Author’s Note: No review copy was provided to Reaxxion. Author purchased the game reviewed with his personal funds.
You can sometimes tell whether something will be good based on the praise it receives, while in other cases, you can judge its merit based on its detractors. I had high hopes for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and not just because I enjoyed the original. The game was banned in Australia due to the presence of a pixelated ass and the mere suggestion of rape in a game filled with gore and leaking innards. It has seen bad reviews from social justice sewers such as PC Gamer and The Guardian, with the latter including this boner in their conclusion:
Many of its levels feel like crafted set-pieces rather than playgrounds for violent expression, and your scope for creativity is stifled as a result.
I wish my detractors would condemn me with such praise! I agree with The Guardian (for once), that the levels do feel like crafted set pieces, more so than the original. It took nothing away from the gameplay, however.
Frankly, hearing the social justice warriors loudly proclaim their disgust was enough to pique my interest. I dove into the game expecting more of everything from the original. Hotline Miami 2 did not disappoint.
Average Lifespan: Mere Seconds
As veterans of the original will no doubt remember, the object of the game is to kill (or in some cases, incapacitate) all enemies in a level without dying. The problem is this: you will die if hit even once. The combination of these two elements results in many deaths, so many that I’m shocked my “R” key still works after using it to restart so many times.
Levels are larger than the original and sometimes contain gameplay restrictions: for example, the “writer” character can only use melee weapons, as he has no practical experience with guns and is not generally not considered to be homicidal. The “soldier” comes with guns, but if he runs out of ammo, he is either dependent on his knife or forced to find an ammo crate to resupply (and at most, he’ll get another ten rounds). Some characters can kill with their punches, but are unable to use guns, while still others rely dodging enemy attacks. The varying gameplay styles help to stave off madness as you reload the level for the hundredth time.
And right when you think you’ve hit your stride, the train derails into (further) madness.
But that’s the point, really. Hotline Miami 2 doesn’t even attempt to create a coherent narrative. The dates of the scenes bounce backward into the past and forward into the future, keeping your sense of bewilderment intact. Characters are swapped as often as every level to keep the variety fresh. Unless you’re tracking everything that happens on a timeline as it happens in-game (and some people are!), you’ll have a hard time understanding what the Hell is going on.
But again, that’s by design: many of the in-game characters also hallucinate regularly, with the chicken mask making regular and unexplained appearances to dialogue with the unsuspecting. Toward the end, a number of the characters are brought together, but even that coherence of narrative is short-lived. It’s almost like Dennaton Games is saying that the violence is the point, and the story is just what gets us there.
Smaller touches abound to show that this game received more attention than the first. The animations are more fluid than ever, and I was often surprised by how much detail they managed to pack into the pixelated graphics. The soundtrack is simply amazing: this is one area where Hotline Miami 2 definitely exceeds the original, and that’s coming from someone who bought the Hotline Miami soundtrack! Every track is spot on and fits the stage to which it is set. The soundtrack costs as much as the game (they’re both $15) and it’s worth it. Not only that, the proceeds of soundtrack sales go directly to the musicians who composed it.
My one gripe with this game is the pathfinding AI. I had a number of runs spoiled due to enemies getting stuck in doorways, and it made playing as the “Swan Siblings” (a rare instance where you control two characters instead of one) nigh impossible. The second , gun-toting member consistently got stuck on walls, to the point I often moved on without him. It doesn’t make the game unplayable, but considering the lack of bugs in the first game, it was disappointing.
Gameplay: 40/45. It’s brutal and relentless and will cause many to rage quit, but once you find the perfect path through a level, it’s definitely worth it. The pathfinding AI is the only deduction here.
Controls: 25/25. They’re tight and they work. The control scheme is as simple as the original’s and does everything it needs to without needless clutter.
Graphics: 13/15. While the top-down pixelated graphics seem simple, the effects overlaid make a world of difference, particularly toward the end when things take a turn for the trippy. The only setback is that knocked-out enemies often get lost among the dead and can sneak up on you. Some more clearly defined outlines would have been nice.
Sound: 10/10. That soundtrack. I strapped on my Turtle Beach headset and tuned the world out thanks to that soundtrack.
Story: 0/5. It’s hard to assess, since it’s convoluted by design. I’d love to be able to tell you the story is great, or terrible. But I don’t really know what the story is.
Masculinity Score: This game was banned by the weeping mothers of Australia. Does it get any more manly than that? It’s in good company, with Grand Theft Auto V being the other game this happened to recently. And when asked how Australians can get their mitts on Hotline Miami 2, Jonatan Söderström said, “If it ends up being not released in Australia, just pirate it after release. No need to send us any money, just enjoy the game!” That kind of “fuck you” response to the thought police earned my respect.
Total: 88%. Hotline Miami 2 is definitely worth your money.
Read More: Hotline Miami 2 Banned In Australia