. Its like Smash-TV if it were a stealth-game? Manhunt if it were distilled to the core elements of that game that were most disturbing? GTA Vice City with all the fat trimmed? Killer7 if you played as the villain and the gameplay was enjoyable? None of those quite sum up what works about this game. It is both like and unlike a lot of things, and that blending of all the pop-cultural savagery that came before it is what makes it uniquely disgusting and brilliant at the same time.
Perhaps better than all those films and games I’ve described thus far, the game successfully puts you in the role of a character akin to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman long enough to get a taste for the macabre that both compels and sickens him by that film’s conclusion. I suppose that is the most astute cinematic comparison, the one that best captures how this game made me feel by the end of it. You feel disgusting but satisfied. You don’t want to stop killing because its fun, and that is meant to be an odd, unsettling thought. Games have gotten into the habit of telling you to kill people in awful ways without ever stopping to let you think about how weird that is. This game pushes you past the point many may want to go. It says “kill, kill, kill, it’s fun, right?” so directly it comes across as more honest and sinister as a result of it. I could keep making comparisons and gushing over the game forever, but I’d suggest just checking it out for yourself. There is a good reason a growing contingent of the internet is making a fuss about this game. Personally speaking, I’m pretty comfortable calling it my Game of the Year right here, right now. It’s that good, it’s ten dollars, what are you waiting for?