Hotline Miami seemed like a perfect fit for the PlayStation Vita, with retro-looking graphics, the ability to pick it up and play for shorts periods of time and the gameplay which felt very arcady. Also, it looked like a good trophy boosting candidate with a challenging, yet not discouraging, platinum trophy at the end. I’ve been meaning to check the game out for quite some time, having heard many people praising it very much, but my less than perfect experience with other well-reviewed ‘indie’ games, including Spelunky and Stealth Inc., made me reconsider everytime I went to the PSN Store. Ultimately, I gave in to temptation when Hotline Miami got an insane discount and I picked it up for around $3. Obviously, the NA region got it for free on PlayStation Plus the following month, which may mean it is coming to EU as well sometime soon. Still, as the rest of this post will show, I do not regret spending the money and I would have probably spent the full price earlier had I known what the game had to offer.
Hotline Miami is basically a tactical action game, which involves clearing stages by executing the many enemies who roam the buildings by any means necessary. Although the game looks like it’s been taken straight from the NES, it’s actually more challenging than it might appear. Or maybe it’s the other way round, remembering how difficult some of those older games were… In any case, death is unavoidable and the trial-and-error approach to completing levels is the only way to go. After a while, it’s possible to get used to the patterns and behavior of the enemies and anticipate their movement, or even try to draw them into a trap. Still, there’s always one enemy with a shotgun somewhere behind a glass pane, who will take the player character down. The fact that it’s a one-hit-kill game doesn’t make it easier. However, all the defeats serve the purpose of teaching the player which approach works and which doesn’t and help to make each attempt more successful than the previous one.
The game offers a wide variety of weapons, from everyday items such as bottles and bricks, through various handguns, shotguns and rifles to exotic katanas and shurikens. The weapons spawn randomly in the stages but are also left behind by killed enemies. Having so many items to choose from makes it easy for everyone to pick a weapon which fits best the style of play of that particular person. The shotguns can reach several enemies at once but have limited ammo, scissors are good for stealth kills, while long-reach melee weapons are best for fast combat. All the items can also be thrown at enemies, stunning or killing them, which gives the player time to pick something else up, with which the final execution can be performed. Obviously, there’s a trophy for using each weapon in the game at least once. It’s probably as good a spot as any to point out that Hotline Miami is extremely violent and pretty visual, even taking into account the 8-bit nature of the graphics. There’s plenty of enemies with even more blood running through their veins. Even animals were not spared, with dogs and occasional panthers running around the rooms.
On top of the many weapon, the game adds depth by offering the player animal masks he or she may wear when going on missions. Some of them are beneficial, making the character’s fists deadly or equipping him with a certain weapon at the beginning of the stage. There are also others, which make the game more difficult or alter it in a particular fashion, such us reversing the controls, significantly decreasing the visibility or swapping the color palette to black and white. Again, there’s plenty to choose from and, again, there’s a trophy for wearing each mask at least once. The masks can be found in the levels but are also awarded for beating high scores on all the stages.
Hotline Miami features an interesting soundtrack that works well with the 1989 setting of the game and the slightly crazy plot, which I still don’t think I completely understand. While the electronic, often repetitive music is not something I would listen to regularly, I have to admit it certainly is one of the hypnotizing elements of the game, making it somehow easier to replay some stages of the game dozens of time, trying to get the A+ ranking. Even though I prefer to listen to other things while playing the Vita, on several occasions I decided to go with the in-game music to help me focus on the gameplay.
There are 17 chapters in the main story of the game, including a Prelude chapter, followed by three more Prologue stages, which somehow explain certain plot elements from the initial levels. I didn’t care for the storyline that much and I found it rather confusing. I understood it had something to do with the Mafia and that there was a conspiracy twist somewhere in there but I don’t think I could explain the entire thing too well. Maybe it’s just me not paying attention but I still think that the story is not the strongest element of Hotline Miami. The 20 chapters in the game are enough to keep the player busy for several hours but the real challenge is getting the perfect rating on all of them, which took me as much time as beating the game for the first time. The game offers the perfect mixture of frustration and the feeling of accomplishment when finally the A+ rating appears at the end of the chapter. I kept coming back to it, even though it felt punishing at times, but I knew that if I just do this thing that way and grab that weapon over there, I might keep the combo going long enough and increase the score. That’s a tough thing to balance in games but in my opinion Hotline Miami does it very well.
