Warning: this review contains spoilers for Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Proceed at your own risk.
Also not recommended for people easily offended by blood, gore, swearing, or mentions of butts.
“Man this is great, I really hope it doesn’t disappear up its own butthole”, I said out loud about halfway through Hotline Miami, the pulsating techno music pounding in my ears as I rhythmically mutilated my way through hordes of faceless mobsters, often getting mutilated right back. The exciting moral greyness of the premise with its endless possibilities, the high as a kite 80s neon kitsch, the gameplay hitting all the same buttons as Super Meat Boy did all those years ago. The combination was almost perfect, if veering a smidgen too close to butthole territory. All was going well.
Suddenly the music stops. You’ve beaten your foes. There is nobody left. All around you are corpses, rarely in one piece. The high fades as you begin to come down, both figuratively and literally. You descend the stairs back to the entrance way, stepping over your dirty, messy past. The distance to the butthole lessens.
A loud noise escapes your mouth and you manage to somehow physically injure yourself while playing a videogame, you daft twat, as a giant black van smashes through the silence and straight into your characters face. Gizzards splatter across the tiles like badly made spaghetti. You start again. You get hit by the jump scare truck again. You start again. You get set on fire. The butthole looks at you menacingly. You start again.
Hotline Miami is, at its core, very very good. Broken, dreamlike, 80s neon aesthetics are right up my alley, so to speak, despite me having never existed anywhere near close to the time period they’re supposed to ape. The gameplay is frantic and bloody, never giving you a moments peace in the best possible way. It has some of the most brutal and disturbing violence ever depicted in a game despite only being top down pixel art, but uses it in such a fashion that it never turned me off from the game. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m such a sucker for dark, twisted mystery plots, especially ones with cryptic murder messages left on your answering machine. It should be exactly my cup of tea. Unfortunately, there is a butthole looming. Hotline Miami has plans for the butthole. This game has its fat, and when Hotline Miami starts indulging its chubby side it manages to charge straight up its rear at a pace most rocket engineers would call quite alarming.
It first began to smell suspiciously of anus when Richard the chicken man (heh, Richard is Dick and chicken is cock and penis is funny) asked me a simple question; “do you like hurting people?”, he quizzed, with a look of fiery disapproval that only an expertly crafted rubber chicken mask can convey. “Well”, I thought, “given that this main character I’ve been playing has been specifically written so as to have literally no character other than a yellowish Varsity jacket, and that what I’m playing right now might be a dream but it also might not be, and that every other part of this game might also be a dream but also might not be, I don’t think I’m able to answer that question”. I paused. “Oh wait, you’re talking to me, the player, aren’t you. Aha, very clever. Yes, I see now why you wanted to venture up your own butthole, it’s because it’s a lot easier to gloat from inside your own rectum”.
It stayed roughly on the level for a while after that, nose barely touching the sphincter, until I suddenly discovered that the entire game up to this point had been a warped reliving of events from the mind of a man deep inside a coma, Life on Mars style. Huh.
“Alright”, I thought, “bit of a tonal shift, but this is excellent. It was hinted at that this was a dream the whole time and I’m perfectly fine with it. It also explains why there was random VHS static every so often, and why that one bearded hipster bloke had four different but strangely identical jobs and then got killed in four different but strangely identical ways by that same angry bald guy. Good. I’m on board. Let’s be having you, rest of the game.” I press on.
So I escape the coma ward, somehow, discover it was the Russian mob all along, kill the Don’s purple attack panthers and sexy blonde one eyed ninja pirate woman by throwing a bunch of trophies at them in scenes strangely reminiscent of Kill Bill 2: The KillBillening, and beat the game. I am satisfied. The story came to a sensible and non-butthole-related resolution. I even recommended it to some friends, so impressed was I.
Then the epilogue started. I was surprised. The butthole was now held firmly, precariously open. It’s ready for entry, captain.
