The first Hotline Miami was bold, brash and unashamedly bloody. However it wasn’t just a slaughter fest, Hotline Miami’s levels felt like puzzles. How do you kill everyone in the best way, to get the best score. I absolutely adored it, chasing those A+ rankings until my thumbs hurt. It still annoys me that I haven’t got all the A+ ranks on the PS4 version (I know I can sync my save and get them automatically, but I refuse!!) Everything about Hotline Miami screamed style, the beautifully rhythmic electronic score, the drug-soaked 80s aesthetic. I just loved it. So the sequel seems like a no-brainer, huh?
Uhh…well sort of. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number looks and feels even better than its predecessor. The soundtrack somehow manages to be better than the first (and has now become my new favourite writing music), the visuals are perfect, able to mostly denote what we are looking at pretty easily, even if it is top-down pixels. Occasionally, Hotline Miami 2 hits all the right notes and it is positively joyous. And maybe that’s enough to warrant the price of entry alone.
Unfortunately, my experience with Hotline Miami 2 is not something I particularly look back fondly on. So much of the gameplay flow of HM2 is interrupted by what I think is a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the first game exceptional. Sequelitis, this may well be. HM2 is bigger, more complicated, more challenging, more confusing and well…less engaging.
Let me go through the things I feel are just wrong about Hotline Miami 2. Firstly, it is an issue that the narrative is so prominent here. I loved Hotline Miami’s story but a lot of my love for it was because it was so understated. The tale of Jacket, the Biker and the Masks is there but you have to really read into it. And it was a great idea. HM2 decides to tell an unbelievably confusing, multi-layered narrative through multiple viewpoints. It’s not the easiest thing to keep track of, and I’m still not totally sure I understand it. But the most troubling issue is that I don’t really care that I don’t understand it. Because Hotline Miami is about the levels and the gameplay, right?
And the gameplay comes back in full force here, and it is still a lot of fun. For the most part. The developers have decided to make bigger levels this time filled with far more enemies. This wouldn’t be a big problem if you could survey the whole level to see where everyone was. But no, much like HM, you only have a certain amount you can see. If you get shot by a guy that you couldn’t see, totally off screen, in a corner that is too far away from you, start again because you should have known he was there. How? I don’t know, you just should have. This is not trial and error, this is error and more error. This is not giving the player the tools to succeed, this is actually actively the opposite.
But you’ll know next time, right? And to HM2’s credit, the quick load is instantaneous. But you still feel a little violated. And when this happens multiple times per level over HM2’s bloated campaign, you start to build up a vial of bile towards the game. This could have been remedied by just letting player’s survey the whole level. An easy design decision that would’ve saved hours of my life and made me look more favourably on the game.
Another problem is making HM more difficult is a fine idea, but more difficult does not mean shit tons of enemies. Done right, you could create an ultra-hard level with a minimum amount of enemies and that was kinda what HM1 was like. An intricate building layout working against you. HM2 seems to just barf a load of enemies at you, dogs, gunners, heavies, even guys that have to be killed by melee. When you get the tango of killing everyone with their desired method, it doesn’t feel so much good as just a relief that you’ll never have to do it again. That’s a problem. You should feel good and relief. Just good enough to try it again for a challenge. Call me a dirty casual, if you like. But I’m not interested in slamming my head against a wall for an A+.
Also the ‘customisation’ of HM1 is gone. This is where you could collect masks throughout the levels and wear them to get a specific special perk. One mask gave you killing punches, one made throwing lethal, and the ones I most used for A+ gave you longer combo windows and a drill with an amazing execution. The mask feature has mostly gone though. Only in a few levels can you actually pick exactly what you want. The characters have their own disciplines, which changes up their gameplay style. There are masks, but only for a certain set of characters level. There are other things like specific guns. But I loved the masks. Something has been lost here, and it isn’t covered up at all.
Hotline Miami 2 kept me going to the end. The music is so fantastic, it alone can carry you through. Not to say there isn’t good stuff here, the occasional level can be great. It’s hard to say if actual compelling gameplay or my own stubbornness dragged me across the finish line. It definitely felt like the latter as I was spending hours getting shot through windows.
Hotline Miami 2 gets