The first Hotline Miami pulled off a rare mix of hard-as-nails gameplay where you just had to keep trying to beat it with a queasy, bleak atmosphere that got under your skin. Hotline Miami 2 has the disadvantage of great expectations… so it turns those on their heads, in a game that refines its predecessor while asking hard questions of its players.
The gameplay is largely unchanged in the broad strokes, but the specifics are different. Instead of sticking with one protagonist, you jump constantly between times and a variety of different characters. When you switch characters, you also switch gameplay mechanics; one type of level will give you a gun and a knife but limit your ammo, while another will actually demand that you forsake guns altogether in favor of hand-to-hand combat and stealth.
One thing that’s changed quite a bit, though, is the level design. The levels are bigger, more sprawling, with more floors, and laid out with a cleverness that forces you to change up techniques and strategies on the fly and try different ways of cracking the level. Some feature huge open spaces you can’t hide in, others beehive-like chambers within chambers, still others are full of glass panels that foes can see, and kill, you through.
A good example is a level roughly halfway through, where you have to clean out a cargo ship. The level moves deftly from cover shooter to stealth to twitch-gaming run-n’-gun on different floors. Here’s about a half-hour of it, in which I get approximately two floors in:
Another nice touch is that the controls are tuned just so; the changes are small but the game’s undeniably tighter. Essentially, Dennaton understands their own game and what it can do far better, and it’s a stronger game as a result.
Probably the most shocking thing, though, is just how dark this game is. That sounds faintly ridiculous considering the entire goal is to be a homicidal maniac, but the game is blunt and confrontational to a degree most players likely won’t be expecting. For all its violence, and there’s a hell of a lot of it, Hotline Miami 2 ultimately is a game about if you resort to violence, it means you’ve failed. That failure could be moral, political, or emotional, but it is a failure, and the game never lets you forget that.
That said, it doesn’t necessarily click on all levels. Dennaton is a Swedish studio and the fact that English is their second language shows in the dialogue. Similarly, the gore can be outright off-putting, which is the intent, but may be a drawback for some gamers who want to ignore the story.
All that said, though, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is bigger, better, louder, more thoughtful, and better made. It’s available for PlayStation and PC platforms, and worth the $15.