Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review
The formula established in the first game – comprised of exhilarating twitch action, a near trance-inducing banger of a soundtrack and neon soaked, Eighties-inspired visuals – had us confident that Hotline Miami 2 would be brilliant, but we did have one notable concern. That is that the sequel would try to repeat what its predecessor did with its smart and self-reflexive story, in the process transforming something that was innovative and fresh into the empty performance of a one-trick pony. Indeed, there is a moment early on that might lead you to think that the game is trying too hard, in this particular instance to shock us. It’s a scene that is undeniably effective in creating a sense of disgust and unease in the player, but there’s an argument to be made that it is unnecessarily exploitative.
Putting that aside, as time progresses, you realise that Wrong Number is not a rehash and is quite different to its predecessor, particularly in the way that it’s structured. Its story is far less focused; perhaps it could even be argued that it lacks the clarity of vision of the original. However, the game’s storytelling has a schizophrenic quality that fits with Hotline Miami’s surreal, hallucinogenic tone. Like a film that’s been cut together by a mind in the midst of an acid trip, Wrong Number confuses us with competing realities, unexpectedly cuts narrative threads short, jumps between different characters and time periods with abandon. It is sprawling and dreamlike in a way that not only feels stylistically appropriate, but that encourages you to mull it over from different perspectives. It occasionally feels confusing but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
When it comes to the action, things are far more familiar. That lightning quick brand of thrilling, one-hit, one-kill, top-down murder remains intact, meaning that clearing out floors of enemies is as intense, challenging and rewarding as it ever was. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of playing the original, it’s a bit like playing an ultra-violent Tony Hawk’s, gradually refining your runs with quick restarts as you seek to combo your way through a level. That exhilarating experience is enhanced by a killer soundtrack that’s a worthy follow up to one of the greatest in gaming history. We’d prefer the game didn’t also have the bugs the original had on release, but there are a few minor ones to be ironed out.
Where Hotline Miami 2 differs is that the roster of masks that your killer can wear to bestow them with special abilities has been cut back. In truth, many of the masks in the first game weren’t all that interesting, and most people ended up sticking to the frog mask when chasing high scores anyway. Wrong Number sacrifices volume to present us with a handful of abilities that are far more diverse. One character, for example, has a dodge roll, allowing you to close the gap on enemies with guns as you duck their gunfire. Another functions as a duo that you control simultaneously, one wielding a chainsaw and one a gun, allowing to use melee and gunfire simultaneously. These special abilities have a far more significant impact on the way you play, forcing you to think about how they can change the way you tackle a level. There are a few stages that force you to play as a particular character, but this keeps the focus on mastering the stage with whatever ability you’ve got, rather than falling back on your go-to mask. It’s these changes more than anything else that elevates Hotline Miami 2 to being something more than a collection of new stages. We suspect that new spin will make the long game of score chasing all the better too, as we experiment with how each ability can help us one-up friends on the game’s leaderboards.
Indeed, we expect to be chasing those scores right into the distant future because, like the first entry, Wrong Number is a game that gets under your skin like few others. Excelling in so many aspects, from its eye-popping visual style and electronic soundtrack, through to its perfectly balanced twin-stick action and smart, surprising story, Wrong Number lives up to the legacy of the original. We’d go so far as to say it’s essential.
Version tested: PS4