This article contains spoilers of gameplay scenarios and plot points in the game, “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number,” by Dennaton Games, published by Devolver Digital. Played on PlayStation 4.
It’s often easy to forget that video games are a relatively new medium of expression. Looking back at our earlier days, we see a plentitude of experiments, some of which stuck and would later become popular franchises, and others which were forgotten to all but a niche few. Having not been around during the 70’s and 80’s, and having never owned a Commodore 64, a Nintendo Entertainment System, a Sega Genesis, etc. makes it hard for me to say, but it’s easy to imagine that for game designers, it had to have been a beautiful time, a vast expanse of possibility, ripe for exploration. Programming was difficult, and access to the tools and knowledge necessary to produce games were subject to only an elite few.
Things are different now. The independent games scene of the last eight or so years has finally been able to find an in with the “big boys”, and their productions became more noticeable. Nearly half of Paste Magazine’s top 30 games of 2012 alone were developed by very small teams. Some, indeed, with the financial and developing assistance of publisher support, but none faltering in their independent creative spirit. Games like Journey, Dyad, Spelunky planted new seeds upon well-worn territories with which to reinvigorate and rebuild outward in new directions.
Hotline Miami stood tall amongst that crowd of releases. Tight and brutally difficult yet satisfying gameplay, a ferociously-pulsating soundtrack which made legends out of unknown beatmakers, primitive yet eerily-effective pixel art, and a simple and relatively unpretentious premise with some faintly thought-provoking philosophical posturings all combined to form an extremely satisfying experience. By the time I had completed it, I felt as if I had arisen from something which at once felt a comforting fever dream yet also a nightmare. Hotline Miami was a self-contained, lean experience; you didn’t need more. Even if you didn’t understand its plot, it didn’t matter much; the game wanted to simply let itself wash over you with its gunshots, cyberpunk tunes, vigorously-vibrating gradient backgrounds, and, uh, masks. And that was that, or so it seemed.