Trapped in the closet with Hotline Miami

, | Games

I don’t know what stage of what chapter I’m on and I don’t know how many times I’ve tried it. I lost count when it got above twenty. I can’t even remember which mask I have on. Is it the one that makes dogs ignore me, the one that lets me absorb one bullet, or the one that lets me kill instantly with thrown weapons? All I know is that I’m in a closet. More like a vestibule, really. And beyond this door there’s a man with a shotgun. I need him dead and, more importantly, I need his shotgun.

After the jump, see how well that works out.

I don’t play hard games, so I’m not sure if Hotline Miami is a hard game or simply a precise unforgiving game. Sometimes games are hard because your enemies have tons of health and you don’t. This isn’t that kind of game. With the exception of the bosses and the portly heavies, the enemies in this game have the same weakness that you do. All it takes is one bullet or one well placed strike with a blunt object to lay them out.

Their real advantage is numbers. There’s one of you and usually about a dozen of them. Thankfully you can throw weapons to stun your enemies, or kill them outright if you found the right mask. While their movement patterns are predictable, you can be as wily as needed, ducking in and out of rooms to hide. That’s the strategy I’m using here, having danced a bloody tango of leaving my closet, killing someone, and retreating back into my closet. I’m using the swinging door to my advantage. Once the floor is crimson and seven or eight bodies lay at my feet, I head out to take out the men entrenched in their rooms. There’s one, and as I line up my shot — I’m dead. Turns out their patterns weren’t as predictable as I thought. A random Don Johnson lookalike has ended run number goodlordwhattimeisit.

I don’t play games like these. Call them hard, call them unforgiving, call them what you want, but I don’t play them. When I play games, I’m like a shark. I have to keep moving forward. My gaming time is limited, so success is measured mainly in progress. In Hotline Miami, progress is tough to nail down. Obviously, getting through a stage is progress, but so is learning a bit more about the stage’s layout, or figuring out the timing of the samurai sword’s arc. Knowing how quickly you can stab three guys in the same room is progress. Knowing how long someone will stay stunned is also progress. Unfortunately, that knowledge sometimes comes at the expense of your life, so sometimes progress doesn’t look much like progress. Progress looks a lot like dying. Progress looks like failure.

Sure, there are times when I’ve spent all evening on the same stage when I ask myself why I keep playing, and honestly, I have no answer. This is exactly the kind of game I typically avoid but here I am enjoying it. It helps that I want to see what happens in the end, because this is one messed up game. I think the biggest reason why I keep playing is because it’s on the Vita. On the PC or on the PS3, if I didn’t finish a chapter, I’d have to shut it all down and then start back up from the beginning of the chapter. In that scenario, the lack of progress is counted in stages and hours. On the Vita, I can just put it to sleep, plug it in, and know that when I get a spare moment, I can bring the game right back and try again. It kind of feels like cheating. Also, knowing the game is just a button press away makes it easier to try out new strategies once my brain has had an evening of fever dreams to gnaw on the latest stage.

At times I feel kind of bad for not playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, kind of how I feel bad for jamming Wally Pfister’s cinematography onto my iPad when I watch Dark Knight. But the feeling bad only lasts a second and then I’m back out of the closet, hoping I can stun this guy and take his shotgun before that doberman rounds the corner. Let’s hear it for progress.