Hotline Miami (2012 video game): why the cult legacy

Hotline Miami image
Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter video game that changed how neon-infused ultra-violence can be aesthetically used in a video game. A game that’s chock full of messy, psychedelic gore that does not care about the player-psyche. Hotline Miami combined the top-down perspective with great stealth and surreal storytelling. It overflows with raw brutality, hard-boiled gunplay, and skull-crushing close combat – all while dealing with a pixellated arcade feel. The game is filled with visuals and soundtracks inspired by the 1980’s “Miami Vice” culture. A gripping story that will make you question your sanity and thirst for violent thrills as it constantly bombards mortal combat with delirious thoughts. It received critical acclaim for its graphics and music. It has proved to be a phenomenal indie success and one of the most highly influential games of all time.

There is some criticism for its over-the-top violence. In fact, it is how the game uses violence is that makes it a cult classic. The game is not ‘realistic’ per se, so it’s somewhat misplaced to treat it as part of our everyday world. It has a dreamlike landscape, even as it uses familiar structures. The neon-infused violence is garish but also cartoonish. Nothing in the same league as the arguably problematic GTA V from Rockstar, and its infamous ‘torture’ segment. (Rockstar has a much more rocky history concerning depiction of violence in video games, especially when comes to that old, oft-forgotten game Manhunt.)

Soundtrack (Hotline Miami):

Hotline Miami instead has the feel of an old-school console game that doesn’t go very easy on you. It demands rigorous, trial-and-error gameplay. Either you learn from your mistakes or begin the level again. Some levels even have grueling sub-levels. It is where the game makes a groundhog day out of player death, making the player’s frustration, ache, and obsession a crucial part of the experience.

Set in 1989 Miami. you play a mysterious unnamed man (named Jacket by fans) who goes on a murderous rampage against the Russian Mob, guided by enigmatic, anonymous voice commands on his answering machine. The game is heavily influenced by Nicolas Winding’s crime film Drive as well as the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys.

Hotline Miami: synopsis

Hotline Miami‘s riveting narrative coupled with a killer soundtrack is what makes the game stand out from the crowd. The player is required to make strategies and split-second decisions to proceed further in each stage of each level. With each death (failure), the player learns something valuable to use, and that knowledge becomes their strength. The kind of reflexive speed and fluidity the player requires for the game is exceptionally well-executed, almost to perfection. With each lesson, you stack your moves and develop a personal playstyle. Level designs are sparse but thoughtfully and creatively calibrated. Boss battles are also uniquely tough and introduced like no other game.

Hotline Miami: Jacket's masks
Jacket’s Masks (artwork)

Another thing that left a lasting fandom legacy is Jacket’s many ‘masks.’ For every mission, Jacket (and consequently the player) gets to choose different animal masks – like a rooster or an owl – before entering a chapter and wreaking ecstatic carnage.

Visuals and music

The visuals of the game are inspired by Alfred Hitchock’s use of subjectivity in cinema also known as the Kuleshov Effect. A technique in which unshown details pile up in your head inspired by a lack of information. It ultimately causes your mind to fill up those blanks. This is what makes the game so disturbing, surreal, and addictive. Dennis Wedin and Jonathan Sorderstrom, the game’s creators, have done a fantastic job in making the visual experience so rich and detailed while rendering it more minimalist than ever.

In today’s gaming world, a game without a great soundtrack is like a joke without a punchline, The music in this game has such a nostalgic and exuberant feel, it doesn’t matter if one is even playing the game or not. You can just drink in the vibrant music oozing into these hallucinatory set-ups as you plan your next move. It changes with every situation but fits into every nook of the game. The decision to split up the narrative into different chapters gives the game a broader perspective and greater depth.


Hotline Miami: a cult classic
A psychedelic indie experience

In conclusion, Hotline Miami is a masterclass in utilizing limited resources to show what a true gaming experience can be about with the necessary artistic vision. I would strongly advocate it as an example of video games as art. It does not joke around with the player, messes them up a fair bit, does not mollycoddle. It challenges one’s limits and takes a pretty good test of their patience level and baser instincts. A wrong, untimed move is instantly fatal, for they must be quick enough for your survival. Overall, Hotline Miami‘s skull-shattering, eye-popping, throat-ripping madness still stands the test of time. A highly original indie classic.

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