Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Violent, bloody, with flashes of low-res gore, but how does it sound?
The massive Sony-brand headphones slipped over my ears and immediately started blazing the Hotline Miami soundtrack. The beats pounded in my head and I instinctively turned down the PlayStation Vita's volume. That might sound sacrilegious to fans of the game who've already enjoyed it on PC, but it didn't take long for Hotline Miami to grab me by the collar and crush my skull into the pavement.
I know we missed the boat on HM's PC release, but the PlayStation crowd will get to enjoy the full game on both PS3 and Vita later this year. If you don't already know, Hotline Miami gives players control over an unknown figure who is frequently visited by three masked figures, Don Juan, Richard, and Rasmus. Players are tasked with locating a package and eliminating anyone in the way in each of the game's top-down levels.
Despite its distinct lack of graphical fidelity, Hotline Miami still impresses with realistic sound effects and a visceral sense of action. When you crush an enemy's head with your boot, it sounds as squishy as you'd imagine. Early kills typically come by way of finishing an opponent you've already knocked down. The first levels teach you how to pick up weapons, how to topple enemies by surprising them or opening doors they happen to be standing behind, and how to use the X button to crush them and otherwise end their pathetic existence.
You can pick up guns from the dead and even throw them at range. Stabbing one enemy with a knife you found and quickly throwing the blade into another gives you a combo bonus as do all kills in quick succession. Planning out your murderous rampage feels more like a puzzle than anything else, furthering the addictive drive to kill efficiently and stylishly.
In between levels, players visit a bearded man who praises their handiwork and gives them food or other useful items. The interactions awkwardly disrupt the blood-pounding combat, but with little hands-on time, I'm left to speculate at where the game goes next. Regardless, the soundtrack and old-school aesthetics left me hungry for more.
The scoring screens and menus harken back to '80s sensibilities and neon-noir found in films like Drive and the background in each level pulses and changes color as you progress. One early level repeatedly killed me until I realized that one kill should lead into another, which would allow me to bust a door down and melee another enemy. When it clicked, I decided it was time to turn the volume back up. The synthesizers washed over me and suddenly killing faceless thugs felt rhythmic and natural.
The next level flew by in a seamless blur of pixels and neon lights. I kicked a door down and executed one enemy before his friend made it down the hall. I was waiting for him at the corner with the baseball bat I'd picked up from the first guy. Down he went and instinctively I flung the bat at another baddie before racing over to finish him. The shotgun that enemy dropped made eliminating the final two targets feel like shooting fish in a barrel. Hotline Miami is still without a release date, but don't be surprised if the title leads another PSN promotion block this summer.