Does Hotline Miami really need to be that gory and messed up in a graphical and auditive sense? Not really, I'm quite sure it would've worked as any other kind of game with different aesthetics and another theme but the weirdness of it mixed with great gameplay systems, customization and an interesting story that reminds me of the Killer 7 and the No More Heroes of this world; A story weird enough you want to know more, enough to play through any bad gameplay there could be. Luckily for HM, there's not much bad in here.
It's difficult and can feel unfair
The game loop of HM is quite simple. You enter a level, try and get a good idea of your environment, kill some enemies either by doing melee attacks or shooting them, then you die, either because you weren't precise enough with your melee swings, or someone came out of nowhere and killed you, or you were careless. You respawn, try the same thing, make it to the next room, get killed by something or another, restart. You respawn, try yet again the same path, maybe you get further, maybe you die for some reason in a room you've been twelve times so far. It can get frustrating when you clear out some floor flawlessly but get shot by some random person at the end, but that's how Hotline Miami rolls.
After a while you get the hang of things and you can beat any level if you put your heart to it and retry enough times, it's a bit like Super Meat Boy, it's brutal and unforgiving but you snap into the action so fast that it doesn't matter - except when a three second cutscene starts the level, in that case you're going to hate seeing it over and over. Of course, I'm not to say that the feel of the game is perfect because it feels unfair when you attack but still die or when you get killed without warning and then it's time to redo the level. The checkpointing is fairly good between floors but otherwise the puzzle action is there every time.
How I would fix it
Either add manual checkpointing during levels - to balance it out it should have an impact on your score when you use it - that way you can save when you're in a room you've cleared and can continue on with the story. That's the thing with games like that, you play it to see what the hell is going to happen next. Another thing that could be done would be to make this less frustrating is a way to see all the map at the beginning or see when enemies are coming into a certain range. Maybe a mask that does this?
You can mostly play this game how you want
The great thing in Hotline Miami is that there are multiple ways to play most of the game, at the beginning of each stage you get to pick a mask that confers you various passive abilities such as having more guns in the level, not being attacked by guard dogs or surviving bullets. It's interesting because the way you want to play the game can probably be done. All melee? Sure, maybe not easily but it's certainly doable, all guns? That's how I usually rolled, there are drawbacks to everything, having silent gunshots is a godsend for the way I played Hotline Miami but it made "aggroing" enemies harder because they weren't alerted when I shot on purpose.
However, some parts can't be played your way and they aren't the best parts of the game. A sneaking mission where your movement is impaired and everything is out to spot you gets really frustrating when you just get caught over and over. These missions aren't optional either, you do them to progress through the game or you don't. Some people might be turned off by these missions and stop playing what would otherwise be a very fine product. The end-game also features a completely different set of missions where you don't have any guns and can't use the masks you're used to, they didn't feel that great to me, but they were important to the story, I suppose.
How I would fix this
The sneaking mission could be fixed by letting you kill everyone if you get spotted, that's a way games make sneaking tolerable - by giving you an out instead of having you redo the whole level if you get caught. Maybe in Hotline Miami's case, I would also have made the sneaking level start off with something else than a cutscene because it gets frustrating to have to wait 2 or 3 seconds each time.
The segment with the different character would've been fine if you could have used guns, or maybe have different masks with similar abilities than the old ones, anything to make the gameplay feel as similar as it did in the rest of the game. It's not a bad thing to introduce change, but doing so that late in the game isn't the most elegant way to do it.
Some of it can be confusing
Two things confuse me in HM, the boss battles and the scoring system. There are a few number of boss battles (3 maybe) and they aren't simple shootouts, you need to do very specific things in order to beat them. In all of them you are stripped away of your weapons and need to use items in the room and figure out how they're supposed to be used. After five times this gets annoying and after ten you might be tempted to check on the Internet what you were supposed to do.
The scoring system is how you unlock new weapons and some masks in the game, on the surface it's well presented and explained but I can't help but feel like I'm not getting any idea of how to improve my playing style. I get points for killings, boldness probably refers to how much risks you take, combos is easy to understand, time bonus also, flexibility and mobility are two ratings that I don't get and it's not explained in game. On most stages I got B minuses even tho I was sure I did alright, what could I have done to get a better ranking?
How to fix this
This is easy, surface a little more information in-game. After dying ten times in the boss fights, maybe more hints would be a good way to get the player to progress, explaining somewhere what the criteria for good ranks are would be another great addition to an already very interesting game.