I have never been to Miami, Florida. I suspect that like a lot of places I’ve never went, it would be a fun city that’s just a smidge overhyped. It’s just another city to me, albeit one that’s been fetishized by popular culture. (By accident, it will be a part of the impetus of me getting a Blu-Ray player, due to my mother buying me the 1995 romantic comedy Miami Rhapsody. This has nothing to do with the video game I’m talking about.)
I also can’t say that the PC indie game Hotline Miami has given me the experience of the city, either. It’s a lot like how the film Drive is about cars to a point, but really is not about them at all. That’s the genius of artifice and art, we get to fetishize places that are totally backdrops for the story that we’re captivated by. Hotline Miami is violent, despite being entirely in retro-fitted frames. It almost places the pure fast-paced brutality of the video game’s experience as a greater desensitization to violence than ever before.
By the way, I’ll let someone else bring up the violence and video games issue much later. Hotline Miami is a lot of things, namely a lot of things that our parents were warned and thought about video games. I have never killed so many virtual humans in such a quick succession, nor seen myself graphically die just as much. The blood is everywhere, placed in a backdrop of the 1980s. I’m sure that’s another comparison to Drive worth making in that Hotline Miami generally shocks the player with violence immediately. Then it becomes a puzzle to avoid continually dying (by which you have to start the puzzle of murdering many guards at once over again). Not to mention, the plot is sparse. Hotline Miami runs through chapters, all of which are fine excuses to enter into these violent puzzles.
Above is a piece from the game’s soundtrack, a true techno mish-mash that achieves hypnotic wonder in the game form. Gaming has kind of been going through a period of bombast as of late. Major games often throw dramatic film-like scores, and while it certainly works for the atmosphere of the story told, it misses the wonder of a great little moment made by music. I think a lot of gamers played their favorites under a soundtrack of great CDs over the actual in-game noise. And that’s not to slag in-game music, either, but it is to admit that listening to Muse’s Absolution as you hit the final boss in any PS1/PS2 game of the era was just as magical. And yes, this sounds a lot like the song in the opening to Drive.
Hotline Miami is able to achieve a wonderful thing by being crude and violent. I can’t really describe it in words, just in rhythms and beats. Just in a degree of a strange sort of hypnotism to a task. It plays a lot like if Grand Theft Auto I (the top down ones before the franchise got big) was sped up to an absurd degree. It’s almost not violence anymore. And again, I’m not a psychoanalyst, so I don’t know if that’s a bad trigger. Hell, maybe it is.