Dennaton Games' thrillingly brutal Hotline Miami caused quite a commotion when it was first set free, with the game amassing a diehard following due to its daring art direction and addictive, adrenaline-pumping gameplay. Now, almost two years after its release on PlayStation systems, it's time to don the animal mask once more and take up a new gruesome challenge.
Before we go into too much detail about it, let us just say this: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is most certainly an experience. Whether it's the jaw-dropping revelations or the thumping, engaging soundtrack, it's sure to make anyone feel a large amount of, well, something. However, within that simple fact lies some of the game's more divisive qualities.
For example, let's first take a look at the gameplay that this 90s-style murder romp has to offer. As you might expect, the game's campaign will see you navigating your way around level after level of run-down buildings and other perilous structures, all the while busting heads and wiping out groups of merciless mobsters and villains. Every time that you're killed, you'll restart from the last checkpoint almost instantly, and it'll be up to you how you go about tackling these ever-changing circumstances. It's a seemingly basic formula that worked to great effect in the first game, with the player gradually becoming more familiar with the title's ins-and-outs. This time around, though, the bar has definitely been raised in terms of the game's difficulty and intensity.
You'll find yourself under a lot of pressure as you traverse new environments and locations that are absolutely teeming with people ready to shoot or stab you on sight. While the Swedish developer's recognition towards its fanbase's hardcore attitude is admirable, we can't seem to shake off the feeling that the level design, in many aspects, suffers somewhat for it.
Looking past any revolving dogs or erratic swinging doors that might pop up from time to time, more than a few of the playable missions consist of wide, sprawling areas with scarce cover, which can force the less gung-ho among us to cautiously look around corners and seek refuge in safe spots before we act. Being prepared and on the lookout has always been a necessary trait to have when enjoying this namesake, that's for sure – but the ways in which most players will demonstrate this trait ultimately damages some of the bloody hack-'n'-slasher's otherwise electrifying pacing. The experience implied by the thumping background music and artful setting of the scene sometimes fails to come to fruition because of this.
In addition to invoking such a gruelling tension within these stages, these open battlefields can often make for some questionable and unfair deaths. Armed enemies will, at times, spot you before you even have a chance to do the same to them – which not only reinforces that aforementioned need to creep around, but more importantly, can leave you feeling a tad cheated.
Using the original Hotline as a reference point once again, we never truly felt like our failings were the game's fault. Of course, a few instances – such as one or two particular boss battles – would rarely allow you to prevail on your first attempt, but that was fine. The repetition of dying, figuring out how to progress, dying again, and then finally emerging victorious was what made each level so rewarding and satisfying. Here, however, your destruction will occasionally be left up to pure chance, with randomly-roaming gunmen picking you off from great, unseen distances.
How is it, then, that Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number makes up for these niggling oversights? Well, as a jumping-off point, there's undeniably a large amount of content to be had here. The single player rampage presents many action-packed chapters, levels, and plot interventions, all of which can be played over and over again to rack up points and unlock new tools to use. Furthermore, a level editor has been discussed, and with word of it coming to Sony's platforms at a later date, it will no doubt provide endless hours of fun for fans and newcomers alike.
It should also be mentioned that, although tedious on occasion, missions are spiced up and diversified by the new cast of protagonists at your disposal. Without touching on them too much, know that you'll be controlling a broad array of murderous fiends, each with their own unique skills and specialisations. Whether it's Alex and Ash, the swan mask-donning chainsaw and firearm-wielding duo, or Tony, the unarmed berserker, these different and oddly compelling characters enhance the gameplay massively.
Following on from that notion, let's take a look into the curious inner workings of Hotline Miami 2's plot. The most notable change here from the series' last outing is that the amount of dialogue and interaction between cast members has significantly increased. Some would argue that this lessens the mystique surrounding the mythos of the titles, but quite a lot of the narrative is still up for interpretation, with underlying themes of reality being questioned, and the order with which the tale is fed to us being shifted around a lot. Make no mistake, though – the storyline in place is more than enough to pique your interest, and will surely set a gritty, bizarre tone for any dabbler's escapades, regardless of how much attention is paid to it.
It goes without saying, then, that there are moments present in the sequel that will leave those highly invested players positively awestruck. Even then, some of the more promiscuous segments of the game can be skipped entirely by anyone looking to avoid depictions of sexual violence, for example. All in all, Dennaton has again shown us that it can make people think with its writing – something that would at first seem out of place for a video game in which you beat Russian gang members to death with metal pipes.
Meanwhile, the visual and audio stylings on display in this particular Miami-based adventure are second to none; the original title's creative flare is back again – and then some. Roaring tracks from artists such as Carpenter Brut consume you as you fight against unbelievable odds. Small, fresh details such as the novel-yet-brilliant pause menu breathe personality and credibility into an already lively set-up. Alongside this, an onslaught of dazzling colours and psychedelic gradients prove to be a pleasure for the senses. It's on these merits that Hotline Miami 2 perhaps outdoes its previous instalment.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is certainly worth giving a go if you revel in action and the thrill of risk/reward situations. While newcomers may be left in the dark, fans of the first game will most likely complete it feeling pleased and satisfied. All things considered, Dennaton Games' second Hotline outing isn't quite as spectacular as it could have been – thanks to some flaws in its level design – but that isn't enough to make it anything less than great.