Whilst I spent quite a lot of my childhood playing games like Raptor: Call of the Shadows I never really got into the whole bullet hell/twin stick shooter scene. Indeed my recent experience with bullet hell sections in Nier: Automata reinforced that as I didn’t find much to like in them there. However when scrolling through the popular new releases section on Steam Nex Machina caught my eye, both for it’s outrageously neon visuals and synthwave sound track. Whilst I may have once again affirmed my aversion for the genre it’s hard not to appreciate what Nex Machina brings to the table, especially for the fact that it heavily rewards those with skill.
If there’s a story in Nex Machina I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. As far as I can tell Earth is being invaded by an alien force and it’s up to you to push them back. You’ll do this by slaughtering untold numbers of aliens whilst rescuing what humans you can, progressing through each self contained level until you reach the final boss. The challenge comes from not dying, finding all the secrets and, of course, beating each section in as fast a time as possible. At its heart Nex Machina is a mechanically simple game but it does a great job of ensuring that you’re never left without another challenge, especially if leader boards are a motivator for you.
Initially I thought Nex Machina was just another indie game based on the Unity engine but, as it turns out, it’s from Housemarque, a veteran indie developer of over 20 years. Nex Machina is based on a reworked version of the Resogun engine which itself was based on the Super Stardust Delta engine. The visuals themselves are pretty simplistic with the environments utilising voxels for some interesting destruction physics. Where the game shines is in its lavish use of neon lighting effects often to the point of utter visual domination where it’s hard to figure out just where the hell you are. The aesthetic is well matched with its backing sound track however, giving the whole game this great retro-future vibe.
In terms of actual game play though there’s really not too much to talk about. It’s a twin stick shooter, meaning you’ll be surrounded on all sides by enemies which you’ll have to do your best at avoiding whilst you gun them down. As you kill enemies random power ups will drop, making the game ever so easier. If you die however you’ll drop one power up and if you don’t pick it up before you die or complete a section you’ll lose it forever. In this sense the game rewards those who are able to skillfully complete sections without dying, making it easier to do so in future sections. Indeed your first playthrough is likely to be a frustration ridden affair as you figure out what the environmental hazards are, how the different enemies behave and how you can use certain mechanics to your advantage.
However what Nex Machina is quite lacking in is variety. Whilst each different world has its own theme with accompanying enemies they really aren’t that all different when you sit down and compare them. The environmental mechanics are also pretty much all the same, even if they have slightly different triggers or look visually different. Thus, for someone like me, there’s really not a whole lot of replayability as it all starts to feel very samey quite quickly. If, however, mastering a game’s challenge completely is the kind of thing that appeals to you then I’m sure there’s endless hours of enjoyment in Nex Machina. It’s just not there for me.
Nex Machina is a solid twin stick shooter with an excellent retro-future vibe. Whilst this is a genre I’d typically not even bother foraying into the visuals and driving sound track were enough for me to want to give it a go. It might not have swayed me on the genre, indeed it reaffirmed it more than anything else, but I do feel like Nex Machina is a great example from a veteran developer in the genre. If you lust for the old days of twin stick arcade shooters then Nex Machina is right up your alley.
Nex Machina is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with 1 hour of total play time and 21% of the achievements unlocked.
Ever since we (sort of) won the battle for a R18+ rating for games us adult gamers have been hoping that the games, which are clearly not for children, would make their way to us under that banner. However we’ve quickly run up against the classification definition several times already with many titles receiving the dreaded NC rating, preventing them from being sold within our borders. Whilst there’s healthy debate to be had on a case by case basis any gamer will tell you that they were expecting the NC rating to never be seen again and all titles would be available to us. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the latest victim to get the dreaded NC rating although I was able to snag a copy anyway, even though the developer had told us Australians to just pirate it.
Hotline Miami 2 follows several different story lines, each of which crisscrosses through one another at various points. You start off as a member of the masked vigilante group who spend their nights finding scumbags and other lowlifes to make examples of. Then you’ll be whirled back to Vietnam, thrown in deep behind enemy lines and left to die, unless you can gun your way out of there. You’ll even spend time as the son of a gang lord, looking to re-establish his father’s reputation and drive those filthy Colombians out of your territory. Holding this all together is an unnamed author trying to piece it all together, searching for the single thread that connects all these events. There is only one thing they share however: the brutality of the violence committed.
This much anticipated sequel retains the original’s Grand Theft Auto style although with a lot more fidelity than its predecessors had. Hotline Miami felt like it was made alongside the game it imitated however Hotline Miami 2 feels more like the modern pixelart titles we’ve come to love, embracing the styling but putting a layer of modern polish on it. This can be most readily seen in the intermission sections, where there’s obviously been a lot more care taken to developing the rolling backgrounds and effects that are layered on top. This also comes hand in hand with an amazing soundtrack, which includes many of my favourite synthwave/retro pop bands like Mitch Murder, that goes along perfectly with the bloody action on screen.
