Hotline Miami: Your Finger, Your Smiling Mouth

Please don't read these alt-texts until you're done with the article. I'm trying to do something here!

Be warned, this will get sticky. Violence generally does. You might be thinking you have some experience with this sort of thing, but I can assure you that no, you do not. And if we’re going to do this, you need to do exactly what I tell you, exactly when I tell you. No excuses or deviation. Just try not to think too much.

You’ve been warned. You may click “Read More” at this time, but remember, it’s your choice, your finger. Don’t blame me.

Stop. Directly below you will find a media player. Set it to play “Deep Cover” by Sun Araw — the sixth track. Once you’ve gotten a feel for it, you may continue reading.

I don't know what the last game to so profoundly disturb me was. Probably Atom Zombie Smasher.

It’s April 25th, 1989, in Miami, Florida. Your name is — well, that doesn’t matter yet, does it? You’ve been awakened by the beep of  the answering machine in the other room, so you groan out from under the sheets, stained with pizza cheese, and get dressed while staring at the TV. It must have been on all night, the quiet hiss of static as soothing as the crash of surf.

The place is a mess. Pizza boxes litter the kitchen table, on the carpet by the door. Out in the hall, flies buzz around a sack of trash you haven’t managed to carry down the stairs in over a week, and ever since you ripped it out, thinking you would get to it soon, you haven’t had a toilet, so you’ve been using the public one in the lobby. You don’t mind. Well, you know you ought to mind, it bugs you that you don’t mind, but still there isn’t anything you’re willing to do about it.

“Hi, it’s ‘Kate’ from Hotline Miami’s dating service,” the message tells you. “We have set up a date for you this evening. She’ll be waiting for you at Southwest 53rd Place. As usual, make sure you wear something fancy.”

There’s something fluttering in your guts, pressing at your chest. So it’ll be a date. Ever since signing up with Hotline Miami, everything else has seemed bleached, distant. So you walk straight out of your apartment, not even closing the door behind you, and down the stairs and out to the street where your car awaits.

Stop. Pause the track on the media player, and set it to play “Hydrogen” by M.O.O.N. It’s the second track. Then you may continue reading.

"Tony" is the name of the tiger mask.

It’s April 25th, 1989, in Miami, Florida. You’re at Southwest 53rd Place, the address arranged for you by the Hotline. Your name is Richard, for today at least. It could have been another — Don Juan or Tony or Rufus, or any of a dozen others — but today you are Richard, and you’re wearing his face. It’s a chicken’s face, incidentally.

Your heart and stomach and guts are all up in your throat, choking you.

Not as much as you’re choking the life out of a white-suited Russian, of course, but still.

The violence manages to be disturbing, but it's abruptly honest. Why is it that 2D sprite images are more disturbing than the lovingly-rendered violence of games like Max Payne 3?

And you’re off. The world wobbles, spins, blurs around you, moving to a neon beat. You’re moving faster than any human man has ever moved before, and those that try to stand in your way are put down before they can express surprise. The first, the one guarding the front entrance to this place, this mafia hideout, died when you choked him and took the pipe he was holding, which is now flying down the hall and into the face of another guard. And now you’re slamming that face into the ground, again and again and again until the movement has gone out of him.

One by one you clear the rooms of the ground floor. You catch a room of three thugs by surprise and carve them up with a knife in under a second. You’re a whirlwind, an act of nature. Somewhere you find a double-barreled shotgun, still sticky from its previous owner, and kick in a door, knocking one man on the floor while you kill the other. Someone tries to crawl away and you drop your weapon to finish him off with your bare hands.

Upstairs, you begin again. You take one man’s head clean off with a machete, and when another comes down the hall, wetting his pants with terror and confusion at the dismembered state of his friend, you relieve him of a limb as well. You stab, slash, bludgeon, and shoot, and it’s a complex dance, blazing fast and perfect. Your eyes are fixed, your hands and legs move with precision. You’re in absolute control.

Stop, and stop the music while you’re at it. Listen to the silence for a moment, get it in your head. Then change the track to El Huervo’s “Crush,” the eighteenth track. Then you may continue.

Hotline Miami is more than the sum of its parts. Good action, good thinking, good music. Terrifying results.

You’re standing in a room, tacky with sofas and green checkered carpet. The green is spattered with red, blood from the men you just killed. One of them was thrown partially beneath one of the couches when you shot him in the chest, his wound thankfully hidden, and the other’s leg is missing and you can’t see it anywhere. You know that in the conference room behind you there are three similarly-mangled bodies, and two more in the room before that, and more besides, mouths opened for screams that never came, hands clutched at throats that couldn’t keep the life in.

