Hotline Miami Review

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What it is: Hotline Miami is a violent, top-down beat-’em-up style game from Swden’s Dennaton games. Cut from the same cloth as films like Drive, Hotline Miami drips with just as much cool as it does blood.

Why I love it:  Hotline Miami has been touted as a game with a strong message about violence in media, especially in videogames. Nearly every review that hit after the game was released made hints at some sort of deep, introspective nature of the game’s story. I was expecting to be challenged, and perhaps in even swayed, into changing my thoughts on the non-issue of violence in videogames and its “impact” on people. I thought I’d realize some horrible inner truth and change my ways. But I didn’t. Instead, I found myself pointing my mouse over unsuspecting mobsters, frantically swinging, stabbing, shooting, cutting, crushing, disemboweling, decapitating, lacerating, and brutalizing them without question.

Each level in Hotline Miami begins circa 1980’s in your quiet apartment. Pixelated pizza boxes give evidence of a rather unremarkable lifestyle, and a flashing little arrow above your answering machine beacons to you. The message is brief, cryptic — something about a job or simple errand. You hop in your Delorian, then bam: you’re killing and maiming at high speeds though intricate, puzzle-like maps. The top-down perspective gives you a clear view of your obstacles and objectives — and the gore.

Making your way through each level is a matter of timing and location. Every enemy can go down in one hit, or at the very least be knocked over and stunned, allowing you to finish him off in brutally disgusting ways. However, this single-hit fragility extends to your survivability as well, and you’re at a disadvantage. Enemies move quickly and have neigh-perfect aim; while you move about just as fast, if you’re not careful, you can miss a crucial bat swing or Uzi spray by mere pixels, almost always resulting in instant death. Luckily, once you’ve been downed, you can immediately start the section over again, and the check points are pretty liberal. As you take down your targets, you’ll rack up points, with particularly stealthy or complex take downs being awarded with higher scores. The higher your score, the more likely you are to unlock new weapons or special masks that alter the gameplay.

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These scenes of 8-bot violence are scored by strange, trippy music that ranges from coked-out rave beats to fuzz-caked stoner metal jams. There is a distinct 80’s feel to it all, and not just the music. The color palette is vibrant, replete with neon colors and gaudy design, with enemy outfits reminiscent of Al Pacino circa Scarface. There are also heavy psychedelic elements to Hotline Miami. Durring your massacres, the screen subtly sways, the borders flushing with bright colors, and the music thumps. It gives a strange sort of excuse to your actions, framing them as drug-induced hallucinations, as if you have little control over what you’re doing. that is, until you take down the final enemy of a level, the music abruptly ends, the swaying halts, the colors dissipate. You’re left to walk back through each room and face the horrors you’ve committed, your only accompaniment a gnawing ambient track and the blood-spattered remains of your victims.

It was after one of these especially sobering moments that the whole message behind Hotline Miami sudden welled up inside of me. I had just spent the better part of ten minutes causing mayhem in the penthouse suit of a hotel, and for absolutely no reason. I felt like a badass, I was quick, I was precise, I was rutheless. But why? Through my entire first playthrough, even once the game provides a narrative excuse for you actions, I had no real reason to do all this. It was a subtle and effective. Hotline Miami points out that, in games and movies, there often is little context for the atrocities being committed. More often than not, we’re simply doing these things because we’ve been asked to by a character or because the game instructed us to. But that’s as far as it goes; Miami never tries to sway you away from violence or give you some sort of answer. If anything, it’s forcing you to cause violence. Instead, what Hotline Miami does — or, at least what it did for me — was ask a simple question, “why are you doing this?” But instead of recoiling at the thought of mindless violence, I delved in deeper into the game’s addictive and frenetic action.

Despite these poignant moments, Hotline Miami’s narrative ultimately fails. While the game begins to poke and prod the the player’s intentions and motivations, and ask some serious questions that don’t necessarily have an answer, when Hotline Miami tries to offer a more “grounded,” structured narrative, the result becomes ham-fisted, and the subtlety and open-ended nature of the questions being poised early on become trapped in a rather flimsy and nonsensical story that doesn’t do anything to help its overall message.

Still, the message is there. Hotline Miami is a challenging game — in terms of not just skill and patience, but psychologically as well. I believe it’s a game everyone should play; it’s fun, brutal, and ultimately will open up interesting questions you’ll find yourself pondering well after you’ve put the game down.

Pros: Fast, addictively fun gameplay; cool art and graphical design; amazing soundtrack; asks some very interesting questions that go beyond just the narrative.