The first thing you see in the epilogue is the word ANSWERS in massive capital letters. You’ve got a hand up your butt. You start the epilogue as a boss character you killed halfway through the game. Elbow deep. The epilogue continues and it’s made clear that this guy is not going insane, or in a coma dream, or taking several hundred buckets of legal highs. This character is trying to find out ‘the truth’ behind the phone calls, implying that the mafia wasn’t the real source. Up to the shoulder blade, you’re getting dangerously close now. A chapter involves you going to the same room as the earlier boss fight and killing the original main character with such force that his head violently explodes across the floor, then leaving the building. There we go, boom, zip, blown straight up there, you’ve disappeared into your large intestine never to be seen again. It was fun having you, Hotline Miami. Hope the weather’s nice in there.
When you’ve already got your main character outed as an unreliable narrator in your main plot and when he’s most definitely not killed in this confrontation in the real canonical events, and then you go and add your second character, the one supposedly to ‘get some answers’, and you make him an unreliable narrator as well? It’s shooting yourself in the foot then sucking on your toes until all your blood is in your digestive system. The level of arse dwelling is maddening, to the point where you’ve been there long enough to have started selling real estate in your gastric pits.
I kept playing anyway, to see where this dickwittery was going. After a while, I found myself stood in an empty basement talking to two ratty looking janitors, where it turned out it was them all along. They told me it was for laughs. I then left. Credits. Fuck off Hotline Miami.
I went to the Wiki for answers.
It turns out that the actual plot is locked behind secret collectible things I had literally no idea were even there other than a cryptic message on an owl mask. This is on top of it being hidden in the epilogue after the credits had already rolled while you’re playing a completely different character, one who interacted with the main fella a total of one time and maybe one of them may have killed the other but maybe it was the other way round and really who’s to say at this point. On top of this, the two actual villains are plebby nobodies operating under the guise of a cult that’s never mentioned and who are modelled after the two creators of the game, in a decision I imagine came about after a particularly smug mutual masturbation session.
Hotline Miami ends up being another graduate from the University of Self Satisfaction, with other notable alumni consisting of Spec Ops: The Line, a game that attempts to tell you fourteen different variations of the same story at the same time and the most rational one ends up being that the grumpy sandy man in Dubai is literally walking into literal hell for realsies, and Bioshock Infinite, which I’m surprised didn’t go cross eyed and implode from a combination of misplaced moral pride and casual dismemberment.
All of these games end up trying to tell you off for playing them, a move that I’ve come to particularly hate since if you do that you’re now looking down on me for buying your bloody game. Alright, I won’t next time. Mission accomplished?
Every line of dialogue can be seen to be directed at the player, which means the plot ends up being completely pointless and only serves to make the developers look like absolute thundering cockholes who make out with their own bathroom mirrors in the morning because it’s got a picture of their face on it.
Amazingly, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is apparently even more up its own arse than Hotline Miami 1: Turns Out It Was The Right Number All Along. Now I haven’t played the sequel, but given that the original was crawling up there so hard it was basically vomiting its own eyebrows out by the end I could scarcely believe this news, unless little brother wanted to strain just that little bit harder and pretzel itself around for round two. To find out how correct an assessment this was, I went back on the Wiki and scrolled down through the main characters page to find a random line from near the end of the second game.
This sentence is incredible. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of digestive spelunking, and I can’t believe it actually exists. Knowing this series it could just all be a fever dream and not matter at all, but with that rationale out of the way I shall provide to you the very first thing I read about Hotline Miami 2 in full. Ahem.
‘As Miami is nuked, the final shot of the game is Jacket in his sparse jail cell, playing with his ball as he’s obliterated.’
This event apparently takes place three years before the events of the original game. Yes, this is the main character of said original game. No, I don’t understand.
The Wiki then goes on to fellate this nonsense with praise for how thematic it is, how it parallels the movie Drive (which is also a bunch of violence trying to be smart but not actually doing anything with it and ending up as a very pretty pile of pretentious piffle), and that it’s somehow meta, where because he was trying to entertain himself that’s like the player playing the game or something. This Wiki was written by twats.
It doesn’t matter if that scene’s just a bunch of typos accidentally strung together to mean something it shouldn’t, if it’s another weird coma dream, or it’s actually what actually happens. I have no interest. It sounds like a bunch of complete cocking bollocks from a set of writers drunk on the success of their original vaguey waguey spooky mystery VHS synthwave drug ‘n’ violence game that was super awesome because nobody could understand it, and not for the actual reason which was because it played like a buttered blowjob. No, it was because of the story. Great.
A-pretzlin’ we go, lads.