In terms of core game play not much has changed in the sequel retaining the top down, beat ’em up style that made the original so intriguing. Gone is the linear progression system where you’d unlock new masks that you can use with any mission, instead now you unlock masks for certain “fans” and weapons for others. The variety now comes from the different characters you’ll be playing which either have a choice of 3 different things or simply have some abilities natively. Whilst I’m sure this was done to encourage players to branch out a little bit (I have to admit to stick to “lethal doors” for pretty much all of the original game) it does feel a whole bunch more restrictive, especially when some of the characters are a lot more fun to play than others.
The combat is a mix of brutal, twitch based game play that requires you to think and act fast and more methodical, pragmatic approaches that require you to sit back and learn the level before charging in head first. The driving music and incredibly satisfying noises you get when hoeing through a whole level of enemies pushes you towards the reckless end of the spectrum constantly which makes the more slow and methodical sections feel a little out of place. Indeed those levels are by far the most difficult as it typically takes several perfectly placed manurers in order to get to the next section. Then, if you weren’t paying attention, you can make that next section incredibly difficult for yourself, as I managed to do several times over.
Still there’s very much a sense of most (I’ll come back to this in a second) of your mistakes being your fault rather than the game punishing you so there’s a certain sense of satisfaction in figuring out how to best approach something. Over the course of the game you’ll start to figure out how long certain enemies wait before shooting, how far away they’ll hear gunshots and why your bullets don’t seem to hit someone when you first open the door (hint: you’re shooting the door). Unfortunately however there are numerous aspects of the game that simply can’t be overcome by skill and this can lead to some rather frustrating experiences.
To start off with most enemies can shoot you before you can see them, even if you’re using the “look” thing. This goes both ways, allowing you to shoot some enemies before you can see them, however it means that sometimes when you’re walking down a hallway you haven’t been to yet you’ll die to stray gunshots you won’t know were coming. There’s also numerous enemies which either don’t react consistently or are essentially coin tosses as to whether you die to them or not which can make an otherwise perfect run fall completely on its face. Indeed whilst I’m happy to admit that a lot of my failures were due to me simply doing retarded things there were more than a handful where I’d get most of the way through a level before getting rail roaded by something I felt I had no control over.
However the biggest flaw in Hotline Miami’s second coming is by far the level lengths which have increased dramatically in most cases. For most games this would be a good thing, allowing you to really immerse yourself in the game world and soak in all the detail. With a game like Hotline Miami 2 however it just becomes exhausting as you have to slog through stage after stage in order to get to the end. Indeed this style of game which seems to hinge on being frantic, by-the-second style action suffers tremendously when its drawn out over a 30+ minute period, something which will routinely happen to anyone who’s not godlike with twitch based games like this.
The story remains one of Hotline Miami’s strong points and, whilst I enjoyed it, it’s hard for me to say whether or not I fully understood it on my single play through. In fact the most easily understood sections, for me at least, were the psychedelic episodes that a few of the characters endured whilst the broader plot points seemed to have eluded me. There’s ties back to the original (or at least I think there are as some of the faces look awfully familiar) which I would say much the same about. I guess where I’m going with this is Hotline Miami 2 has a story that requires multiple sittings to fully understand but is more than passable on a single play through.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number brings back the brutal top down beat ’em up that became an instant classic 2 years ago and does so with renewed vigour. The art and sound has been ramped up significantly with the pixelart looking oh-so-good and the list of artists on the soundtrack swelling significantly. The combat has remained largely the same with a few tweaks here and there to encourage players to branch out of their comfort zones. However it’s marred by some mechanics that feel unduly fair and significantly increased level length that, rather than feel engrossing, just end up being exhausting slogs. Overall Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is still great at what it does and if you were a fan of the original you’ll be right at home with its sequel.
Hotline Miami 2 is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Vita right now for $14.99 on all platforms. Total play time was 7 hours with 31% of the achievements unlocked.
If there’s one type of game that hasn’t seen much of a revival thanks to the indie development explosion of the last couple years its the top down style of games that was made popular by the Grand Theft Auto series. It should be no surprise really as these kinds of games tend to be quite limiting in what they can do thanks to the fixed perspective, often limiting them to puzzle type games like To The Moon or the aforementioned predecessor of one of today’s most successful third person shooters. Hotline Miami then is the first game in this style that I’ve played in quite a long time and it does not fail to disappoint.