Time to get back to the car. You’re still holding the spent shotgun, so you toss it and pick up a discarded machinegun on your way out, trying to ignore its previous owner’s ruined head.

To the stairs, and down. Your head is killing you, the world is too still, and your hands tremble slightly under the weight of the metal in your hands. At that moment, you realize you smell of gunpowder. Gunpowder, and something else you don’t want to think too much about. You want to retch, you’re so out of control.

Stop. Change the track to “Release” by M.O.O.N. It’s the twelfth track. Then you may continue reading.

One thing I like is that you're never killing innocents, but the violence still manages to feel painfully incriminating. You are not doing good things.

The mafia boss, angry that you’ve broken into his place and interrupted whatever it was he was working at, finally decides to show himself. He’s fast, and he comes charging at you with a roar. But he isn’t faster than you, and he sure isn’t faster than bullets. For that split-second, you’re in control, the silence is dispelled, and your immense opponent is laid low, just like anyone else that stands in your way.

Him dead and you victorious, you’re turning to leave when you hear a moan from the back room. Another mobster, begging to die? The corners of your mouth twitch upwards, the gun like a feather in your hands.

Instead of a mobster, it’s a woman. She’s nearly naked, eyes red and swollen from a thousand years under the needle, arm still banded. “Just get it over with…” she murmurs. “I knew it would end like this.”

This is why you’re here, you realize. You’re not here to kill these men in cold blood, to tear them limb from limb, to shatter their skulls and the dreams within, but to save this innocent. Hotline Miami was right — this was a date.

As with here, the missions never end until you've walked back through the carnage. It's sobering, to say the least.

So you pick her up — she weighs nothing at all — and you carry her down the hall. Her head, hanging back like a baby’s, or a dead person’s, might catch glimpses of broken men, heads at strange angles, blood from their eyes, fingers frozen into claws. If she does, all she sees is justice, venomous insects crushed under the hero’s boot. She is the captured princess and you are her gilded knight, and you are calm, strong, in control. You lay her in the car and speed off into the night.

Stop. This is the final track change. “Daisuke,” by El Huervo, featuring Shelby Cinca. It’s the sixteenth track. Then continue.

I wish I could tell you that I understand HLM, but I can't. And I think that might be the point. Which is an easy way for me to side-step actually figuring it out.

It’s April 25th, 1989, in Miami, Florida. Your name is — well, that doesn’t matter anymore, does it? The girl is safe and sleeping, so you’ve come to this place, this bar. You know the owner, sort of. Not that he knows your name, or what you do, but he knows how you take it, so you come back from time to time. He can see something is on your mind, so he asks you if you’re alright, if it’s safe for you to be drinking, and then, once he’s worn out on protesting, he makes you something bitter. You don’t stay long after that.

You tell yourself you’re the hero, but your damn hands won’t stop shaking. You tell yourself you’re done, at least for a while, but you know another call won’t be long in coming, and when it does you’ll be out in the night again, doing what you do.

And you love it. God help you, you love it. It’s you, your fingers, your hands, your eyes and ears and smiling mouth. After all, you’re the type who’s only in control when you’re out of it.

Posted on October 25, 2012, in Indie, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I cannot like this write-up enough. Marvellous work, Dan.

  2. Wow, just found your blog by chance, I like you style and the games you’ve been reviewing (Mage Knight, Conquest of Elysium 3, Hotline Miami, ….).

    I guess you just got one more reader !

  3. That was brilliant.

    I expect music in every Space-Biff post from now on.

  4. I don’t feel so good…

    That was a masterful creation.

  5. That blew me away. I have never read an article that integrated music in such a way to enhance each piece of writing as your reading it. I could feel the frantic but controlled pace of “Hydrogen” as I read Richard’s frantic, controlled murderous rampage. Then “Crush” in the background, as Richard walks through his carnage with cool reflection. And I absolutely loved “Daisuke” that just made the night I’d just read about feel like another in a long line of bloody nights to come.

    Well done

  6. I liked the concept but the execution was very condescending, plus it would be good to review a game in a manner that does not cover every aspect of one of the missions

    • Spam link.

      • I’m torn. On the one hand, I encourage all opinions and dissent here on Space-Biff! On the other, I suspect you’re right. His email is also very spam-ish.

        So I’ll edit out the link, but leave the comment up. Fair enough?

      • digitalpariah76

        “So I’ll edit out the link, but leave the comment up. Fair enough?”

        That’s exactly what I’d do.

    • I don’t think you know what condescending means. It’s a game about – in part – addiction, the way he wrote it was about “your” (the character’s, not YOUR) need for violence.

      As for using an entire level, it’s like the 3rd of about 20 levels, it’s been heftily spoiled in other reviews, and it captured what the game feels like. There are plenty of traditional reviews out there already.

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