Explore the origins and aftermath of one man’s murderous rampage.
PC Release: March 10, 2015
By Ian Coppock
I guess I’m cutting my retirement from blogging a little short. Sometimes you hit a dry patch, and sometimes you play games that are so great, you can’t not let the community know about what’s out there. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is one of these games. Let’s take a gander.
Anyone who’s played the original Hotline Miami knows that it can’t be summed up in just a few words. It’s a retro-style, top-down shooter awash in a haze of drugs and neon, but it’s also so much more.
You play a nameless psychopath popularly titled Jacket, who tracks down and kills hordes of Russian mobsters at the behest of mysterious phone messages. An innocent-sounding request to deliver cookies is actually an insidious order to shoot, stab, and bash the shit out of as many Russian gangsters as possible. The game does not shirk on violence or gore.
Despite its simplistic, absurd premise, or perhaps because of it, Hotline Miami gained a large following, and now the sequel sets out to explore the origins of Jacket’s murder sprees and the aftermath of his grip on 1989 Miami. It’s a satisfying, if flawed, conclusion to the series.
In stark contrast to the original game’s single-person narrative, Hotline Miami 2 presents a diaspora of about one dozen characters, with interlocking story lines that take place before, during and after the events of Hotline Miami. In addition to psychopathic murderers in animal masks, players will also assume the roles of an earnest reporter, a sadistic police officer, a famous movie actor, and others. These story lines often intersect.
The first and largest change Dennaton Games brings with Hotline Miami 2 is the narrative. With the story being split between so many characters, it takes on a much larger scope than the rather linear story of the first game. Each tale is a piece of a larger, more complicated story, giving me the drama satisfaction that was far weaker in the first game.
Of course, the caveat with following over a dozen different people is that the game risks being too fragmented. Dennaton compensates for this risk by constantly rewarding players with pieces of the larger picture, but I felt like this game had almost too many characters. There are about 25 missions in this game, meaning that each character has only 2-3 levels. While the individual levels are fun and the larger context of the characters’ contribution is well-signified, it also left me feeling like each mini-story was shallow. This caused the overall narrative to suffer as a result.
I realize that there’s a certain irony to wishing a Hotline Miami game had a stronger narrative, but that’s what a game that bills itself as “leaving no final questions” needs to do, no matter how ludicrous its predecessor.
The top-down, ultraviolent gameplay from Hotline Miami is little-changed in the sequel. Just like before, players must navigate mazes of rooms and take out all the baddies wtihin. The challenge is that if you get shot, stabbed, or swung at even once, you die. Luckily, you instantly re-spawn. The more people you kill quickly, the bigger combos you string up. The more combos you get, the higher your score at level’s end. If you care about those things.
In the original, players donned one of several animal masks giving them different gameplay benefits, like lethal punches or starting out with a knife (my two favorite). But, many of the characters in the game don’t wear masks and must rely on their own specific combat techniques for those missions. There is a cabal of mask-wearing murderers who appear as an homage to Jacket, and to satisfy classic fans like myself.
The game has added a few noteworthy new mechanics. Certain masks allow players to roll out of the way of gunfire, or fire in two directions at once. One character refuses to kill and instead must knock out his adversaries. Another always starts out with a shotgun. New weapons, like sniper rifles and LMGs, are also added to round out the game’s already impressive arsenal.
Though the game’s arsenal of weapons has become more diverse, the level design leaves a lot to be desired. Levels in Hotline Miami were compact, maze-like affairs that you could quickly move about in.
Hotline Miami 2 has those as well, but many of its levels contain huge rooms. The problem with this setup is that you’ll be walking along, only to get shot by a thug who was off screen. To scout for these dastardly foes, I had to fire wildly off-screen to draw enemies to me, while taking care not to get shot myself. It robbed me of a chance to be stealthy, and it’s a clumsy flaw, to say the least.
The electro-synth tracks of the original game were as much a piece of its legacy as the story or gameplay, and I felt like this game’s music, while not bad, just didn’t measure up to that of the original. For one thing, it’s a lot quieter and more somber, in stark contrast to the wild and free-flowing music of Hotline Miami.
The music came across as too subtle and too quiet for a Hotline Miami game. Music can inform a game’s narrative and atmosphere as much as any other element of art, and when the music is too slow or quiet to keep up with the game’s pacing, it’s noticeable. This was unfortunately true of my experience with the game.
To revisit the narrative just briefly, most of what I could say would spoil substantial pieces of the plot.It takes place about two years after the events of the first game, though about a third of the story also takes place in the years before and during Hotline Miami. Colombians have muscled in alongside drug dealers, bikers, and the returning Russian mob to form multiple antagonistic factions. Jacket and Richard both return in this game, though not in roles you might expect, and the game’s overarching themes of senseless violence and blood-drenched conspiracy return in full force.
In essence, Hotline Miami 2 is a fine-tuned top-down shooter and a worthy conclusion to the series. It runs the risk of being consumed by subplots, and the music is nothing to write home about, but the story is engrossing and the various characters make it a diverse and multifaceted narrative. It’s not the straightforward murderfest of the original game, but it hits the story notes that many of us were pining for after the first game left us with so many questions.
Plenty of guns and knives as well.
You can buy Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.