Friday, March 8, 2013

Hotline Miami or Splatter Blam Snap!

(This is yet another installment in the Damn good...series. In which I, your humble author talks about something else he found to be exceptionally awesome, and explains just why he liked it. I was in hibernation for nearly the whole month of February, but now that I've risen once more I'll be posting again more frequently. Muahahahahaha!!!!)

Confused? Good, it means that you are still Sane.

Once in a great long, l-o-n-g while comes a video game. No, I'm not talking about Sonic helps Mario do his taxes or reset the VCR, or even the latest Medal of Duty, Call of Honor blasty mcblast-blast game where you run around an arid desert environment as 'merica shooting at ethnic looking people with AK-47s. I'm talking a game that not only challenges those stale, corporate driven norms and standards, and takes it a step further by challenging the player and deconstructing just what it means to be playing a video game. I could describe Hotline Miami as  'a hyper-violent top-down retro game', or 'what would happen if John Woo and Quentin Tarantino got together to make a GTA clone', or even 'A hallucinogenic murder-fest', but all those descriptions would fall short.  


And I'll do them some more, talking horse head!

So at this point you are probably going 'Jesus, fine Evan I get it, so it is hard to describe....what is your point?' Simply that it is the best simulation game I've played. What is this game simulating you ask? Just what it is like to be totally off your tits insane. If you are unfamiliar with the layout of Hotline Miami, you wander about with a top-down view, the whole map swaying around you like a chandelier that someone smacked their head against. As you explore the layout of Jacket's (the name given by fans to our otherwise nameless protagonist) world, you'll find that other than the car parked outside of whatever building you are in, the immediate world of Miami is nothing but a painful haze of acrid neon colors, stretching on to infinity. Coupled with the excellent soundtrack contained in the game itself, there is a real sense of disassociation between what the player experiences as the character in the Hotline Miami, and any semblance of reality.

Just another day at the office...

Where the psychedelic haze wears off however, is where the violence begins. You won't have been playing this game for five minutes before you'll knock someone down with your fists and beat their head against the tile floor where it will burst like an over-ripe fruit. A few seconds after that, you'll be caving in a skull with a baseball bat. You have to be fast too. A split-second is all that separates you from getting your spaghetti splattered all over the nearest zebra rug. Not that there are any real consequences for dying, just a quick hit of the 'R' key and you start the map all over again to try once more. With game-play this frenetic and exciting, it's hard to stop and walk away from. 

 I normally think that I have a pretty strong stomach regarding violence, but playing this video game was a real test of my endurance. If you've heard anything about Hotline Miami, you'll know that it is incredibly, incredibly violent. The first time I played this game, it felt like I had gone on a meth bender. I was dizzy, nauseous, my palms were sweaty from the sheer intensity of the action, my brain was boiling with the questions that were presented to me earlier....and I wanted more.   

When was the last time a game accused you of being a shitty person?
After your tutorial fight wherein you get your killing legs out from under you, you are confronted with a cut-scene between three individuals....somewhere. The decay is pretty obvious, roaches and garbage dot the landscape of whatever room you happen to be in, as each of the individuals, wearing a horse mask, a rooster mask, and an owl mask, address you separately. Are they your subconscious made manifest? A drug inducted or crazed hallucination? Are you dreaming? It's never made clear if it is any of these, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. What DOES matter, is they know more than they are willing to let on, whatever they are, and they foreshadow the events that are to come.

Not your ordinary hit-man.

When this is over, you find yourself in Jacket's apartment, with a voice-mail on your answering machine, and a package on your doorstep. Opening the box, you find *surprise surprise* a rooster mask within. With nothing else to do, you take it, walk downstairs, and drive to the location.

As I had mentioned earlier, the game play is pretty simple. When you arrive at a location you get to don an animal mask of your choice (out of the ones that you have unlocked), each one having different names and functions that effect the game. The adrenaline rush of sudden misstep death and psychedelia are enhanced by the thick, pumping electronica soundtrack that amps you up even more. The game in turn, rewards you for risky maneuvers. Shooting someone from the (relative) safety of a corner? That's okay. Toss a knife into someone's forehead? Better. But rushing down guys with guns with reckless abandon, splattering their brains and guts across the map with weapons you just happen to pick up along the way as you do lengthy and punishing execution moves and drawing attention to yourself? Oh you rascal you!

The longer the combination, the faster you are, the more varied the weapons use, and the more brutal it is, the more points you get. The frustration of constant one-hit deaths, the pumping soundtrack, the psychedelic colours, the bonuses and points that flash and reward you urge me to continue to kill faster, more flawlessly, and in more brutal ways. And the game rewards you for it, the better the rating at the end of your mission (which is received for things that are never defined during the game, like 'flexibility' or exposure) then you'll receive a brand new weapon upon playing the game again, and in some cases another mask. Beyond this however, the score is extremely absurd. The number you get is always greater than the maximum you can earn per level, and the things that push your ratings up or down are never defined during play, and in some cases are simply nonsensical. But you don't have time to think about that during play.

The last guy (who are these people supposed to be anyway? They all dress the same), is in his death-throes. I've knocked him flat on his ass, picked up a conveniently placed pot of boiling water, and thrown it all over his face. The boiling liquid melts into his face like a slab of butter on a baked potato. He struggles and expires suddenly. Points fly up out of the floor and add themselves to my score. The soundtrack stops, and an eerie silence befalls the room. It's just me, Jacket, and the corpses. 'Holy shit.' I think to myself, walking past people impaled with pool cues, cut open with knives, bisected by shotgun blasts. 'Did I do this?' The question makes me uncomfortable. I backtrack my steps out of the location quickly, and drive away. Before I go home however, I'll stop at a restaurant, get some free pizza, and enjoy some David Lynch inspired dialogue.

Gee, thanks strange man that works at all the places in this game.

I'll go home, sleep it off, wait for the next phone call. Maybe that will bring me the answers I need. Just as the masks provide a degree of separation from Jacket and his actions, the game's pixilated mooks and the rapid play prevent you from thinking of them as people, they are more akin to fruit gushers that explode when you abuse them too much, except when your brain fills the blanks in. And it will. The first time that you don a Locust mask and drill a fellow breathing human's brains out as he struggles and lets out a silent pixiliated scream, you should feel a pang of disgust...breaking through the surreality and the fact that it is a game of all things. After all, Do you like hurting people? And if you don't....then why are you still playing?               


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