A Second Helping of Blood and Neon
I know my days as a columnist are numbered, but I’ve got two articles left, so barring an unexpectedly tremendous release in the next week, this will be my last real review. Although I’ve been thinking of subtitles for a Witcher 3 review for a few months, I’m not too displeased that it’s going to be something as substantial as Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (even if the review is a bit late).
The sequel to 2012’s shockingly violent, schizophrenic top-down killer, Wrong Number carries us back into an adrenaline soaked ‘80s nightmare that is at once familiar and different. Developer Dennation Games (a pair of Swedes who may have watched too much Miami Vice while tripping) understands the terrible burden of making a sequel to a smash hit; particularly an indie one that came mostly out of nowhere.
On its surface, Wrong Number looks identical to the first Hotline, but playing will reveal that the devs wanted something a little different. The first Hotline was more about brute force, adrenal reflexes, and remembering how you died last time. Clearing a whole level using only melee weapons and jamming to the music was possible, even encouraged. 2 forces the player to be even more tactical, judging the positioning of everyone on the map and quickly killing them in precise order. The stages are more open, most walls have windows, and damn near everyone has a gun. Trying to clear stages using only melee is essentially suicide. Running in and relying on your reflexes is definitely suicide.
The first game’s obsession with masks, both in and out of the mechanics, is no longer present, as only a few characters have them. Instead, most of the people you jump around to in this extremely nonlinear story have mandatory gimmicks that you can’t change: a dirty detective aims faster, a pacifistic writer tosses away guns and tries not to kill with his hits, a Russian gangster with a father complex can change fighting styles on the fly, etc. Not only is the mask mechanic demoted, it is even mocked with a series of mask-wearing characters who attempt to emulate the previous game’s protagonist (known only by his clothes as Jacket) and find themselves (like all the other unfortunate characters) woefully out of their depth.
Yet at the same time, Wrong Number is still an ‘80s themed top-down action game with one-hit-kills and nausea inducing pace, soaked in viscera and synth. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It is different enough that I remind those who want more Hotline Miami that this will be something new, and similar enough that those who couldn’t stand the pounding bass and gushing blood may want to continue looking elsewhere.
Although more cerebral and precise than the first, and a little slow in the beginning, Hotline Miami 2 proves itself a worthy sequel, providing a more tactical challenge, while still occasionally bringing in the pulse-pounding dashing and slashing. And despite such a great predecessor, the soundtrack is just as good.