Not since the days of NARC have I experienced unnecessarily violent game like Hotline Miami.
I absolutely loved every minute of it.
There's nothing quite like a straight-up, top-down action game to get the blood flowing. Also, you can add an enormously unfair straight-up, top-down action game to that description. Hotline Miami has been plaguing the minds of PC folks much longer than us PlayStaiton 3 folks, and the action is just as sweet, if not a bit better, on the PS3.
If you're not familiar with the game, you play a hit man role where you break into places to brutally dispatch bad guys in multi-tier, top-down levels. The element of uniqueness in the game comes in the form of animal masks that you acquire as you progress through the game. Each mask provides different abilities for our lead character's action. For example, there is a horse mask that allows you to swing doors into enemies, killing them instantly. There is also a tiger mask that turns your fists into instant killing machines. Before you begin each level, you get to choose which mask you want to sport, thus giving you a certain advantage (with some disadvantages) during said level.
Sound fun? Well, it is…sorta.
The game's crowning jewel is how difficult and downright frustrating it can get. The enemy AI is insanely high in this game, as you can break into a room and quickly get killed with a single punch, shot or dog attack. The enemies literally spot you, run towards you and, if you don't react in time, will instantly kill you. This will send you back to the beginning of the level, if you haven't cleared a part of the stage yet (those are checkpoints). You might actually spend 20-30 minutes on some stages, trying to figure out what the best way to kill people is going to be. You may have to spot certain folks in a certain order, killing them in that order to get through stages.
Sound crazy yet? It gets better. What's unique about Hotline Miami's enemies is that they NEVER react the same way when the level restarts. This means that if you die because you were killing one guy and another guy broke into the room to shoot you, there is a possibility that the guy with the gun may not break into the room again. It's completely random, which keeps the game fresh, but still a bit frustrating. What's also random is the weapons you get by killing someone. Sometimes you get a knife, sometimes you acquire a pipe -- it's almost never the same. Again, it keeps everything fresh.
Speaking of weapons, there are a lot of weapons in this game. Knives, katanas, pipes, bats, guns and fists give you different options when it comes to killing enemies. What's neat about these weapons, specifically the guns, is that they have limited amounts of ammo from the get-go. This means that you have to be careful who you shoot (because you don't have much ammo to work with) and you must expect others to rush at you once you fire. Yep, you read that right, once you fire a gun, enemies that are in close proximity of you can hear your gunshots and are alerted by them. Once they hear it, they rush to investigate. Imagine that for a second, five guys sporting shotguns are coming after you in rapid succession. This is a very Resident Evil element to the game, and one that makes you think a bit more before you shoot.
Another element of the game that you have to be aware of is the environment. Some of the levels contain glass windows, which enemies can see through and shoot through. It's brilliant level design and funnily enough, it's a design that most big budget games don't take into account. I've played a few games where glass windows haven't alerted enemies to my presence. For a small indie game like Hotline Miami, that's an impressive element to include. You must be aware of your surroundings to succeed.
Staying with environments, let's discuss visuals. The visuals in the game are corny/awful -- but in a good way. The 1980's style it incorporates harkens back to the days of NARC, where you get colorful, pixilated graphics that scream 'no gorgeous details included!'. Even the cutscenes are straight from the 8-bit era. All of the visuals keep with the dark 'Miami Vice-esque' theme to the game. Even the music, which is addictive to listen to, though simple in nature, is from a more innocent video game time. The look, feel and sound of the game will keep you locked in with it, which ups the ante of the gameplay.
As for the fun factor of the game, it all depends on your patience. I hated this game in the first ten minutes of playing it. I felt like it was cheap and overly difficult. Then I stuck with it for another hour, and I slowly understand why someone would want to play Hotline Miami and, more importantly, the addictive elements that kept you coming back for more. A gamer's need to do better is the reason why this game is fun. The quickness of death/life in the game also helps with the constant push to complete levels. The AI and randomness of the enemies also keeps the gameplay fresh, which defuses some of that frustration it creates.
In short, the game is fun as hell.