Many games on the market are incredibly violent. Some are so violent that they spark enough controversy to be banned in many countries or at least altered in some way before launch. Examples of such altering might be to change the colour of blood to green to shake off the ‘human’ nature of the violence portrayed. Others might simply add a disclaimer or perhaps the option to skip out on such unsettling scenes. The Hotline Miami series of games is one that certainly seems to be a game looking to spark controversy. One that if it was more popularly known by mass media outside gaming circles would be right up there with Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto. Hotline Miami is a glorious embodiment of all the violence gaming has to offer, and so it goes without saying that the series is not for those not keen on seeing a lot of gore.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a top-down action game where players go through various stages defeating all the enemies on each floor or section of a building. The story of the second is framed by various characters revolving around an upcoming movie and a series of grizzly murders. The main draw of the first game makes a triumphant return in the sequel. All the enemies in the game are vulnerable to being killed by one hit, except for a few bosses here and there. Likewise however, the main character is also vulnerable to one hit, which in many ways makes the game more of a puzzler than a power trip. This major hurdle makes each encounter potentially deadly, and so quick reflexes are the order of the day. Weapons range from baseball bats, pipes and knives, to firearms. All weapons can also be thrown to knock enemies down to open them up for a quick or painfully slow execution.
Weapons are realistic in so much that a golf club to the head will result in the expected trama, and that an unsilenced weapon will bring many enemies charging to your position. A tactic that can either spell doom or perhaps lure unwitting prey into your clutches. This constant presence of treading the fine line between needing to remain hidden in order to plan the next move, as well as remaining on the move to avoid threats and lure out entrenched foes is one that players are forced to endure. The fact that the challenge is more rewarding than overwhelming is what frankly makes the game as good as it is.
One of the major features besides the vulnerable nature of the player character is the choice of masks for your character to wear. Masks in the original game buffed your character in certain ways that allowed for an altered play style. Masks in the original took the shape of various animals and this has stayed the same in the sequel. A major difference in the sequel however is that now masks belong to specific characters rather than the main character choosing from a list of masks to wear. A mask in the sequel might make unarmed attacks lethal, at the cost of being unable to pick up any weapons. Another will give the character the ability to roll under enemy fire or perhaps have lethal throwing moves regardless of the weapon thrown. This feature is without a doubt the biggest reason for repeat play, simply due to the range of different ways a particular level can be beaten with the different masks applied.
The game oozes paranoia, frenzy and sickness. Like any typical 80’s slasher flick that the game is heavily influenced by. The player is never too sure of what is at the end of the corridor or of what is going on at all, the game feels like a haze of pinks and purples with the occasional chunk of brain and disembodied limb. This style is only exemplified by a fine electronica soundtrack, moving on from the highly praised soundtrack of the original.
What results from all this is a game that feels like a rush, a game that demands you to make snap decisions, as waiting too long to act will often mean a quick death to a shotgun blast. The game has the potential to annoy due to it’s difficulty, and I’m sure many players will be told to ‘git gud’ on many a thread and comment section. But similar to the ‘Souls’ series of games, dying in the game never feels cheap or that the game cheated you. Each failure feels like a misstep, or running in blind without the right weapon or right ordering of enemy attack. It’s also helped by a very short loading time, so that dying in the game can often feel like experimenting from room to room testing the water and thinking of the right order to move ahead. Busting open the door knocking one to the ground, throwing a knife into the neck of another, punching the third and stealing his gun to finish the rest off. All in the space of a few seconds.
It’s safe to say then that the game pulls few punches in terms of it’s gameplay. As often you may find yourself repeating the same stage over and over being trampled again and again by the same enemies until luck or skill wins out and you are able to proceed. I can report that the joy of finally beating a stage is enough to ward off the majority of the frustrations ramped up with repeated attempts.
Issues may be noted in terms of the controls as well as the aiming occasionally feeling a bit stiff. The addition of an aiming mechanic in sequel is certainly a help, but also can be a nuisance when dealing with multiple opponents, which is often. For that reason I would recommend sticking with manual aiming as it allows for trick shots as well the likelihood of moments of overwhelming badassery.
It would be wrong to finish my review without first mentioning the infamous ‘rape’ scene that has garnered much attention. In the context of the game I would say that the scene only exemplifies the utter brutality and sadistic nature of the world. Added, the fact that the scene is a shot from the movie being filmed during the game rather than an interactive part of the game I feel removes it from being anything necessarily uncalled for. The game world is a world of excess in all forms, the blaring music, intoxicating colours and overwhelming brutality of the combat, addition of the scene only pushes further the feeling of the world’s disgusting desires. That being said, the addition of a choice to skip the scene at the beginning of the game is of course a good move, as those who are sensitive to such subject matter should still be able to enjoy the game without being subject to it.
All in all, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is everything you could want from a sequel. A lot more of the same brutal combat and pulsing soundtrack, with new gameplay features to keep it fresh and exciting. A definite recommendation for those familiar with the original, and a great bit of add-on material for those that I’d recommend play the first game prior to buying the second.