Hotline Miami is back with more neon-drenched ultra-violence and mysterious storytelling, but can the sequel match the majesty of the original?
Playing different characters adds variety to the mix, as they all bring respective play-styles and force you out of your comfort zone. No longer can you simply employ one sole tactic: the soldier can uniquely carry both a gun and a melee weapon, encouraging players to mix things up, while other characters can roll to dodge bullets, deal lethal punches and more. My favourite are the only pairing, Alex & Ash – you control both at once, the frontman wielding a chainsaw and the other watching his back with a pistol. Performing a chainsaw execution and simultaneously shooting approaching enemies dead is endlessly satisfying. The series has had its share of controversies, with the level of gore and violence often coming under fire, so the implementation of the writer character is a masterstroke. His motivation isn’t to kill, but gather information for the book he’s writing on the spate of recent murders. As a result his levels are entirely non-lethal – he never kills anybody and dismantles guns, proving that not violence, but mechanics make the game great.
The game also aims to provoke further questions on violence in media:
“You enjoy hurting people don’t you.”
“It’s just a movie.”
“Is that all it is?”
But it can be hard to take the message seriously when the game rewards you for beating people's heads in with pipes and slitting throats with broken glass – a game that also needlessly features a rape scene, although this can be opted out of. One quote did spring to mind, however, as I played with the volume higher than usual, nodding to the rhythm of the OST and gleefully committing mass murder – “We’re all animals, we enjoy the destruction”.
Gameplay is fast and precise, with death serving as a learning experience.
Developer Dennaton Games were perhaps a little too ambitious with the scale of Hotline Miami 2. As in the original, levels consist of floors on which you must eliminate all enemies to move to the next. Floors are often so challenging and numerous, however, that playing in short bursts – something the original was perfect for – becomes less viable. You lose all floor progress if you don’t complete the level in one sitting, and some levels take around an hour to clear first time through. The size of many floors is also an issue – they’re so big now that you’ll often find yourself getting shot by off-screen enemies, making for cheap, infuriating deaths. In this instance, less would have been more.
It’s unfortunate, as the vast majority of deaths are well deserved and accepted with open arms. Gameplay is fast and precise, with death serving as a learning experience: you learn enemy placement, how they’re armed, and the best course of action through death. It’s a rare game where you gain rather than lose progress with each death, and respawning is so easy and instantaneous that thinking “one more try” doesn’t even enter the equation – you’re already playing again before you get chance. This does mean learning through repetition, so if you’re opposed to that, Hotline Miami 2 isn’t for you. I literally had hand cramps through repetitive strain at times, but the looping music track and feeling of small and frequent progress had me in an addictive rhythm I couldn’t bring myself to break before the job was done.
Despite a few missteps, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is an easy recommendation for fans of the original - it remains an entrancing and addictive experience, best played with the volume cranked up. I would, however, recommend that newcomers pick up the original at a fraction of the price for a slightly more polished experience.