Hotline Miami 2 follows on from the enormously successful indie game Hotline Miami. For those of you that have probably seen but not played it before, allow me to enlighten you as to the status quo. Hotline Miami is a 2D top down shooter that is played at a frenetic and unforgiving pace. The style, which takes an eclectic look at the 80s through the eyes of an unnamed man (known by the community as Jacket and is inspired by the movie Drive), is a colourful and vibrant psychedelic mind explosion that is beautifully married with extremely prejudicial violence and an amazing electronica-fused soundtrack.
It was quite simply marvellous and extremely difficult and frustrating all at the same time. Hotline Miami 2 sets itself to conclude the story of the first game, a story that was a strange mix of imaginary and forced coercion into violent acts by the mob, and delivered by a narrator that was so unreliable, he’d probably get a job as Middle-East peace envoy. In a series of flashbacks and fast-forwards, which are beautifully realised by some excellent old VHS tape and tracking effects, Hotline Miami 2 gives you the before and the after of the first game, putting in to perspective the events that caused the extreme violence that’s tricky but enjoyable.
Whilst this is an excellent mechanic of course and the story actually tells you very little of what is actually going on (which might frustrate those of you looking for closure), it’s the constant jarring between different times and characters that will sit most uncomfortably for those used to a more linear experience. It possibly could have done well to have these flashbacks in their own chapters with the book-writing journalist bridging the narrative gaps. But as a criticism of the method in the game, it can lose you, especially if you spend a while on a tricky level and suddenly get thrown into unexplained mid-80s Hawaii with a covert military unit taking out rebels.
In fact at times in these levels the game becomes quite nostalgic for the older gamer. It’s less “Honolulu Strangler” and more “Operation Wolf.” Remember that arcade game? That big heavy plastic gun controller with moving parts that was always five times the size of your hands, whatever age you were? The comparisons don’t stop there. Where the first game echoed the inspiration of Drive, Hotline Miami 2 throws in the crime and decadence of Scarface, echoes of Platoon and Apocalypse Now in military thrillers, and a very unique look at societies fascination for physical and sexual violence in film and how it can blur reality. You are still left with questions and guesses to the real reasons of what’s going on, despite the political power plays happening in the background and the shared psychosis of the chicken mask. If this is the last one then the story is open ended enough to leave you wanting more.
The gameplay however isn’t as good as everything else going on around it. Playing on a controller is difficult but once you get in to it, it’s easy to use. Thankfully that responsive challenging control method and crazy pace hasn’t changed at all, but everything around it is a bit trickier than before. Which would be great if it feels like an intention of the game, but it feels a bit annoying, like the game has just copied the AI across form the first game without improving on it. Most annoying is when there are many enemies off-screen that kill you very readily.
The controls to scan around the area are also fairly short in their stretch and there are several instances where the pathing of the enemies, especially dogs, gets caught up on something and starts spinning around. The new enemies that involve a bit more of a challenge are great but almost impossible when surrounded by more than one person with a gun. Sometimes the enemies feel a bit too awkward in their positions and dogs can be especially tricky if your timing is even a beat of a millionth of a second off when hitting the button.
Although your new characters can do cool things like stretching their arms to shoot horizontally in both directions, control a chainsaw and a gun at the same time, and barrel roll out of the way of fire, it’s the lack of the weapons and masks from the first game that sadly take away some of the replayability of the game. The level designs are good but ultimately don’t feel any different from the first. I personally would have loved more interactive things around the areas and the houses in the level introductions. They are there as newspaper cuttings, but a few more and maybe some more humorous spots could have bumped this further than being sequel that doesn’t change it up too much.
With that being said, for the negative aspects of how the game hasn’t grown or changed, it has a butt load of things that it’s absolutely excelled at. If you follow any games writer, PR person or general gaming related avatar on Twitter, you’ll know the Hotline Miami soundtrack is required Friday listening. Well, we’re adding another playlist to the Friday sounds. Hotline Miami 2’s soundtrack is not only longer, but also better and amazingly posited to the levels they are on. It’s actually a bit of an artistic masterwork when you see how seamless it is and how much the music keeps you in the game during the frustrating constant respawns.
The retro look at the 80s is also fantastic from video tracking and VCR sub menus when you pause the game, to the excellent use of Video Nasty cassette tapes as the level selections and the video rewinding effects to instigate flashbacks. It’s not style over substance by any means but the style is a key part of what makes Hotline Miami 2 a great game and as great as first one.
Hotline Miami 2 is once again an incredible ode-to-violence that will divide players between those who see it as a challenge, those who see it as masochistic, those who just love the look and sound of it and those who don’t have a damn clue what’s going on. There are some criticisms of the violence it portrays and that the sexual violence in the beginning is gratuitous and unnecessary. Which it is and the fact you can turn it off is an admission of that. The game hasn’t leapt on from the first and in some cases has taken stuff away that we would have loved. But what the game does best is put an incredible pop-culture visual over challenging levels that will dictate your Spotify playlists for many years. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I can hear my phone going off.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has fulfilled everything we expected and asked for in a sequel, which was “more of the same, please”. More music, more 80s style, more challenging shooty fun. But we probably didn’t realise that we’d have liked a bit more refinement, maybe a bit of cohesion between flashback sequences and bit more of an improvement in the AI. But you don’t get what you don’t ask for, right?
[tab title=”Good Points”]
- Super awesome soundtrack
- The conclusion and background to an intriguing story
- More of the same from the first game
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
- Hasn’t changed enough, and removed some masked fun
- Regular death from enemies outside of all vision
- Narrative can be jarring in flashbacks
[tab title=”Why an 8?”]
There’s a great game here, and a game that when you look past the amazing soundtrack that we love, the visual style that we applaud and the unreliable narrative we all discuss, could have been better. Little things like the enemy AI, being shot from off screen too often and a lack of improvement in that area of the game holds it back a bit. But it is still a great game and terrific value.
This review was based on the PS4 version of the game.