Hotline Miami winds back the clock to 1989, dropping you (funnily enough) in the tropical megalopolis that is Miami. You play as an unnamed man who’s a contract killer, receiving all sorts of weird coded messages on your answering machine that are the location of your next target. At every scene the ritual is the same, you go to your car, don a mask to conceal your identity and then proceed to unleash all sorts of hell upon the people contained within that building. However as the game goes on your world begins to slowly unravel and you start to question what’s real and what isn’t.
As I alluded to earlier Hotline Miami does feel a lot like the original Grand Theft Auto did back in the day with the top down perspective and pixelart graphics being the main factors behind this. However unlike Grand Theft Auto you’re not limited to simple up/down/left/right movement and thus the game plays a hell of a lot more smoothly than it or any other top down game I’ve played in recent times. This is also probably due to the fact that it uses the GameMaker engine underneath which supports DirectX which ensures that no matter how much action is on screen you won’t experience an ounce of slow down.
The developers behind Hotline Miami have described it as a “top-down fuck ’em up” and that description could not be more appropriate. The aim of any level is to clear out all the enemies out of a particular section and there are several ways to go about it. You almost always start off with nothing so your first victim will likely be taken down by the liberal use of your fists applied directly to their face. After that you’ve likely got your hands on some form of weapon which you can then use to dispatch enemies at a much faster rate. Of course there’s also a myriad of guns available should you be able to pry them away from their current owners but the use of them has a price.
Hotline Miami also incorporates stealth as a game mechanic which, depending on the level, you will almost certainly have to make use of from time to time. This also means that the use of guns will attract all enemies within a certain radius to you which can be both a good and a bad thing depending on the situation you’re in. It’s actually quite a neat little mechanic as there are many levels that can be easily breezed through with a knife but will be hell if you try to use any kind of gun, something which I found out after repeating a single section dozens of times.
There’s also a rudimentary levelling system in Hotline Miami which is based off of your score given to you at the end of each level. Now I couldn’t quite figure out how the scoring system worked (as the above screenshot shows I always seemed to score above the total points, unless that isn’t it) but it did appear to be directly related to when I’d unlock something. There are 2 kinds of unlockables in Hotline Miami: masks and weapons. Whilst the latter is somewhat out of your control (weapons are all randomly generated) the former can put quite an interesting twist on how levels play out and can be crucial to certain play styles.
The masks will confer some small benefit to you which is loosely based around the animal/thing they’re based off of. Most of them are simple things like extra ammunition or faster executions but others can be nigh on game breaking in terms of the benefits they bestow. My favourite by far was Don Juan as that one turns doors that you open onto enemies lethal which usually allowed me to fire off a single shot, run behind a door and then proceed to eliminate the entire room with several doors to the face. Playing that way might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was pretty damn fun racking up massive combos in that fashion.
What really lets Hotline Miami down though is the bugs and crashes. I noticed at the start that it asked me if I wanted to disable SteamWorks as a few people were having trouble with it and at the time I thought I’d keep it on just to see how it played out. After about an hour or so I got a (handled) exception and the background sprite failed to render which wasn’t game breaking as I had just finished the level at that point. However after that I started getting unhanded exceptions on a particular level (I think it was “Clean Hit”) and they persisted even after multiple restarts and disabling SteamWorks.
The only way I was able to progress was opening up the saves.dat file which was thankfully not binary and had a pretty easy to decipher structure. Essentially I unlocked a couple levels ahead of myself so I could skip over the level that was causing it to crash and whilst this let me play the next two levels the crashing started happening again much to my disappointment. I’m not the only one experiencing this either and thankfully it looks like the developers are onto it. If I’m honest it would probably be worth waiting for the update before playing it again as it can be extremely frustrating losing your progress in a level, even if it might not take that long to get back there.
The story of Hotline Miami is a surreal experience with the initial encounters being relatively normal (save for the talking to the masked men section) but they slowly morph into what seems like a fever dream that your character is experiencing. It’s intriguing mostly because of all the little clues scattered throughout the game that seem to hint that your character is coming unhinged and you start to question what’s real and what’s not. I haven’t had the chance to finish the game fully due to the extensive crashing (I’m up to the last level, however) so I can’t comment on whether it concludes well or not but suffice to say the story is much more than something tacked on at the end to keep you playing.
Hotline Miami is a brutal, psychedelic beat ’em up that excels in making over the top violence extremely fun, to the point of you worrying about what kind of person enjoying this game makes you. Whilst it might be plagued with crashes that will frustrate many Hotline Miami really is good enough to make you want to keep playing, something which surprised me as I’m not usually that tolerant. If you’ve been pining for the days of the original Grand Theft Auto then Hotline Miami is right up your alley and I dare say that you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more.
Hotline Miami is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was approximately 2 hours with 9% of the achievements unlocked (probably more due to the lack of SteamWorks and plethora of crashes).
