Tag Archives: windows

Games of 2012: Hotline Miami

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Everyone Dies.  No Exceptions.

It seems perverse to put [Hotline Miami](http://hotlinemiami.com/) so high on my list this year given the all-too-recent events of Newtown, CT. Had this been released by a major publisher or available in stores for home consoles, it would’ve incited a media frenzy, networks falling over each other to blame it for the tragedy. It could have easily replaced “Mortal Kombat” as the game to name drop when trying to source the evil in the hearts of those who would commit atrocities.

Improbably, Dennaton’s opus of neon and violence and Amiga-style graphics and blood and pounding electronica and dismemberment has escaped that scrutiny. For now, at least.

The game’s structure is rhythmic: there’s a message on your answering machine, a mysterious voice speaking in code about a location that needs your attention. You head down the stairs and into your DeLorean, and roll up to the location, which is always swarming with armed thugs. You pull on an animal mask of your choice, and head inside. Everyone dies. You leave, head to another location to receive what might be your payment, and then wake up for another day, and another message. Repeat.

Hotline Miami

It’s the “everyone dies” part that requires the most of your attention. Hotline Miami is all about the high-energy, high-tension rampage that you must execute to complete a level. With an improvised array of weapons, you’ll dance between lying in wait to take down a solo goon to busting into a room with guns blazing. Those conditioned on modern FPS games – soak up 20 bullets, hide behind cover until you’re back to full health – will be frustrated by an NES-style “one hit and you’re dead” health system. The button you may end up hitting the most is not the “fire” button but the “Restart” button, as though you’re playing Trials. It’s been called a “violence puzzle” – less about the aiming of your guns and more about managing ammo, avoiding sight lines, and keeping quiet.

The style drives the experience home. The ultra-violence is tapered somewhat by the garish 8-bit graphics, but gruesome close-range assaults make it clear what body parts are going where. There’s a [fantastically assembled soundtrack](https://soundcloud.com/devolverdigital/sets/hotline-miami-official), pounding and driving through the levels, that easily takes my favorite soundtrack of the year honors. And there’s small details – the way the camera swings the world just a little off-kilter, the shadows passing as you drive the car – that raises it just a notch higher.

You Don't Look Well, Sir

And then there’s the ultimate question: why *are* you killing all these people, and who is that voice on the answering machine? The game delivers the story in small drips of ephemera, like newspaper clippings or audio from a television, but it’s not long before things go off the rails and you’re questioning if any of what you’re seeing is real. Is it a fever dream? Is it a geo-political plot? Is it a [meditation on violence in video games](http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RamiIsmail/20121029/180408/Why_Hotline_Miami_is_an_important_game.php)?

I do subscribe to the idea that Hotline Miami is a meta-commentary about violence in games. When I consider my most lasting memory of the time I spent with the game, it is not any particular murder it asked me to commit. It’s not the bizarre conversations I had with what seems like the in-game representation of my psyche, or the corpses that randomly appeared in the video store. Instead, it’s that frequently moment right as the last man falls lifeless to the floor in a level, and the music fades into a cycling low hum and static. The adrenaline running through you and the accomplishment you feel for finally toppling the levels fades to emptiness. You step back through the level, revisiting everything you’ve done – all the blood spilled on the floor and the walls – and you are left to consider it all. And as your world and sanity fall apart in the game, it doesn’t always feel good.

That’s why I fear the day that Hotline Miami finally triggers a media shitstorm. For all of the violence and murder and carnage you’re instructed to commit, it provides a strong (albeit not easily deciphered) message about violence, mental health, and the power of suggestion. In a strange way, it’s reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange – and like the reaction to both Burgess’ book and Kubrick’s movie, I worry that the lessons could be missed entirely.

Hotline Miami is [available for Windows](http://store.steampowered.com/app/219150/). An OS X version is allegedly coming in the future.

Games of 2012: FTL: Faster Than Light

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

FTL: Faster Than Light

It’s hard to think of a bigger source of both hope and anguish for the gaming community this year than Kickstarter. The success of some high-profile crowdsourcing campaigns brought on a massive flood of projects, many of them with lofty aspirations and promises that seemed too good to be true.

I’ve been told by a few friends that I have a “Kickstarter problem”, as I’ve now backed 34 projects. 19 of these have been for video games. FTL: Faster Than Light was the fourth game I backed, and the first one to actually ship. (None of the three I backed before it have shipped yet.) With just one play, the game reenforced my faith in the power of the funding model. If even a handful of games this enjoyable could come out thanks to Kickstarter or IndieGogo, it’s worth the risk.

I have never had a great relationship with space games. I have tried time and time again, but whether it’s a dogfighter ala Wing Commander or 4X games like Masters of Orion, there’s something about them that makes a game clicking with me much more difficult.

FTL avoids falling into that trap because it’s not rooted to the way space games normally flow. The pitch from the developers told me it was going to be different:

FTL is a spaceship simulation roguelike-like. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy (like Firefly/Star Trek/BSG etc.) In any given episode of those classic shows, the captain is always yelling “Reroute power to shields!” or giving commands to the engineer now that their Warp Core is on fire. We wanted that experience, as opposed to the “dog fighting in space” that most videogames focus on. We wanted a game where we had to manage the crew, fix the engines, reroute power to shields, target the enemy life support, and then figure out how to repel the boarders that just transported over!

The roguelike elements are (as is the case with most roguelikes) both fun and frustrating. There’s a variety of randomness in the systems you explore, but there’s nothing worse than wandering into a battle that wipes out a carefully upgraded ship you’ve spent hours with.

The combat is fulfilling in ways that dogfighting is not. It’s tactical rather than reactive, less about looping circles behind ships and more about running your crew around to boost and repair the systems you need to win the fight. A wide array of upgrades and components mean you can customize the tactics to your taste. Maybe you want to use energy weapons to spare yourself having to stock missiles, or load up on drones, or use a teleporter to beam your crew over to the enemy ship and take it down from the inside. The flexibility helps convey that feeling that you’re commanding the ship.

There’s also pressure driving you forward, which is rare in space games. You’re being chased by rebels across the map, which keeps pushing you forward. While you get some time to explore, sticking around for too long will lead to your inevitable death. There’s no market system to pump your resources with buying low and selling high – you have to acquire money and parts largely through combat or interactions with other ships.

It really is a wonderful and unique experience, and one that provides a shining example for what Kickstarter can do for the gaming industry. Of course, out of the remaining 18 projects, 14 still haven’t shipped – so it’s a little discouraging to have so many projects sending me constant text updates but not having games in hand. Hopefully by this time next year, I’ll have more examples than just FTL.

FTL is available for OS X and Windows.