Way back in 2013 when we were all getting over excited about the next gen consoles that had recently been released, and teary eyed over The Last of Us, I was busy giving Hotline Miami my game of the year award. In a year when the aforementioned The Last of Us and GTA V had stirred our souls and wow’d us with uber cool graphics and engaging gameplay, I chose a top down 2D shooter, was I mad? Not at all. The original was a great game in its own right, but appealed to me as it was different. It embraced the fact that it was simple or low tech, but shot us all in the face with hypnotic gameplay and an addiction factor I had not felt since I played Tetris about a million years ago. As you would expect I was sitting waiting patiently and expectantly for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number to blast onto my handheld again, and it’s now here. So how is the difficult second child?
I think we all have used the term ‘if its not broken don’t fix it’ and Dennaton Games have followed this by not trying to reinvent the game or going off in a different direction – that’s not to say I wouldn’t want a GTA style switch from top down to third person! From the start you are treated to a similar feast of 80’s colour with a instantly recognisable score that has the same enchanting rhythmical style as before. You feel at home and like you have returned to something from your past – and this for me is where the problems starts.
In terms of storyline, Hotline Miami 2 follows multiple characters in their own separate but intersecting storylines in the early 90’s, and follows on in a way from the original story. The plots include aspects of serial killers, gang wars, an actual war and a journalist who can go through a level without actually killing anyone. I am not being brief, but after sitting down I realised I hadn’t really paid much attention to the story – or I had, but the intense violence of each level makes me kind of forget why I am doing what I am doing. Not wanting to sound lame I read around a dozen reviews to see if I could refresh my memory and not one could offer an explanation of what was going on in any detail, some even had copied and pasted the summary from the Dennaton website! I think the fact that you don’t need the story is both a good and bad thing, the gameplay draws you into a state of immense concentration and you want to achieve the goal without caring why. At the same time once you move to the next chapter you’re not entirely sure why, and with the various plots in all becomes a bit confusing.
The levels themselves are bigger and give more scope to complete them (kill everything that moves) in different ways. This can be harder and does add a little diversity (not the dance troop) into the different levels. Characters are more tightly controlled and you will find that you have to adapt your style to the character you are playing rather than choosing who suits you the best. Whilst there are a lot of positives in the levels there were times they felt more regimented in terms of enemy movements that you can track and plan your takedowns.
Halfway through Hotline Miami 2 I started to become a little tired of the start/die/repeat process you go through, it just struck me that this is something that is a by-product of the game. It’s hard which makes it addictive, but you find that this is a similarity that subconsciously makes you think this game isn’t different, or that it has moved on a great deal. Yes, all the extra bits you experience are good but they are cast as supporting to the lead role which is – level start/you die/you start again, etc., etc. The carrot to keep on going seems to have diminished a little, possibly down to the story confusion, or forgetfulness, or your brain is saying ‘you’ve been here before – time for a change’.
Is it too violent? There was some debate on a scene early on in the game people have expressed concern over, and could open a wider debate for where the limit for violence and sexual violence is in games. I was eager to see how this was dealt with and if it would push or raise the bar for acceptability. Although not pleasant, I didn’t feel shocked or appalled and it was in the context of the story. Violence is the main part of the game and being a top down shooter it somehow detaches itself from reality to an extent.
In summary the violence has ramped up, the stories are more complex and expansive (I think), and the levels are bigger; but for me it is just an expansion pack for Hotline Miami. Enjoyable though at the same time the repetitive nature starts to grate. What could be changed without ruining the formula I’m not sure, hopefully we can see something new if/when Hotline Miami 3 in released.
A review copy of Hotline Miami 2 for PS Vita was provided by the Dennaton Games PR team, and is available now on Steam and the PlayStation Network.