18/11/2013

nostalgia kill

Hotline Miami, an ambiguous weird super-violent trip into the neon haze of the 1980's. Originally released last year it came to PS3 a few months back and it is glorious. Twitchy, super-fast arcade gameplay married to a plot and tone both surreal and sinister. Picture it in your head as the kind of ultraviolent NES game that never was because thats the aesthetic on offer and it fits the game like a glove rendered in 16 bits or less.

In fact the game has a unique air of unreality about it, as if of a dream state that may be all roo real. You play a loner living in the tail end of the 1980's compelled by coded answer phone messages to commit extreme acts of violence against local mobsters. To what end? Well that is the question to which the answers don't come willingly if at all. Dream interludes with figures wearing animal masks provide little in the way of reassuring closure and you keep seeing the same guy in the establishments you frequent after each grisly episode waiting there as if to reward you somehow.

Top down levels with a diabolical sense of risk and reward, the faster you take down the bad guys the better the combos and the better the score. But they're equally as capable as you and you're equally as vulnerable as them. Its the deliberate deadly pace of caution versus the thrill of a perfectly orchestrated speed run. So yes I died a lot but so did they as their vitals were dislodged with an array of tools repurposed for death. 

Armed with said weapons and wearing one of a selection of animal masks bestowed with game changing powers I nostalgia kill my way through the levels to the ever-constant beat of the 80's inspired synthesizer music, a soundtrack thats been a constant fixture on my MP3 player ever since, its so good. 

But in the interests of balance and of not turning this entire entry into a gushfest I'll single out the difficulty as a negative. It's unforgiving certainly, requiring a split second reflex at the best of times. If that sounds like praising with faint damnation then it probably is. Some like a challenge afterall but throughout it seems like the computer is outplaying you at your own game all the way up until the end, you never escape the feeling that success was as much a product of skill as it was of luck but is that a bad thing?

Not even the trial and error approach hurts it, in fact its encouraged. The low-fi approach to the game's graphics means you reload in an instant upon death ready to murder kill your way through the level again. It works well with the games standard encounters but frustrates with the insta-killing antics of the games (thankfully few) boss fights.

So that was my stroll through the neon soaked nights of Hotline Miami, a super blend of gameplay mechanics, story and tone. Very few games get it this right for me but this so does. It's self-consciously retro but never to the point of becoming a meaningless empty parody of itself. It doesnt just go to great lengths to echo the games of yesteryear, it exceeds them and it just might be my favourite game of 2013.