Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review – A Bloody Good Time (PS4/PS3/Vita)
A sequel is immediately set up to be judged compared to its predecessor. What does it do right? What did they change? How does it improve? What did they leave out? We loved the first Hotline Miami, as did many other people, so news of a sequel was welcome to many, but also caused some trepidation. Would more of the same be ok? Would any changes ruin the formula? Can I accept change for the sake of evolution?
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is just as violent as the first game, with a plethora of blunt weapons, sharp objects, and firearms allowing you to decimate rooms full of enemies in a pixelated, top-down view that is the canvas for your bloody artwork. It’s amazing how Dennaton Games have even made a retro-inspired game feel so gory and unsettling. The sound design and graphics work well together to give each kill a real weight — like Ash’s brutal chainsaw finisher — while also making it simple to go through and kill 20+ enemies in minutes. Alright, so maybe simple isn’t the right word.
Hotline Miami 2 is hard, and as a person who who got the Platinum Trophy on the first one, I don’t say that lightly. The levels are bigger, there are more of them, and it seems that more enemies have guns this go around. Wrong Number is a test of timing, strategy, patience, and luck, where one wrong move will put a shotgun blast into your chest, or have a baseball bat turning you into a bloody mass of pixels with a ‘press X to restart’ prompt to send you off to the afterlife. Trial and error is key, and death is inevitable. But each death allows you to learn. Don’t go around that corner too fast. There’s a window in that room. Remember the dog in that hallway. Every death is a lesson in how to perform the ultimate murderous spree to get you through to the next section.
Violence is an Art
It takes time. It is a practiced art. But learning the flow of the combat and how to avoid a gruesome end while also familiarizing yourself with each gun or melee weapon is rewarding. Levels are like a finely tuned dance and completing one is a momentous occasion that feels like a real accomplishment. Even better is when you land an A+ rating, knowing that your timing and speed were near perfect as you waltzed your way through danger, shooting and cutting down enemies in a learned manner that is as grotesque as it is beautiful.
The story of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number acts as both a prequel and a sequel to Hotline Miami. In fact, Wrong Number is as much a clarification of narrative and a broadening of view to the first game’s violent tale as it is a telling of the events that followed Jacket’s murder spree and capture. It has an ambitious plot that follows nine interweaving story threads across 25 levels from 1985 to 1991, though not necessarily all in order. It can get a bit confusing at times, but I found it to be a lot more decipherable than the original.
The big difference in this style of focusing on a more extensive narrative is that each level must be played within certain parameters. When you play as The Writer, killing is off the table. You are limited to your fists and blunt weapons. When you play as The Fans, you get to choose which mask to play as, and each offers a slightly different play style. Each story thread will give and take abilities, and characters cannot cross story threads, so if you got used to a particular mask in the first game that helped you nail A+ rankings in each level, you’re going to need to be a little more adaptable to the changing styles of each level this time around.
The End is not the End
Fortunately, each level is designed with the characters in mind, so even though The Writer has severe limitations that would be game-breaking in other levels, his own stages don’t feel like there is a severe disadvantage on the playing field. As your thinking shifts into the gears of that play style, you’ll find that each spree of kills (or knockouts) can be easily fit to the tools that you are given, which keeps the game feeling fresh until the end. Minor technical hiccups sometimes meant starting over when I had completed a mission, or oddly being stuck in the border around the outside of the level, but these were few and far between.
I should mention that “the end” isn’t really the end. You unlock a hard mode after you complete the game. As challenging as the first time through is, it can’t hold a candle to hard mode, which has more difficult enemies, more windows for them to see and shoot you through, and varying enemy formations. Oh, and it mirrors the levels on both the X and Y axes. The skills learned the first time through certainly help, but it’s still an extremely tough challenge to a game that can become so difficult that you want to go on a murderous rampage, but that murderous rampage is so difficult that… yeah, it’s a vicious cycle of self-destruction that I can’t pull myself away from.
All of this challenge is done to the driving soundtrack of electronic music by such artists as M|O|O|N, Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, Jasper Byrne, and Magic Sword. I hadn’t heard of any of these artists and this isn’t the music that I typically listen to, but it provides a fitting backing track to the swaths of blood that your dance of death will bring. In fact, the entire package works wonderfully together, with the visuals, gameplay, and soundtrack synchronizing to bring a fantastic vibe that is unlike other games out there, except perhaps the first Hotline Miami.
Altogether Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is everything the first game was, with improvements that change and evolve the game enough to feel like its own bloodthirsty monster. Playing as a variety of characters keeps your skills sharp and there are a ton of levels to master and enjoy. If extreme violence isn’t your cup of tea, then you’re probably not even still reading this, but if you enjoy a dark, yet neon story full of crime and murder, along with a rage inducing challenge, then Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a bloody good time.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number review copy was provided by the developer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.