Cons: Some levels can be very difficult; controls aren’t always on your side; gets repititious at times; the story takes a rather strange and unsatisfying twist towards the end.

Score: 4/5

You can check out more on Hotline Miami here.

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The LOW-DOWN 8/13

Marshal and Brendan are here to let you know about some new pictures, new directors and some flat out bad news. Also some good news. Also Joss Whedon is a big deal.

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The LOW-DOWN is back

So the Low-Down has returned after missing last week but in lieu of our missed episode and the large abundance of exciting news from the San Diego Comic Con we have gone ahead and made a longer than normal episode to make it up everything. So check it out below and be sure to like and subscribe if you dig what you see!

The Legend of Grimrock Review

Down, down, down you go, where you’ll stop—no one knows. In the game Legend of Grimrock you play the role of anywhere from one to four prisoners that are trying their damndest to escape this mountain prison. You start out on level One of the prison and as you progress through the game you go deeper and deeper on to level Two and Three and so on. However you’re not the only people in this dungeon, along the way you’ll find markings on walls and letters on floors as well as creatures that are there to stop you at whatever cost.

When you start the game you’re given the choice to create your own characters or let the game create a party for you to play. You can—but don’t necessarily have to — have four members in your party. However the more the merrier (unless you find a hidden Easter Egg they’ve put in there for some One on Dungeon action.) There are three classes; Fighter, Mage, and the Rogue. And there are four races for you to choose from; Human, Minotaur, Lizardman, and Insectoid. Each Race and class has their own advantages and disadvantages. Some combinations are better than others for instance a Minotaur Mage makes less sense than an Insectoid Mage; however you’d probably love to have a Minotaur Fighter. Granted you can do whatever combinations you’d like. During character creation you can add up to four Prisoners’s and give each multiple Traits, for instance the trait Daemon Ancestor says “Your Great Grandfather had fiery eyes – Resist Fire +25”. And once you’ve chosen your class and race you get to assign skill points to that class’s skill set.

As you go farther and farther down into the mountain prison, you come across more and more dangerous traps, monsters, and more difficult puzzles. If you look hard enough you’ll come across a few secrets on each level as well which can yield wonderful magic items that will be of tremendous help down the road. As you kill monsters like Giant Mushrooms, Frost Raptors, Skeletons, and Troll’s you gain experience and level up. Leveling up allows you to increase your skills to use different abilities and increase your effectiveness in combat. There are thrown weapons and melee weapons; some can reach further than others and each weapon type has specific abilities that coincide with the respective skill. For instance, Maces can ignore armor later and Swords can attack faster.  The way the characters are set up is in a two-by-two square; two members in the front and two in the back. You can change the order around by dragging each of the prisoner’s to a different spot. This allows you to place your “tanks” in the front and let your ranged characters sit in the back and take no damage. However, when a hallway has more than one runoff the side characters are vulnerable as well. A skilled player can adapt to the situation and overcome the adversity! Moving is a matter of turning, strafing, walking backward and forward with the Q, W, E, A, S, D buttons.  If a member of your prison break team dies, there are life crystals throughout the game that will allow you to bring them back to life, so if you lose one or two in a tough fight—have no fear—they’re not gone for good.

One of my favorite aspects of this game is the magic casting. So much so I decided to give it its own paragraph entirely! In most games, magic is something that’s just an innate thing that you’re able to do and you learn spells as you level up. That is not at all how it is in LoG. When you have a mage in your party they start with anywhere from 0-3 spells depending on how many points you put into the different magic schools. As you go along throughout the game however, you’ll find scrolls that show you the runes setup to cast specific spells, and in order to successfully cast the spell you have to have a certain skill level in that school of magic. When I say rune setup I mean, in order to cast spells you have to open the magic menu — whether that’s from your mages hand, staff or orb — and then a set of nine runes shows up and you have to click on the specific runes shown in the scrolls that will allow the spell to be cast. There are no preset spells that you can just click cast, you’ve got to click on the runes each time. This mechanic is wonderful, it gives some sort of old school realism where you’ve got to prepare the spell before casting it, and you’ve got to either read the scroll or have it memorized. All in all, the combat system strikes me as perfect—at least for this game style anyway.

The Legend of Grimrock is the best current dungeon crawl/puzzle game I’ve played. When Almost Human sat down to put this game together they did an outstanding job. The combat system is functional and makes complete sense for the setting and style of the game. And the story is pretty compelling, I mean if you were stuck in prison with some experienced adventurers, wouldn’t you want to escape? If you get the chance to snag this game I say go for it. Great price on Steam, for many hours of gameplay.