Ever since the wonderful day I had exploring Miami yesterday I had been dreading this morning, it was time for me to check out of the Viceroy and head back to Orlando. When I first arrived I was a little overwhelmed with the level of service and opulence that was presented before me but after spending just a mere 4 nights there I began to grow accustomed to it, revelling in the luxury. As they say though all good things must come to an end and so it was that I packed up my things and began getting ready to check out. I had the room until 12pm so I thought I’d make the most of it by catching up on the latest news and watching all of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers on Hulu. This had the unfortunate consequence of alerting me to something dire to my whole reason for being here.
The shuttle launch had been delayed, again.
When I first planned the trip to include my jaunt over here to Florida I had initially budgeted a week (so that Rebecca could have time with her best friend in the world, Laura) for me to hop around and have fun in the Corvette with a couple days at the end for the shuttle launch, some slack to make sure I didn’t miss it due to weather events. The first delay was well within this schedule and whilst it was shocking at the time I could handle it by just booking another rental car to cover the trip out there and back to the airport the next day. This next delay however posed a more serious problem as I would be flying out that day at 12pm and the launch wasn’t scheduled until 3 hours later. After an hour of unmitigated panic I decided I wasn’t going to be fucked by a day and shot an email off to my travel agent hoping to get the flight moved without having to pay out the ass for it. A quick check of the flights shows I could book it on my own for about $120 and another night in a hotel wouldn’t break the budget. I should hopefully hear back from her sometime tomorrow, letting me see the shuttle launch and validating my whole reason for being here.
With that all settled I went downstairs to check out and to grab the Corvette so I could get out of there. It was a pretty uneventful drive back, but it was far more enjoyable than the one down. On the way down I was still fighting off the last little bit of my jet lag making the last hour or so of the drive quite tiresome. Today however I was very well rested and I’d finally grown accustomed to the heat and humidity making the drive that much more pleasurable. I even took a little time out to make a 0-60 video of the corvette and put the top down for the first time since I got it. I should’ve done it sooner because damn, it just looks sexy when it’s topless:
It’s a bit too much when you’re doing 75mph though so I had to put it back down after a couple miles of getting my head blown around. I reconciled to spend the last few days with the top down as much as humanly possible though, it really is quite fun (especially putting it up and down, it’s fully motorised).
The hotel I had chosen for my last few days here in Orlando was the Crown Plaza Universal. The name makes it sound a lot better than it actually is but I guess it’s more oriented to families who are staying here to go to Disney World rather than the strapping male technophile like the Viceroy was. Case in point I had to pay for my Internet connection here where every other hotel I’ve stayed in has provided it free of charge. This place is considerably cheaper than the rest of them though and they still have a gym.
After I got settled in and had a quick work out my mind shifted towards finding some dinner. Firing up Yelp brought up quite a few good locations all within a long walk/short drive away with the best of them unfortunately being lunch only places. I finally settled on the Hanamizuki Japanese restaurant which had quite a few good reviews. After driving over there and waiting about 10 minutes to be seated (they weren’t that busy, but seemed to miss me and the 10 customers standing behind me somehow) I was seated down at the sushi bar and given their extremely large menu. The food was pretty good, definitely worth the price and I’d actually rate it above Zuma. Reason being the people here were actual Japanese nationals, not the wasians at Zuma who spoke (admittedly good) rapid fire Japanese at you. I didn’t think twice when the chef offered me some sashimi in Japanese, thanking him with a quick “arigatoo” to which he responded “doo itashimashite”, which means you’re welcome.
Returning to my car I was reminded of the day I had yesterday and how much good had came from just exploring. The tempreature was still quite nice even at this late hour so I decided to jump in, get the top down and go for a cruise. I set off in one random direction and found myself on the main strip of this part of Orlando with lights and all sorts of things lining the street. It was beautiful in its own way, a tribute to the American way of life. The moment was wholly captured by the instant when I pressed the accelerator just that little harder than I had done before and the corvette let out a note of which I had never heard before. It was beautiful, like a caged lion being released from its bonds into the wild. The second I came to from that moment of pure automobile ecstasy I laughed in a way I haven’t done in years. That pure feeling of joy that comes from doing something so utterly ridiculous that bypasses every other part of your brain and just tickles the pleasure centres. The grin wouldn’t leave my face for almost an hour afterwards.
With that came thoughts of what to do tomorrow. I’m thinking a cruise down to the beach with the top down will be perfect, with the corvette getting a good boot on the way there and back. I think I’ve finally hit that part of the trip where I finally drop all those barriers that I put up to protect myself when I’m in an unknown situation and with that I’m ready to just relax and let the trip happen all on its own.
Damn it feels good 😀