“Do you like hurting other people?”
That’s the one line of conceit the original top down old-school shoot-em-up needed to get its point across. And the question isn’t directed at the violent mask-wielding character we take control. It’s pointed directly at us. Why do we consume violent media? Why do we enjoy virtually slaughtering hundreds of faceless enemies for hours on end? Why are we so eager to finish our carnal objective?
The first Hotline Miami introduced this concept and let it hang there, unwavering. It may have taken many different forms across the length of the game, but the basic question was always the same: “Do you like hurting other people?”
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is an unraveling of this concept. It breaks the single, pointed question into a sprawling tale that jumps between multiple characters and themes that simultaneously deal with consequences of the previous game as well as retroactively shedding light on unclear concepts. It’s a cool idea in theory, and I’m sure it works on paper, but in execution, it makes the core tightness of Hotline Miami seem scattered and messy.
Hotline Miami is all about flow. It’s about finding yourself in a delirious state of bloodshed and pulse-pounding music. You get into a groove, you start slaughtering faceless enemies, you rack together combos, and you get stuck in ruts that repeatedly end in your own demise, forcing you to mash the restart button. Wrong Number seems to disrupt this flow more than I would have liked. Jumping back and forth between characters and timelines made the violence I was committing seem less poignant. I wasn’t racking kills together on my own, I was sharing in a collective murder rampage that felt like it belonged more to the characters than to me and my psyche. The result makes the atrocities you commit carry less weight.
This isn’t to say Hotline Miami 2 isn’t fun. Pulling off a long combo streak, smashing an enemy’s skull in with a melee weapon, and charging into a room wildly firing an assault rifle are all just as satisfying as ever. This is backed with a hypnotic techno soundtrack that is head and shoulders above the first game. The amount of variety in the tracks runs deep and further sucks you into the mesmerized state of killing, dying, repeating.
The difficulty picks up right where the first one left off, giving you unseen windows, throat chomping dogs and special enemy types almost all immediately. However, most frustrating of all was getting shot by enemies I couldn’t see off screen. This problem is also compounded by the many open-area levels that run an exhausting three or four screens deep. The result is a gameplay experience that feels much slower than the first. I could never get into the flow I wanted because I was afraid of what was down the hall. I found myself hiding in closets, poking out, luring enemies, and dispatching them behind the safety of four walls way too often for my liking. It feels like this problem could have been alleviated if the field of view was pulled back slightly. This could have prevented deaths that were, hands down, cheap and unfair.
I’m conflicted about Hotline Miami 2. I love the soundtrack, I love the long walk through the gore-riddled hallways after clearing an act, I love it when it works. However, there are way too many design choices that dampened my experience. I miss being able to switch masks and change my strategy on any level, I miss having an ambiguous plot that made me question my own moral compass, not my character’s, and I miss the thrill of being able to rampage through a warehouse and succeeding.
If you’re looking for more Hotline Miami, you certainly get more than your money’s worth with Wrong Number. The game itself is a bit longer than the original and is supposed to feature a level editor somewhere down the line for user created content.
If you’re in the mood for a challenging gameplay experience and were a fan of the original, by all means pick up Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. While the game isn’t as tight as the first one, both thematically and mechanically, the core question that we’re all afraid to answer for ourselves still runs deep.
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