PLATFORM: Windows (Reviewed), Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4, PS Vita
PRICE: $9.99 (Part I) $14.99 (Part II)
DEVELOPER: Dennaton Games
PUBLISHER: Devolver Digital


Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was inarguably one of the most interesting and divisive movies of 2011. A year later, two young Swedes named Jonathan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin released a 2D multi-platform action game called Hotline Miami, which played like an unofficial Drive: The Video Game. Just recently, a sequel named Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number got released. Let’s take a look at how much of Drive is actually in it and whether you should check those games out.

Just to make sure: you have seen Drive, right? If not, buy or rent it (grab it from us!). It’s a must-see and you should be watching it — tonight.

In both games you get to play as one of multiple characters, some of them getting mysterious phone calls from men wearing animal masks. You get sent to several gangster hideouts and your objective is nearly always the same: kill everyone therein. Sounds easy, but this is a really, really difficult game. One hit equals instant death. You basically can’t make any mistakes and have to strike first each and every time. Guns are useful for cleaning rooms, but ammo is sparse and shots attract everyone in the vicinity. Melee weapons are silent, but (of course) useless against charging enemies with guns. Therefore you have to make split-second decisions between when to shoot and when to pick up that broken bottle.


It is indeed a game of strategy. You have to observe all guards and memorize their paths, their weapons, and their lines of sight to plan your attacks. It’s not as hard as PC classic Commandos, but it demands some patience. Not all chapters offer the same experience. Sometimes you just have to pick up new objectives, talk to someone, or escape. Once you’ve been seen or heard though, Hotline Miami becomes an arcade game of reflexes. Your enemies outnumber you, they’re fast, and as every single attack means instadeath, you have to be really quick and precise to fend them off. Yeah, it is as fun and hard as it sounds and you’ll pretty much die as often as Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. Did I mention that each time you die you have to repeat the whole stage? That sounds like a lot of frustration and yes, you’ll probably shut down the game in anger several times. But just like those addicting old school games from the early 90s, you’ll be tempted to return and feel a rewarding joy making it.

As for the presentation: Neither game offers modern high-res graphics, instead going for a pixellated style. Think GTA: Vice City if it had been made like the first two GTAs (Gouranga bonus if you remember those). Buildings and characters are very simplistic, but movement is always smooth. Menus, highscores and such gloom in neon colors and are just beautiful to look at. The developers have selected an amazing bunch of 80s sounding synthesizer tracks that would have fit any Miami Vice episode.

Hotline is inspired by GTA 1+2

Hotline is inspired by GTA 1+2.

The similarities to the movie Drive are inescapable (note: only in the first game). You might not be a gifted stunt car driver or getaway driver, or ever driving yourself, but you too are a silent loner that gets involved in a bloody story. You get to wear masks and a very similar golden jacket. Only this tale has no cute Carey Mulligan and resembles The Punisher: Warzone a lot more, as your main goal is to eradicate countless criminal scumbags. Just don’t expect the deepest of stories. Both games have an ongoing mystery to offer and its development between chapters is an interesting break between all the bloodshed, but overall it’s simple and even a little confusing at times. You do encounter NPCs, even girlfriends, but the interaction with them is kept to a minimum. You can earn different masks with super powers, but they all come with disadvantages. Warning: There’s a tasteless skippable section in the prologue of Wrong Number that seemingly has your character rape a woman, but that is revealed to be a movie production. Dennaton got in conflict when the trailer showed that scene months ago, but unlike the Tomb Raider producers they actually kept their scene in. (They shouldn’t have. Luckily, those rare dark spots don’t make the games.)

The Swedes must have loved the elevator scene of Drive, as the games are ridiculously brutal. Even though everyone is just made of pixels and animations are crude, you spill pixellated blood like it’s going out of style. Everytime you’ve cleared a stage the whole map is plastered with bodies, puddles of blood and body parts. It’s really nasty. But wait — what makes this a different experience from let’s say the banned Manhunt or the controversial upcoming game Hatred? Is it another game describing itself as “satire” while obviously having too much fun with its questionable content?

It IS fun, but in a different tone. First of all, the visuals play a huge part scaling the realism down. Through the pixellated top-down view, everyone looks like a faceless stick figure. Guards don’t talk to each other and just mindlessly walk the same paths over and over again. Okay, no one killed your dog and you are in fact an armed intruder out to kill them in their homes, but the amount of aggression you encounter on each meeting quickly lowers your bad conscience. Annoying pixel men! You’ll also probably get a whole new perspective on killing as your own character will probably die far more often than your enemies. Just like in Edge of Tomorrow, you’ll just roll your eyes and try again. And again. And again, laughing your ass off and passing the gamepad to a friend, only to see him fail gloriously. And there’s really no chance anyone could ever get inspiration from this to go out on a killing spree. Both games are really good at teaching you how insanely difficult it is for characters like John Wick to clear whole compounds of enemies without getting killed. It’s just ridiculous.

Too long, didn’t read! Just tell me if it’s a good Drive video game:
Is it a good game in general? I’d say yes, but it really depends on your taste. This is difficult, very bloody and tells a rather simple story with moments that are unquestionably tasteless. There’s no multiplayer and you might miss variety in gameplay. But it’s great casual fun, the soundtrack is fantastic and it’s really addicting to try over and over again. But I wouldn’t say it’s an authentic Drive experience as the movie doesn’t really lend itself to fun gaming anyway. You can’t make mumbling, chewing toothpicks, and dreamy staring fun. This is more like early GTA meets John Wick meets Edge of Tomorrow with some Drive aspects (like its best asset: its score).

Okay. Should I start with Hotline Miami or can I begin with Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number?
You could easily start with Wrong Number, but I’d recommend starting with the first. Not because of the story, but the games do look equally good and they steadily increase in difficulty. Wrong Number has much larger maps (including flashbacks to a war zone) I recommend to buy the original first and see if you like that. Have a break with a completely different game, then come back for Wrong Number.

What’s your opinion of the Hotline Miami games?

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