One thing is guaranteed: you will die a lot. Thankfully a single button press gets you back into the action quickly, and a checkpoint system ensures you're not starting from the very beginning of a level once you've killed everyone on a floor and have progressed to the next. This encourages you to trust your instincts and play fast, rather than approach each floor methodically. Hotline Miami feels like Super Meat Boy in this respect. You frequently play one floor 20 or 30 times before you finally reach a checkpoint, but it rarely feels cruel. When you die, it's due to your own poor execution, and the run-and-gun action is so downright entertaining that replaying sections is enjoyable.
The few times Hotline Miami does get it wrong, though, are deeply frustrating. For instance, one floor starts with a few lines of dialogue that you must click through. This means that every time you restart the floor, you're forced to click through the same four lines of dialogue before getting to the action. Issues also arise in boss fights where you can't just shoot the boss dead like other enemies. Instead, you die and then respawn back to the start of the fight with little clue as to how to defeat the boss. And once you figure out some of the convoluted attack patterns through trial and error, you feel relief rather than satisfaction.
However, even the roughest parts of Hotline Miami are softened by its outstanding soundtrack and entrancing visuals. The music is a mixture of down-tempo psychedelic grooves and fast-paced electro that feels right at home with the intense visuals. The levels sway and pulsate as your character moves around the environment. Scan lines sweep across the screen while the background flashes matte colours with every kill. Death animations are absolutely brutal, with your character clubbing skulls and bisecting torsos with ease. By the end of each level, the floor is flooded with the blood and detached limbs of your victims.
The entire experience feels like a psychotic cocaine-fueled rampage, an homage to slasher movies and the drug culture of the '80s. And like most cocaine-fueled rampages, it's short-lived but memorable; you can complete Hotline Miami in two to three hours. Each level gives you a point tally and grade, so aiming for a top score is a great excuse to replay levels. You can also have fun returning to older chapters with your newly unlocked masks and their resulting perks.
It's a shame that Hotline Miami suffers from infrequent crashes, but neither these, nor the vague and unsatisfying ending, should stop you from enjoying this wonderful barrage of the senses. Hotline Miami is a discotheque of death that's very hard to walk away from, and a fantastic twitch shooter with a confident sense of style. Many games attempt to use story to explain away the massacre of outrageous numbers of victims. Hotline Miami bathes in the thrill of murder, and cares little about justifying its actions.