Steam on Shuffle: Hotline Miami
The journey down the proverbial rabbit hole that is my steam library continues. The random number generator has spoke, praise be unto it, this round its great wisdom has chosen Hotline Miami. This one I at least have a vague recollection of acquiring, I think it was in a Humble Bundle.
Hotline Miami is a weird fucking game. The story is you kill people. Yup, that about sums it up. Sure there are some loose connections made to why you are killing these people but the games makes it damn clear the motive doesn’t matter. You kill people and that’s it.
Each chapter starts with you in your shit hole apartment, checking your answering machine gives an address and some bull shit reason why you’re going there but you know what the real job is. Head down the stairs and get in your DeLorean, yup you drive a DeLorean. Once you get to the location you choose an animal mask, each gives a different benefit like faster movement or starting with a weapon and will change up how you approach the level. From there it is a ballet of bludgeoning, morbid grace combined with speed and perfect timing as you move through each floor murdering everyone within before they have a chance to defend themselves. Kicking in a door to stun an unaware thug, picking up the steel pipe he was holding and using it to cave in his partner’s skull then dashing back to the first guy and finish the job by repeatedly bashing his head in to the ground. Bonus points flash across the screen punctuating the senselessness of your brutality.
Perfect timing is key here. There is very little margin for error and one hit from any of the numerous thugs will kill you. Control can be incredibly clunky. Movement uses the WASD keys while the mouse controls a small target reticule determining which way you’re facing. Holding shift while dragging the mouse allows you to see a bit outside your limited view of the map while right clicking a thug will lock on making it easier to shoot or stun him by throwing your weapon so you can close the gap for an execution. In the heat of the moment it all just feels too slow, you take a swing at the guy charging up behind you but you didn’t get your mouse over him fast enough or you’re locked on to someone in the next room and it’s good game. The game is unforgiving in its difficulty, you will die over and over. The rage will boil over, you will tell Hotline Miami to go fuck itself, and you will mash the shit out of the restart button to do it all over again. Then when you come back you will notice each the enemies weapons and patrol paths are somewhat randomized and your perfect plan for how to murder every damn one of them will go up in smoke.
The story, or what little is actually revealed takes place over a few months in 1989 and every bit of Hotline Miami’s style fits perfectly with that theme. Clunky sprites, neon flashes when you make a kill, scan lines across the screen and a thumping techno soundtrack that will have you bouncing along to the beat. It will make you long for the days of black lights and a stack of quarters at your local arcade.
There is something deeper here though. Beneath the surface of flashing lights and high scores is something both visceral and surreal. There is no point to the brutality, you kill solely for the sake of killing. You have an apartment full of stuff and at one point get a room mate but the only thing you can ever interact with is the answering machine giving you the address of your next bloody rampage. There is a sense of disassociation and the only thing that matters is the violence. After each stage is cleared the music cuts out and you are forced to walk silently back to your car, stepping over the bodies you’ve left almost as if to force you to really look at the acts you have just committed. Then you go pick up a pizza or rent a movie like nothing happened.
Between chapters you enter a room with three masked people, they give you questions but never any answers and leave you wondering if any of this is even real. As the game progresses, corpses of those you killed appear in the convenience store and local bar, but they’re not really there. It leaves you as the player trying to figure out what the fuck is going on, it’s what you would get if David Lynch directed American Psycho.
After finishing the game I was hoping for some sort of answers, there were none, just an empty feeling. The questions don’t matter and the answers don’t exist, there is no point but to kill. That’s the fucked up part, I know there is no point, the game forces me to reflect on the horrible shit I’ve just done, but I find myself drawn back each time to continue my senseless killing spree.