2012's year of gaming is coming to a close and that means Neoseeker is deep in deliberation over its "Game of the Year" award. In the months of December and early January each of Neoseeker's 10 nominees for Game of the Year will be profiled. Join in the discussion, speculate on the nominees, and subtly persuade us which game deserves such an honorable award.
The second nominee for Neoseeker's Game of the Year may be a title not many folk in the community are familiar with, but they should be. Hotline Miami is this year's gem in the rough -- a layered, visceral experience that like 2011's Bastion before it is outstanding just to sit and play, but whose depth is both jarring and invaluable when taken as a whole.
Let's get this straight, Hotline Miami is a top-down action game that blends stealth and gunplay that can either be played fast-paced or patiently in an almost puzzle-like manner. It has a pixelated visual style, it's wrapped in a surreal story about hitmen and the Russian mafia, and it has a rad synth soundtrack that captures Miami in the 80s perfectly. Those are Hotline Miami's parts, but when it all comes together the result is a disturbingly ultraviolent odyssey to the brink of madness. The best and worst thing about this relentless massacre, however, is just how damn gratifying it is to kill everything -- and how obvious it's all by developer Dennaton Games' design.
Why Hotline Miami is great:
- What is going on? - Hotline Miami starts with a surreal dream where you're surrounded by masked men who are quite clearly psychopathic. They speak in circles and ask more questions then they answer, and it draws you into the game in ways a tutorial level never could. That early sense of confusion and disorientation is a perfect driving factor, and lingers the whole game through.
- Stealth and structure - Each mission is broken into floors of a building and each floor is a sequence of rooms to explore. Either slowly, cautiously traverse each room and hallway, killing with a melee weapon so as to maintain stealth, or pick up a rifle and make the action come to you. The option of methodical deconstruction of each level combined with the thrill and intensity of the moment to moment action is nothing short of exhilarating.
- Violence - Let's be direct, Hotline Miami is drowning in blood and pixelated guts. Every kill, and there are dozens of them, is brutal and non-censored, and then the broken bodies are left there on-screen until the stage is complete. Make a mistake and die? The protagonist gets the same disturbing treatment and then start all over again. This rinse and repeat violence quickly desensitizes the player, if they weren't at that point prior to starting the game.
- Moments between the violence - Violence for the sake of violence is boring. Any game can throw in ultraviolence and then afterwards tell the gamer how deplorable they should feel. Hotline Miami does more. Step one is the violence, and it has to be artful in its design for it to be poignant. Step 2 is forcing the player to look at and face the violence, which Hotline Miami does in ways like making the player walk back through a level now empty of all life with bodies strewn everywhere. Step 3 is making the player realize they want more despite staring in the face. Putting the protagonist back in his quiet apartment or picking up food at a local pizza place is my favorite design choice in the game, specifically because I can't stand being there and want to get back to the violence.
- Style - Every single moment of Hotline Miami drips style, with clear inspiration from films like Scarface and Drive. With a soundtrack I'd put up against Grammy nominated Journey any day, and a retro-esque pixelated art-style that allows for large enough disconnect from reality to allow such unprecedented violence, Hotline Miami has established its own mood and feel. Something every game should aspire, but not many can achieve.
These are some of the big reasons why Hotline Miami is one of Neoseeker's nominees for Game of the Year. A top-down action game developed as an independent venture exclusively for PCs that can be enjoyed either as an arcadey, light title or the deep and reflective experience that I found it to be. The fact that there's some meet on its bones takes nothing away from the fact that Hotline Miami is one of the most fun and exciting gaming experiences of the year.
Neoseeker Game of the Year nominees:
- The Walking Dead
- Hotline Miami
- Darksiders II
- Assassin's Creed III
- Far Cry 3
- Halo 4
- Guild Wars 2
- Dota 2
Also, check out and vote in our community Game of the Year poll where the current leader is Borderlands 2.