Yes, the ending left me confused and then a bit more. It’s great how the game toys with you and then revels in the fact that it actually toys with you, to the extent that it might become a bit too meta. It’s something I expect from someone like Sudo Goichi, not necessarily an indie darling (they come close).
But that’s besides the point as Hotline Miami is just bloody good. You can even take that statement literally (unless you want to make that a meta-statement as well and expect the game to then actually expel a bloody liquid at some point).
A simple top-down premise that initially seems to be another twin-stick shooter du jour, becomes a rather frightening killing game in which you find yourself pondering how to knife two gun-toting patrols without attracting the attention of a third tooearly. While some games might revel in sneaking and make the actual process of killing a target secondary, it’s the other way around in Hotline Miami. Often you find yourself at odds with the fact that you can’t sneak well enough in this game. Your targets are blessed with what seems to be second sight at times and the mere appearance of your persona in a doorway can cause an entire room to spill its lethal contents all over you.
And then at other times you find yourself cursing at the inability of the game to do so when you need it.
Hotline Miami’s a bit of a mess
Hotline Miami is riddled with randomness and inconsistencies. You can never truly rely on the behavior of targets to be exactly the same from level to level, from room to room, hell even from start to restart. Sometimes they innately sense you, other times they are oblivious to you.
Though that initially frustrates immensely, the near-instant restarts when killed and the ease and speed of play make it fade into the background somewhat. Never quite enough to disappear, though you soon learn to revel in it. The chaotic moments it brings to life and the sheer ferocity you’ll find yourself displaying, in killing 5 impromptu targets within mere seconds, makes up for it. You’ll pause for a moment in a room marveling at how you managed to kill them all. Only for you to get gunned down a split-second later by that shotgun-toting guy you managed to lose track of. Dead, restart and throw yourself into the thick of it once more.
You’re a killer…?
And it keeps on doing that. Often you’ll find yourself presented with scenarios that take you out of your just acquired comfort zone, forcing you to tackle things differently, yet again. You might not like to use guns, preferring the quick, silent approach of a bat. You may not like to throw a knife and remove it from your arsenal permanently. You may not like to exit a level without holding at least some form of weaponry. But it never matters. Hotline Miami will force you to do so anyway.
The most disturbing thing about it, is that with each challenge you gain the mastery commonly associated with games. It is disturbing in this instance because of the subject matter: you are a killer. You search the story for reasons and it slowly gives you one, but it ever takes away the unease. Even at the very end, you are still left remembering the thrill of completing a level at high speed with a sense of mastery while listening to the intoxicating soundtrack. You don’t care really. You just want to have another stab at it.
So yes, the game left me confused as it was toying with me. The problem was the meta-confusion that arose from that: I kind of liked it doing that.