Saturday, August 3, 2013

Hotline Miami And Story Games

Any cursory exploration of my game analysis/design content should reveal that I am really into artsy story games. I like a game where you have a reason to be doing what you're doing, and I don't have a lot of patience for games with a pretentious storyline or hours of filler gameplay devoid of context. This is an interesting thing about Yahtzee's triangle. It's not just about how games are balanced, but how people's tastes are. I like context above most else in a game, and you've probably heard me ranting about how game X had a dumb story, or game Y had repetitive gameplay, but none of those personal partialities keep me from really digging Hotline Miami.

Hotline Miami is an example of a game that leans so far onto the challenge and gratification legs of the stool that the context leg doesn't need to bear any real weight. This is good, because the story is paper-thin, and the game is unabashedly aware of this fact. Even when I pause to consider the context, the psychedelic style that I have such appreciation for presents me with a self-aware and successful plea to just have a good time and enjoy the poorly justified chaos.... Kind of like real life actually. Not to mention, the game doesn't drag on with a lot of repetitive gameplay. It's short and sweet.

I have to admit, if you said, "Murder people by the building full" that probably would not ring noteworthy to me as a gameplay premise. However, "Get funky on LSD" and then "Murder people by the building full" is much more enticing. I would like to add my cheers to the crowd applauding Hotline Miami for its psychedelic visuals and pulsing electronic soundtrack.

While you're playing through a level, you get into a special mindset. You have to be conservative yet aggressive, and methodical yet adaptive. One bullet will end your fragile little life, everyone is on their toes, and you are vastly outnumbered. If you're not aggressive enough you're never going to close the distance between a shotgun wielding guard's jugular and your knife in time to avoid losing your guts all over the room. The only way to come out on top is to analyse enemy behavior and carefully plan your next moves, but there is a level of unpredictability that means that you're sometimes going to have to make lightning speed changes of plan while fighting for your life, surviving by the hair on your eyelashes if at all.

Combat is gratifying in that intangible way that is symptomatic of good kinaesthetics and levels are challenging without being overly punishing. This game has gameplay in aces and style in spades, and having the music stop and the wavy, grainy, color...y filters fade away at the end of a level before having you walk back through all of the chaos you just unleashed always thunks into your psyche like a voice saying "Yes, you seriously just did all of this."

The point I'm trying to make is that when I say that I want games to be more about story or complain that a game has a poorly justified story (Like Fallout 3), I'm not calling for the abandonment of interesting gameplay in favor of storytelling. I'm just asking that games know where they stand and what they're about, and that we have more story driven options when choosing games. A game about cathartic challenge and gratification can turn me off with a pretentious story, but a game about cathartic challenge and gratification with a self-aware minimal story and awesome style turns me on like showing up at my door with red roses and dark chocolate.


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