Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Hotline Miami Is Nuts, FTL Is Gambling

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 22 Jan 2013 12:00
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I think what I like about Hotline Miami is that it rather effectively captures what it's like to be completely fucking nuts. That's something videogames have toyed with a fair bit, and which I find very interesting. It seems a very natural thing for videogame storytelling to explore, since they're all about there being a separation between you, your conscious self, and the character you're controlling, the unconscious. Game storytelling tends to be isolated to the perspective of a single character, so it's not difficult to be selective about what that perspective sees and start giving you cause to distrust it.

The trouble is that when madness is explored in videogames it's almost always delusions. Main characters who are always perfectly lucid and reliable except for the fact that they keep seeing things that aren't there, generally associated with things they feel really guilty about. Or they do that thing games like Amnesia do where mental health is generalized as a single sanity meter and when it's low the screen just goes all wibbly wobbly and stuff.

But I think Hotline Miami is a game where everything goes together to paint the main character as completely psychotic. Firstly there's the obvious fact that they're on a fast-paced rampage of over-the-top violence with absolutely zero regard for self-preservation, but the top-down perspective and retro graphics gives a strong sense of disassociation. You're not really there. You feel like you're looking at the world through eye holes in the far wall of a darkened room. That's how I always feel when I've drunk too much in a crowded bar.

I also like how the area surrounding each level is a strange multicolored void, and the between-mission story bits are a series of disconnected moments where there's very little interaction and where hallucination and reality blurs. It's almost as if the extreme violence on the job is the only time our main character is able to remain focused on his actions and his environment. And the entire rest of his life is just a vaguely-remembered bleary haze of lights and sounds with the occasional moment of lucidity. I just think it's neat.

I can relate, because my life has been a bleary haze lately, of stardust and solar flares and waiting for weapons to recharge, because I've been spending my evenings playing shitloads of FTL. I briefly alluded to it in last week's Zero Punctuation and I was frankly surprised by how many commenters picked up on that and asked if I was going to give it the review treatment. Well, no. I considered doing it alongside Hotline Miami, but I didn't think there was as much discourse to be had in doing two games I really like, rather than one I like and one that fell flat for comparative reasons. But it would be remiss of me not to share any thoughts at all on a game I've wasted so much perfectly good procrastination time on, so here we are.

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