Blood on the dance floor.
Hotline Miami made quite a name for itself when it slaughtered its way onto the PC, Playstation 3, and Playstation Vita back in 2012. Developer Dennation Games’ grisly top-down action title successfully married frantic, twitch-based combat and methodical planning to create an experience unlike any other. Now, two years after catching neon lightning in a bottle, Dennation is back again with another gruesome foray into the surreal and ultra-violent world of Hotline. Does Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number dial in enough innovation be worth your minutes? Read on to find out.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number begins a few years after the original game’s protagonist, Jacket, went on his rampage against the Russian Mafia. Since then, the sun-soaked streets of Miami are now overflowing with blood as Jacket-inspired vigilante groups seek to dole out vengeance to the local hoods, and the Russian mob looks to rebuild itself after being systematically destroyed in the previous game. In short – lots of angry people want to hurt eachother, and, rather than playing as a single character donning different masked personae, you’ll be able to take on the role of a wide variety of murderous sociopaths throughout the game’s lengthy story, each with their own interesting gameplay mechanics.
While butchering your enemies is still a prominent part of the game, the addition of a more varied cast of characters adds subtle changes to the game’s established formula. One such example is Evan, a writer looking to strike a name for himself by penning a book on the events of the Jacket killings, who plays more as a bare-knuckle brawler than a trained killer. This scrappy scribe prefers a non-lethal approach to combat, and if you attempt to recover a gun from a fallen foe he’ll simply empty toss the magazine and the weapon, leaving it inoperable. With much of the game’s arsenal inaccessible to Evan, you’ll need to exercise extreme caution as you attempt to get the drop on your foes with the simplest of weapons. Another interesting change of pace comes in the form of the deadly duck-billed duo Alex & Ash. Players control the pair simultaneously, with Alex toting a vicious chainsaw while Ash backs him up with heavy firepower. If one player falls it’s game over, so using the pair effectively takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do they become a roaring whirlwind of blood and gore, easily making this brutal tag team one of the most efficient and entertaining additions to Hotline’s lineup of masked murderers.
Not only has the cast of playable killers been greatly expanded, but just about everything else has as well. While the original Hotline Miami could be burned through in roughly two hours by a seasoned player, Wrong Number easily packs nearly a dozen hours of content into its first playthrough, which weaves a fittingly Lynchian and surreal tale as players massacre their way through a wide variety of settings. Speaking of the game’s locales, each of Wrong Number’s stages is quite large in comparison to even the biggest areas in the original game, with areas often encompassing several large, sprawling floors just teeming with heavily-armed hooligans waiting to have their heads caved in. Honestly, it’s quite stunning just how much content Dennation has stuffed into this sadistic sequel, with a number of familiar faces taking a role in the game’s story, that’s littered with missions that seem like they’re explosive enough to be the game’s explosive climax, only to have the action just keep chugging onward like a gore-slathered freight train.
The original Hotline Miami’s soundtrack was a defining part of the game’s package when it released back in 2012. Featuring retrowave heavyweights such as Perturbator, (M|O|O|N), and Scattle, Hotline’s blend of ferocious and brooding synth-laden tracks was the perfect companion to the game’s fetishized ’80s aesthetic. Needless to say, the bar was raised pretty high when it came to delivering a new score for the sequel. Thankfully, Dennation Games delivered this time around by offering over a solid 3-hours worth of music from such genre sensations as Mitch Murder, MegaDrive, Carpenter Brut and more. Hotline’s off-kilter cacophony of trippy funk and aural synthesizer assaults create an explosion of sound that pulls you into action and sends your adrenaline through the roof as you rack up a staggering body count. Honestly, it’s so good that if you plan on picking up the game, I strongly suggest you look into snatching up this version, which includes the soundtrack on 3 sexy vinyl records.
On the visual front, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number looks very similar to the retro-inspired 8-bit aesthetics of the first game. The world is still a neon-saturated swirl of psychedelic psychoses, but a handful of new animations accentuate the game’s excessive violence. In addition to the slick new animations, the world also features much more in the way of moody environmental effects, such as raging thunderstorms, waves crashing down on a pixelated beach, and a truly trippy drug-fueled sequence at the end of the game that has to be seen to be believed. While it may not be packing any polygons, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number exudes an unrivaled level of equally ghoulish and nostalgic charm.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect in Wrong Number. Despite its overwhelming successes, there are a few nagging issues that crop up enough to put a damper on your bloody masquerade ball – the prime suspect being the game’s spasmodic lock-on feature. Fixing a bead on your intended target takes entirely too much effort at times, with your cursor frequently dancing around every thug but your intended target, which can oftentimes result in many, many restarts during your time with the game. In addition to the game’s inconsistent lock-on feature, A.I. can be an issue as well, as some enemies will simply stand in place, spinning in a circle until you come close enough to alert them, or simply become stuck in doors. Speaking of those damned hinged obstructions, sometimes enemies simply become invulnerable when in doorways, causing you to wildly shoot or slug at them until a hit finally manages to miraculously connect. These issues, while irritating, pop up so infrequently that they do little to impact the overall enjoyment of the game, but their potential to ruin a perfect run can be somewhat maddening.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has been a long time coming, but the wait has certainly been worth it. Devolver Digital and developer Dennation Games have sharpened the game’s brutal blend of action to a razor’s edge. With smart refinements and a wealth of playable character’s stories to unravel as you slice, dice, and slaughter your way through the game’s lengthy campaign, Wrong Number towers over its predecessor, delivering a masterpiece in mutilation that simply needs to be experienced. If you’re looking for a truly challenging and surreal experience, look no further. When the phone rings, pick it up. This is one call you don’t want to miss.
Final Verdict: 5 / 5
Available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Vita, PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Devolver Digital ; Developer: Dennation Games ; Players: 1; Released: March 10, 2015 ; ESRB: Mature ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number provided by the game’s publisher, Devolver Digital.