Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number - Review
The original Hotline Miami was a surreal acid trip. A blink-and-you’ll-miss experience that worked thanks to a mix of smart level design, simple yet effective mechanics, and a weird story that managed to convey practically nothing to the player, but at the same time achieve much more than other games have done that are twice the length and double the budget.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a very different beast to the original game. Whereas before the player was rooted in the shoes of one major character, committing bouts of awful ultra-violence at the behest of a telephone and a bunch of talking animal masks, here the scope is much broader.
Players hop between multiple characters this time around, sometimes at completely different points in time. As you’d expect, this gives the story much more prominence that it had in the original. Each chapter, this time around, is typically bookended with some dialogue, but, given that the game is told in a ramshackle sort of way, you’re left to piece together any overall story yourself.
This decision, likewise, has directly influenced the core gameplay. Encounters are much more slower paced this time around, thanks to the larger levels and slightly more complex mechanics (each character you play as usually comes with a special ability). Initially, the thought of bigger levels might sound like a good thing, allowing for more tactical decisions and interesting scenarios.
Unfortunately, Hotline Miami 2’s bigger scope comes at the cost of the original game’s tightness. Despite the gore and the Grand Theft Auto style camera, Hotline Miami was effectively a puzzle game, one where you planned several moves in advance in your head and then attempted to execute them in rapid fashion. This time though, the game feels like a legitimate shooter, albeit one wrought with awkward bouts of tedium and frustrating level design.
This is largely down to the increased size of the game’s levels. Rather than the boxed rooms of the original game, there’s a much greater prevalence of corridors this time around, resulting in many instances of you getting shot by an enemy a screen away that you couldn’t have possibly seen coming. Along with a greater use of windows, meaning enemies are likely to spot you the second you step out of cover, leads you to spend most of your time going through a level steadily creeping forward, luring a few enemies around a corner, taking them out, and then repeating this tactic.
It results in a much more tedious game, and one that relies more on shooter twitch and exploiting the idiocy of some of the A.I. in order to achieve victory. Unlike the original, which rewarded experimentation, and those brief bouts of bravery where you’d break from cover swinging a tire iron.
Sadly, this change in the game’s overall level design affects many of the game’s other elements too. This is a much harder game than the original Hotline Miami, and this is due in part to the fact that you’ll find yourself redoing much longer portions of a level each time you fail than you did previously.
Where these hurt the game most however, are when they alter the tone and style that first game utilized. Those unsettling walks past all the destruction you’d caused, with blood smeared up the walls and bodies strewn about the place, as you walked back to your car, were one of the most unsettling (and inventive) elements of the original game. The pulsing retrowave music cutting out and being replaced by an almost Lynchian atmospheric hum was a great way of conveying someone coming down from a drug high or a burst of violence. In its characteristic, messy and confusing way, Hotline Miami clearly had something to say about the nature of violence and of violent entertainment. This impact has been lessened in Hotline Miami 2, both due to its much wordier story, and its inferior mechanics.
That’s not to say that the game is bad by any means. There’s still a remarkable level of creativity on offer here and some of the tweaks to the general gameplay do make for some interesting changes. The levels played as the writer are particularly interesting, due to his refusal to use guns. However, this doesn’t simply mean he only wields melee weapons. Picking up a gun will boost your score along with tie in with boost your combo potential, but this comes at the cost of being vulnerable for several seconds, as the writer goes about dismantling the weapon and emptying the bullets onto the floor.
Likewise, the decision to have the game play out effectively as an old 80s video nasty, complete with bouts of fast-forwarding and rewinding, and a pause menu that looks like the menu on an old TV, ties in with the game’s themes. It’s not the first game to experiment with this effect, Rockstar’s similarly violent Manhunt did it almost a decade ago, but it is a nice stylistic touch.
In short, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a sequel to a game that probably didn’t need one. The focus on cranking up the game’s difficulty and increasing the size of the level’s undermine what the original achieved. Even the violence seems slightly more “forced” this time around, with players even having the option of removing one particularly controversial scene should they so wish. The original used its ultra-violence to, in a peculiar way, comment on that ultra-violence. This sequel sometimes feels as if it wants to have its cake and eat it too.
There’s some great moments here, but they’re somewhat overshadowed by poor design choices and the decisions of pushing in a much more convoluted story. Fans will no doubt enjoy what Hotline Miami 2 has to offer, but it pales in comparison to the visceral punch of the original.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was released on March 10th for PS4, PS3, Vita, PC, Mac & Linux.
This review is based on the PC version.
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