More of the old ultraviolence
For some, Hotline Miami was an existential look at the current macro-state of videogames. You were told to commit random acts of murder seemingly without remorse, and at the end, you get a bit of interesting commentary on the culture of violence. Many argued that the only way you can truly win is to not play, and it started some insightful conversations.
For me, it was a really bitchin' action puzzle game that made me constantly reinvent my strategy for each and every level. It was an experience that didn't hold my hand at every turn, and let me be as creative as I wanted while a kickass soundtrack blared in the background.
Hotline Miami 2 may not be as "profound" as its predecessor, but it's still a bloody good time.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Vita)
Developer: Dennaton Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: March 10, 2015
For those of you who didn't play the first game, Hotline basically functions as a top-down shooter with a completely open-ended style of play. Each map features a host of different enemy types and weapons, all of which can be used in an almost endless combination of ways. Your goal is to simple destroy an entire floor of foes, move on to the next part, and repeat the process until everyone is dead. It's that simple.
After the very first broken-down door I was hooked again. Heck, even when I proceeded to die five times in rapid succession immediately, I had a blast. It's still amazing to me how many different ways you can approach a room, and no two methods between players are the same. That's due in part to a slight randomization for each spawn, where select enemies may not have the exact same weapons or may vary in their patrol routine -- but for the most part, the maps are technically laid out in the same manner, allowing you to divine a plan of sorts.
Of course, plans almost never go off without a hitch, and you'll constantly have to reinvent the way you approach every level. While it may seem like going in guns blazing in a certain room is the quickest way to clear out the guys impervious to melee attacks, it's easy to miss a window right where you're standing that leaves you open to gunfire. It's variations like this that cause you to think twice before doing anything, and patience ultimately wins out in most circumstances. It's not just a shooter, it's a thinking man's game.
There are still are some cases of poor AI though, where luck will win out above all else. While most enemies will come running if they hear gunfire, some are oblivious to muzzle shots two feet from their face. In very rare occasions, baddies glitched into doorways, rendering them invincible for a few seconds, only to re-materialize and take me out when I wasn't looking. It's maddening to die repeatedly, especially on tougher stages, but these instances are so few and far between that they didn't impede my overall enjoyment.
One of the big draws of Hotline 2 is the addition of more masks, which function as playable characters. Powers like roll dodging can change the game up significantly. Another character can't use lethal weapons, and ejects bullets from guns Batman-style. A different style, one of my personal favorites, focuses on lethal punches, but cannot use weapons at all. "Alex and Ash," another standout mask, actually features two people at once in an Ice Climbers-like situation. If Alex dies both perish, but the duo wields a chainsaw and pistol, respectively, that are controlled with two different buttons.
Without giving away the context, there's also a number of jungle scenes that really remind me of the old-school MSX and NES Metal Gear -- the character featured here can even switch between CQC at will. There's also a cool "heist-like" level featuring multiple perspectives and rapid character switching. Thankfully, Hotline 2 has plug-and-play controller support for those of you who prefer it -- it just worked. You can also fully customize your keyboard or gamepad controls.
Musically, Hotline Miami is still at the top of its game, and Hotline 2 is easily one of my favorite gaming OSTs in recent memory. The hard-hitting electronica beats fit perfectly with the high-octane atmosphere, and artists such as M|O|O|N, El Huervo, Perturbator, and Magic Sword absolutely nail their compositions.
From a narrative standpoint, Hotline 2 jumps around a lot more than its predecessor. There's no cohesive "Jacket" and "Helmet" tale this time around, as Dennaton is content on shifting the perspective to multiple gangs, a corrupt cop, a soldier, and a few other surprises. The entire affair is framed around a violent action movie, and once again the concept of what's real and what's not comes into play. There are a select few cutscenes of sexual nature, but the latter can be turned off, and everything is par for the course for the series in general. The story is often engrossing, but the content not surprising in games where you brutally murder hundreds of people to "win."
When Hotline 2 is said and done, there's 25 levels to play with. And in case you're worried: no, the totally manageable stealth level that everyone hated for some reason does not return -- it's all action all the time. There's also a hard mode to tinker with if you're so inclined, which restarts your journey back to the first level and functions as a new playthrough.
In addition to the inherent score-attack element built into the game, you'll also have the level editor to play with, exclusive to the PC version. It's shockingly easy to use, and right now, the interface reminds me of '90s first-person-shooter editors. Everything is an instant click away, from furniture to stairs to enemies, meaning pretty much anyone can craft stages without advanced programming knowledge. While I'm not super keen on creating my own puzzles, I'm anxious to see what the community comes up with.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is more of the same, but that's not a bad thing if that's all you want out of it. After beating the sequel I was immediately inspired to go back and play the original, which in turn inspired me to start playing Wrong Number again. Between the level editor and the iron-clad gameplay, I'll be enjoying this franchise for years to come.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number reviewed by Chris Carter
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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