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HOTLINE MIAMI 2: WRONG NUMBER Review: Error Operator

Hotline Miami burst onto the indie scene in 2012, in a gore streaked, neon haze of thumping music, ultra violence and a core game play loop that was as addictive as it was frustrating. Dennaton Games‘ first title was an instant hit, heavily inspired by the Neo Noir Drive (2011) film starring Ryan Gosling, to the point where the main character — affectionately dubbed “Jacket” — even resembled Gosling in glorious 8-bit.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was the sequel that everyone clamored for but never expected to get, and takes the violence and the events of Hotline Miami and to another level.  Much of the plot of the game is a comment on the escalating violence that followed from the events of the first game, and indeed precluded them, as parts of Wrong Number take place before, after, and during the events of the first game.

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While the first game put you in the shoes of only one character and allowed you to pick an unlocked mask to choose your play style, Wrong Number places you into the shoes of a range of characters who have different abilities and play styles. This is to the benefit of the story but often to the detriment of the game play itself. The characters include a group of fans inspired by the original masked killer, a writer, an actor having a mental breakdown, a special force lieutenant stationed in Hawaii in 1981, and the son of the head of the Russian mobsters from the end of the first Hotline Miami – you know, the one with the ninja bodyguard, and the two panthers.

The game centres around the organisation from the first game, 50 Blessings, a group of nationalists aiming to topple the Russo-American coalition in the Hotline Miami universe using guerrilla tactics and coercing innocent people into ultra violence through implied threats and coded phone messages. The interesting thing about Wrong Number is that while the story seems ramshackle and nonsensical at times, delving deeper into the characters and properly exploring the levels reveals a depth of narrative nuance that is hard to spot within the constant paint job of blood and guts. The only problem is that you have to dive for it. You’ll finish the game likely scratching your head to some extent, unless you were hardcore into the behind the scenes story of the first game.

The gameplay keeps that same frenetic mix of in the moment puzzle solving, twitch reflexes, and stylish foe dispatch that keeps you coming back for more, and the soundtrack is even better this time around, with the pounding beats aligning perfectly with your muscle memory to make the completion of each level almost feel like playing a rhythm action game. There are some design choices within Wrong Number however, that are to the detriment of the otherwise stellar gameplay.

Violence Is In Your Character

The levels are much bigger this time around, with generally many more areas, meaning that bullets can come from nowhere, further than you can see, and death can often meant the loss of a good minute or two of play. The instant, moment to moment action is lost when you have to creep around a corner and peer ahead, terrified of an unknown gun man shooting you from halfway across the level, through three glass windows. The same goes for the game play restrictions on each character.

Dual wielding weapons and characters as brother sister duo Alex and Ash means that you control two bodies at once, one with a gun and one with a chainsaw, and this completely changes the way you approach an area, but it also locks you into a certain style of play. Very rarely to you get to choose a combat style, and even when you do, it’s generally between three to four different styles.

These game play restrictions force you to be more inventive, and also nullifies some of the game breaking masks from the first game, but it also means that for most of the Hawaii based levels, and the levels where you play as The Son, there’s a heavy focus on guns, and guns were the worst part about Hotline Miami. The later half of the game adds new enemy types that can only be killed by melee, or only killed by guns, which adds an element of variety and strategy to the game that sits much better with the player than arbitrary restrictions to create artificial difficulty. The ability to choose your own approach to the ultra violence has been diluted slightly, but as we said before, its in service for the story.

So it all lives or dies on how much you care about the plot, and to Dennaton’s credit, there’s a lot to like here. The game is violent and disturbing, but it also has a surprisingly nuanced commentary on this violent. A much discussed early scene of sexual violence (which can be switched off, which deserves applause) turns out to not be everything it seems, and a scene where a  character calmly begs for mercy while being horrifically murdered will make you feel distinctly uneasy. It’s easy to lump Wrong Number in with the likes of Hatred or Postal, but there seems to be more of an effort here to comment on the violence present. Even if the core game play still essentially revels in it.

Wrong Number feels like a genuine evolution of the Hotline Miami style, and like while iteration is always necessary, it isn’t always perfect. There are mistakes here that don’t overshadow how right the core game play feels, and while the difficulty is frustrating, fans of the first game will find much to love. There’s little here to attract detractors of the first game, but with a renewed focus on story and game play variety, and perhaps one of the ballsiest endings we’ve seen to a game in a long time, Wrong Number shouldn’t be a missed call.

Plot

  • Returning characters, temporal leaps, and returning characters make it a treat for fans of the series’ lore.
  • The mix of playable characters and abstract dialogue might leave newcomers cold, and it can all be a little baffling.
  • The ending is absolutely insane, the inside jokes are excellent, and you get more story and levels for your buck than you might expect.

Gameplay

  • Kill, die, repeat. That same compulsive game play loop remains as addictive as ever.
  • The lack of free mask choice is frustrating, but also forces more experimentation with different approaches to each chapter.
  • Levels are too large and death too frequent that it often goes from challenging to entirely unfair.

Visuals

  • More 8-bit, neon drenched glory. Still works, still unique.
  • Blood and guts everywhere. It’s horrifically violent, and will churn the stomachs of even the most seasoned Hotline Miami vets.
  • A bonkers acid trip at every turn. A few trips to Hawaii adds some much-needed variety to the otherwise entirely urban based sprawls.

Soundtrack

  • Better than the laughter of your first-born child.

Overall

Wrong Number feels like a genuine evolution of the Hotline Miami style, and as in all things, while iteration is always necessary, it isn’t always perfect. There are mistakes here that don’t overshadow how right the core game play feels, and while the difficulty is frustrating, fans of the first game will find much to love.

The unlockable Hard More once you beat the game adds even more longevity to a game that already offered excellent value for money compared to its predecessor, and gives you no quarter, punishing you brutally from the get go. Dennaton have wonderfully subverted all fan expectations, listening to some criticisms while completely disregarding others. Wrong Number doesn’t care if you like it or not.

There’s little here to attract detractors of the first game, but with a renewed focus on story and game play variety, and perhaps one of the ballsiest endings we’ve seen to a game in a long time, Wrong Number shouldn’t be a missed call.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

 

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One Comment on “HOTLINE MIAMI 2: WRONG NUMBER Review: Error Operator”

  1. Artur Araújo
    04/11/2015 at 2:31 PM #

    It was definitely a good thing that I could play some more levels that weren’t the ones in the first game, because my Vita was tired of replaying them, but this game felt diferent, it looked like Devolver was focusing more on the plot, and less on the fun and stealthy action. I miss those levels that weren’t 99% fire weapons based, and more on managing to find ways to break their torsos with a nightstick.

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