It’s been a long time since I first played Hotline Miami, and I honestly couldn’t remember much about it when I booted up the no-frills double feature which has just released for Xbox One. Having now sunk some real time into it, I think Hotline Miami Collection might just live up to the hype.
Both games share a few common elements. Firstly, the visual style is a distinctive, detailed-8-bit affair that is soaked in the neon palette of the 1980s against which the game is set. Neon pinks, greens, and blues stand out against whites and blacks, whilst a smoke-machine fog sits behind the tangible parts of each level – deliberately making you wonder if it’s all just a dream.
Another common thread that adds to the acid-infused style of each game is the level of violence, which is up there with the best of them. Whilst the likes of Manhunt shocked with the visceral nature of the on-screen killing, Hotline Miami Collection is simply over the top to the point of distraction.
Every mission begins with the player leaving their car unarmed and entering a building full of people. On almost every occasion, the only way you’ll leave that building is after you’ve killed every single person in it. You can knock them out and stomp on their head, you can decapitate them, you can blow them up or shoot them in the guts, spilling their intestines on the rug for all to see.
In the first game, a simple narrative initially points to the player character acting out the role of a hitman, and as about twenty chapters play out, you’ll be amazed at how detailed and interesting the story is. When the second game rolls around, you’ll be even more incredulous at how the developers at Dennaton Games and Abstraction have blurred the lines between fantasy and reality even more.
In gameplay terms, the first game is simpler. Get shot, or hit, and you die. The enemies are dumb — charging directly towards you whenever they hear a sound — but their trigger fingers are rapid. In the second game, the player character can often take one or two regular bullets before succumbing, and the enemies are a touch smarter, often making the choice to hang back when it makes sense.
Either way, Hotline Miami Collection is a game about dying. You’ll die over and over again in both games, but getting back into the action is instant and you’ll just need to push a single button. Most levels are made up of at least two or three floors, and when you die, you’ll simply restart on the floor you just died on.
As a result, death in Hotline Miami Collection never feels punishing — it’s just a lesson learned. Upon restarting, enemy paths will be rejigged a bit, and sometimes their weapons will be swapped around, This means that whilst you may be faster and a bit more knowledgeable about the overall layout of a level, it’s rarely exactly the same setup twice.
And more or less as soon as it gets its claws into you, each Hotline Miami game is over. The campaigns are four or five hours of sweaty-joypad action each, and as long as you can look past the tongue-in-cheek ultraviolence, I think you’ll enjoy every last second of them. I wonder if I played the first game to completion all those years ago, then deliberately forgot it so that I could do it all over again now, followed by the sequel.
Whilst not for everyone thanks to the undeniably ridiculous levels of violence and the possibility of frustration (think of this as the twin-stick shooter equivalent of Super Meat Boy) I’d say that Hotline Miami Collection is a must buy. These games are an experience that is almost completely unique, and I must say, I loved every minute of my time with them.