Developer: Dennation Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: March 10th, 2015
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
I can’t believe I’m about to write this review. Hotline Miami is one of my favorite indie games, thanks to its tight controls, fun gameplay, hard but fair difficulty, and interesting story. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number should have taken everything the first game does and improves it. Instead it somehow manages to do the opposite, leading to my first true disappointment of 2015.
Hotline Miami 2 serves as both a sequel and a prequel to the original game. While the first game only put you in the role of one character, Hotline Miami 2 follows nine different characters in their personal stories. By the end of the game I followed a group of “fans” obsessed with the original game’s killer, a Russian assassin trying to get out of the business, a writer trying to write a biography about the original game’s killer, a corrupt detective investigating a new serial killer, and more. Each character is interesting and watching all their individual plots tie together as they go about their actions makes for a story that is genuinely interesting and fun to follow. Unfortunately, just as the game is reaching its climax, there’s a sudden whiplash inducing ending that I don’t want to really spoil here, but basically just ends every single plot string. It’s a shame that such a great story is basically thrown away suddenly.
At first Hotline Miami 2 looked similar to the original game. I no longer got to pick a mask at the start of each level, but instead was given a character. I had no choice in who I played as, though some characters have special abilities that others don’t. The most unique of the bunch comes from a pair of the”fans” called Axel & Ash. You play as both of them as once: one uses a chainsaw in melee encounters while the other is always using a gun. Combining them can lead to some hilariously destructive moments. That said, I found the fun and unique characters to be few and far in between. One of the other “fans”, Mark, can use two sub machine guns and point them in opposite directions which is cool. The Son can select from different styles and do something similar. The Writer can only use blunt weapons to non-lethally knock enemies out, and if I picked up any guns with him he just emptied them and tossed them aside.
Yet a majority of these characters I had difficulty wanting to play. Corey can do a dodge roll that mostly just caused me to roll into my death. Manny can apparently aim faster, but I honestly never noticed his aiming speed to be any different from other characters. Tony can’t use anything other than his fists, which drives me insane on levels with many gun-wielding enemies. The Soldier is forced to choose a gun at the beginning of a level, and can’t ever swap it out. This mechanic makes no sense and basically means I had to keep running back to ammo boxes to get more ammo for him. Speaking of guns, they seem to have taken a noticeably larger role in Hotline Miami 2. Many of the levels are now very large, and it seems like the majority of enemies are now wielding guns. Several times I found myself turning a corner only to be filled by bullets from enemies that I had no way of being able to see. Similar to the original game: death comes quickly. A single bullet or strike with a melee weapon is more than enough to put you out of commission. The game’s super fast reloads from death help alleviate some of the issues, but it’s still problematic enough to become frustrating.
As the game continued frustration quickly became a reoccurring theme. The original Hotline Miami had “big” enemies that were restricted to melee, but took several bullets or carefully timed attacks to bring down. Hotline Miami 2 sees these guys return, but also adds in versions that have guns. This means that, without any kind of really weird runaround strategy, meeting one of these guys resulted in me getting killed a solid 80% of the time. Other weird new enemies included a guy that would duck under bullets and could only be killed by using melee attacks, and enemies that took cover behind objects and could only be hurt when they pop out to shoot at me. These enemies don’t work very well with Hotline Miami’s gameplay style, and I often had to go out of my way to try and isolate them by exploiting the game’s weird AI.
It’s really a shame how much I wasn’t enjoying my time with Hotline Miami 2, and how the occasional level reminded me of the original game and how much fun I had with that one. Later in the game (which took me about 8ish hours to finish, though experts who don’t die as much could probably beat it in as little as 3) there’s a group of levels very similar to the original game. They take place in small environments that you can properly scout out, not once did I turn a corner to die instantly, and I actually had to think of the best way to clear rooms. It’s a shame these highlights happen so late in the game as I found them to easily be the best levels of the bunch. Also, Hotline Miami 2 has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a game. You owe it to yourself to go listen to it.
The interesting story and fantastic soundtrack, plus the few really good levels, just aren’t enough to save this sinking ship. I came out of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number pissed off, frustrated, and ultimately disappointed. I have no clue how one of my favorite indie games had managed to be followed up by one of my least favorites. I guess 2 really is the wrong number.