Hotline Miami is one of the great video(game) nasties. From the nearly palpable stink of its crust punk aesthetic to the pulsing, bloody-nosed soundtrack that propels its outlandishly vicious, no-nonsense combat, it’s a game that sticks in the mind.

A video essay from Screen Smart’s Ryan Hollinger returns to Miami five years on from its release to delve into the message it carries just beneath a distractedly slick surface of neon-drenched, coke-dusted club beats and tidal waves of raw carnage. Hollinger suggests that Miami’s commentary on player choice is distinct from the smug cleverness of many other fourth-wall stretching games (like, say, Spec Ops: The Line, Undertale, BioShock, or Superhot) for its focus on, and embrace of, nihilism.


It’s a well-supported argument that manages to unify a tangled story line, though Hollinger’s enthusiasm for Miami’s narrative (which is sure to strike different players in different ways) still feels slightly generous. Regardless of its many other merits, Hotline Miami’s plot has always come across as just ambiguous enough that it can easily dismiss being taken seriously while also providing the bare minimum of clarity necessary to suggest that its gore-splattered levels have a greater, noteworthy purpose.

Whether or not players agree, the video’s a solid reading that offers another lens through which to interpret the game on future returns to its skull-crushing, knife-throwing, vaguely nauseating delights. Try to remember it while dodging bullets and ducking swings from bald mobsters.