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The problem with Hotline Miami’s dogs


They say there’s no such thing as bad videogame dogs, just bad videogame dog owners. A well-raised and properly cared for videogame dog, no matter the breed, would never act on its most primal subroutines. Instead it’s the videogame baddies who create the bad videogame dogs: those most vicious, toothy and spry enemies who will almost always jump on your chest and bark for half a second while a QTE icon flashes on-screen, right before you knife them in the head or snap their lovely canine necks. Dogs in games are as poorly represented as people in games. They’re more aggressive, more expendable, more dimly two-dimensional. It’s a problem, really. But today I want to talk about Hotline Miami’s dogs.

I love Hotline Miami. But there’s something wrong with Hotline Miami’s dogs.

Hotline Miami has just one kind of dog, a single repeating pooch that first appears around chapter four and becomes a recurring character thereafter: a black and rust Doberman Pinscher guard dog. Alongside the similar looking (if notably stockier) Rottweiler, the Doberman is the classic guard dog breed. In popular culture they are somewhat unfairly portrayed as absolutely bastards: they’re the zombie dogs in Resident Evil, they are evil canine masterminds in Pixar’s Up, they’re always chasing Tom Selleck around in Magnum PI — history and media have dealt the Doberman a bum hand (or ‘paw’, if you want to be absolutely hilarious). Thanks a bunch, television.
In popular culture’s defence, however,the Doberman was specifically bred for aggression. Prepare your trivia-holes: in the 19th century, it was a German tax collector named Dobermann who first invented the breed for the purpose of protecting himself during his collection runs in rougher areas of the city. As the Doberman later became a working dog, trained to protect cattle herds from wild animals, it was further developed as an increasingly ferocious and loyal breed.

As with so many working dogs, the tail and ears would be cut off the Doberman at a young age to prevent wolves and other wild animals biting and gripping them in combat. This removal of the tails and ears is now a cosmetic tradition — though it’s an increasingly illegal practice — giving the Doberman its distinctive, aggressive outline. Incidentally, cattle herding is also the origin of spiked collars, which would protect the necks and throats of working dogs from the gnashing jaws of bears and maybe owls, or something. This had the side-effect of making the dog look “totally bad-ass”.
It’s this ear-cropped, tail-docked (though seemingly collar-less) version of the Doberman that appears in Hotline Miami. You have to squint to make out the detail, but it’s there: the Doberman Pinschers in this game are high-bred, and so are presumably intelligent, fiercely loyal, trained and cared for animals.They’rere not scrappy mongrels, they’re Crufts winners who’ve fallen in with a bad crowd. You, on the other hand, are the mask-wearing stranger who’s kicked in doors to harm their owners and invade their territory. You are the bad guy, and these dogs will run through a hail of gunfire and pumping 80s electro beats to protect the humans they care about.

They do that in an interesting way. Dogs in Hotline Miami have a routine distinct from that of regular guards. Most dogs will patrol the perimeter of a room until they’re interrupted, sticking to a wall until they spot a threat. This means that you can control the route a dog takes by carefully opening doors in rooms that they’re patrolling. I’m not sure whyyou’dwant to do this, but you can. If you step within a dog’s line of sight, they dog will sprint directly towards you at speeds much higher than your own running speed. That is to say, you cannot run from them. Once a dog is within a certain distance of you, it will pounce and kill you in a single hit, similar to a melee attack from a human guard. They have wide turning circles when sprinting like this however, making it possible to sidestep their attacks. Though ifyou’residestepping dogs you are, very generally speaking, playing Hotline Miami wrong.
Oddly enough, dogs cannot be harmed by doors or by punching, they must either be shot or beaten to death with a melee weapon. They will also search for you oncethey’velost line of sight, in the same manner that the human guards will search for you — that is, they will wander to the position they last saw you — but this ‘searching’ speed will match the running speed of a regular guard, meaning it’s more difficult to evade a pooch once you’ve been eyeballed by one. Despite Hotline Miami’s dogs being far more efficient killing machines, you get 600 points for killing a melee-weapon armed human compared to only 400 points for killing a dog.
That’s fine. I’m okay with dogs being bad guys in games. I’m okay with Doberman stereotyping. I’m even okay with them being worth less than humans, score-wise. What I don’t like, and what I find at odds with the tone of the rest of the game, is what happens when you wear the Ted mask. The Ted mask is a dog mask. Its power makes all dogs in a level friendly towards you. Dogs will blithely ignore you as you gut and slash your way through room after room, dutifully following their favourite walls while apparently unfazed by this six-foot, bi-pedal, machete wielding Lassie in their midst. Once you’ve cleared all the humans from one of Hotline Miami’s levels however, the game will not progress until you’ve slaughtered the remaining dogs.

These are peaceful dogs, whose innocence is no longer obscured by a ferocious sense of duty to an unseen master. The level becomes placid, danger-free and serene. Usually this is your cue to relax, the stage at which the extent of your violent rampage laps over you like a narcotic guilt-tide. You unclench your fists and slide your finger from the trigger as the music subsides and silence hits you like a wet mattress. Instead, with the dog mask, it doesn’t. With the dog mask, there is further work to be done. Dark work.
You must beat to death these animals who will steadfastly refuse to attack you. I’m not being silly or sentimental about this, I just believe it’s just a small, incidentaland interesting oversight on the part of the developer, one that unfortunatelyjars and creates perhapsthe only absolutely undeserving victim in the game. I’d really like Dennaton to fix it.
There are various studies into breed aggression, in which the Doberman occupies a curious position. It ranks highly in aggression towards strangers both human and canine. Not especially highly (modern breeds have mellowed out, and a properly trained dog of any breed is not a threat) but above average. Conversely, the Doberman ranks among the verylowest dogs in owner-directed aggression, making it one of the most loyal breeds of dog in existence. A dog that will kill to protect, not out of primal, senseless animal rage but out of a sense of duty and selfless devotion bred into its very genetics.
The one thing Hotline Miami could do to respect such a noble breed, is to respond in kind when it doesn’t attempt to bite your face off.