To sum it up, I would definitely recommend giving Hotline Miami a chance, especially since a lot of you got it for free from PS+. I didn’t try playing it on the PS3 but one thing the Vita version has that the others don’t is the touch screen support, which allows the player to lock on enemies and shoot directly at them without aiming with the right stick. Dragging the screen to look further down the stage is also often useful. Don’t let the very retro look of the game discourage you and give it a try if you’re up for a pretty challenging but ultimately very rewarding experience.
On top of that, Hotline Miami is worth 35 trophies, including a platinum one, which is a pretty sizable loot for the trophy hunters for a game like that. Let’s have a look at some of the most interesting ones form that relatively long list. As always, some of the trophies may contain spoilers or be hidden in the in-game list, so read on at your own risk.
Other than some very specific trophies, there are a lot which require the player to use or find all of the weapons, masks, etc. While some of them will pop up during the walkthrough naturally, the game doesn’t offer a list or any other indicator to show which items have already been used or found. As always, playstationtrophies.com comes with help, with a very nice trophy guide, which can be used to track the progress in those types of trophies.
The Vita version, and possibly the PS3 one, comes with three extra chapters, which don’t count towards any of the trophies. They are fun enough, to give them a try, though.
| Get A Life
|Get A+ on all the chapters|
Grinding and repetition. That’s what trophy hunters love most, isn’t it? Even though I believe I spend more time replaying games in search of the trophies than the average player, I’m not at the level of Mortal Kombat platinum, which involves using each character for 24 hours (I’ll leave the math for you). Fortunately, the most repetitive trophy in Hotline Miami is nowhere near as demanding and will add only a couple of hours to the total gampelay time. What is most important, and which I already touched on, is the fact that the subsequent attempts don’t feel that repetitive and the frustration is kept at a relatively healthy level, pushing the player to try again and again rather than making him throw the console at the wall. Some of the chapters are easier than others, which may show a slight balancing problem, but overall it shouldn’t take more than 10-20 attempts to reach the A+ rating.
It’s crucial to keep the combos going, killing as much enemies in a row as possible, and using a variety of weapons and moves to get rid of them. Also, in multiroom levels, when you die in one of the later rooms, the score is not reset to zero but just to the value it had upon entering the room.
|Clear Chapter 2 using Nigel the Bat|
The Nigel mask is one of the masks that’s only there to make the player’s life more difficult. It’s a common ‘cheat’ in games and it reverses the controls. Thankfully, chapter 2 is not very hard in the first place and by the time I found the mask of the bat, I was familiar with the game enough, not to have any trouble beating it that way. Still, I wouldn’t attempt going through the entire game wearing that particular mask. Go for the Raging Bull instead.
| Eye For Details
|Collect all the puzzle pieces|
| The Boss
|Solve the Puzzle|
I played through the entire game, wearing the mask that was supposed to help me find the puzzle elements, but I only managed to find one element and that was purely by chance. The truth is, I had no idea what I was looking for and I wasn’t expecting a literal pixel hunting exercise. In majority of the chapters, there is a small purple pixel that marks the spot where the puzzle element is hidden. The mask gives a slight outline to the puzzle but it by no means makes in unmissable. I had to consult the guide to find one of the elements but once I knew what to look for, I combed each chapter and had no problems finding the remaining ones. Obviously, the guide can make it much faster or it can at least tell which levels contain the puzzles and which don’t. Solving the puzzle is very easy so I’m not going to give the answer here. However, make sure to listen to some Springsteen before you approach it, as the trophy title suggests.
| Smell Something Burning
|Kill the crapping gangster with a fireaxe|
The description of this trophy says it all, doesn’t it? I’m not going to spoil in which chapter the gangster can be found but it’s rather difficult to miss him. Finding the axe might be more challenging but it’s always there so just look around. That’s not a nice way to go, I would think…
| Zoo Keeper
|Collect all the masks|
With all the phones the game uses as the trophies icons, I wonder why they weren’t more creative. There’s a lot of rotary phones, some old mobile and wireless phones but only one novelty phone, i.e. the hamburger phone and it’s associated with this trophy. Although, I like the graphic design of those items, and they play an important role in the story, I wish they put a few other strange and silly phones in there.
|Kill 1989 enemies|
OK, this counts as well. It’s 1989, it has a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle on it (I guess it’s Michealangelo), it fits the description. It’s a pass.
| Trophy Addict
|Unlock All Trophies|
Oh, Hotline Miami! You know me so much, as shown by the platinum trophy title. What do you, other trophy addicts, think about this game? Have you enjoyed your free PS+ copy? Have you found the 8+ hour platinum challenging and rewarding, as I did? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!