Dennaton Games’ blistering debut, Hotline Miami, left a lasting impression on a large section of the gaming audience back in 2012, with it’s top down GTA style pixel-art, ultra bloody hyper-violence and pulsating soundtrack. 3 years and a new generation of consoles later, Hotline Miami 2 surfs in on a wave of blood, backed with a similarly intense soundtrack. Does it best the original, or are you left wanting to hit X to go back to the first game?
The first Hotline Miami was a breath of fresh air in the indie game scene, with an art style that evoked memories of the original Grand Theft Auto, and a brutally over the top sensibility toward violence that should have had the Daily Mail presses going into meltdown. Buckets of pixelated blood gushed from suited goons as you dismembered your way through the tight corridor-laden levels, grabbing everything from baseball bats to katanas. Tight mechanics and the aforementioned pulsing tunes pushed you through, and the instant restart of a level was a button press away, and much appreciated due to the crushing difficulty. With the original being one of the larger indie breakthroughs of the last generation, my anticipation was huge for HM2, and thankfully, it’s mostly filled with positives.
First up, the story. Hotline Miami 2’s story is a dark, brooding and downright disturbing affair that leaves you shuddering uncomfortably in your seat throughout. It’s an extension of the first one in many respects, but it also opens up to new areas in a couple of really neat ways. I shan’t give too much away, but a number of the masks from the first game make an unnerving return. There are plenty of different sub-plots within Hotline 2 and not all of them seem to make a great deal of sense. Is it a movie? Is it real life? Who knows. Hell, who cares?!
Gameplay wise, it’s mostly more of the same. If you’re not familiar with the first game, it essentially controls like a dual-joystick shooter, with one stick used to move and the other to aim. Hitting R1 will swing/shoot whichever weapon you happen to have on hand, and L1 will throw it. L2 locks on to the closest enemy
In itself, that is not a bad thing. The same mechanics are there that allow you to clear rooms of enemies with great precision and skill as you become more confident in tackling the levels, and the general feeling of sadistic power is still there as a result. Where my biggest issue with Hotline Miami 2 comes in though, is with the size and scope of some of the levels. The first Hotline was designed with tight, close quarters encounters in mind, with the odd window giving your position away to enemies in other rooms who would then come and rush you in order to attack. What we have in the sequel however, is a mix of these tight environments and some rather huge open areas, where the slightest misplaced footstep will find you on the end of a shotgun slug from an enemy that you have no hope in seeing for another few seconds. Given that some of these levels can be quite long, it’s an intensely frustrating experience at times to have to have a meticulously planned out route scuppered by an eagle-eyed shotgun wielding goon the other side of the map the instant you put a foot wrong. I guess, in some ways, that’s what people expect from Hotline Miami, but to me, it’s an experience that I wish was kept a little bit smaller.
The game plays extremely well on the Dual Shock 4, and just as impressively on the Vita. There are a couple of control changes between the two (the lock-on button is Square on the Vita, for instance), but on the whole it’s an experience you can take with you on the bus as well as having on your big TV. Just make sure you take headphones with you, and don’t mind people thinking you have tourette’s!
In terms of gameplay, there’s not a huge deal more to say. The controls are pretty much the same as the first game, the areas are much, much more open and vast, and most of the time, the two don’t go hand in hand all that well. It’s a shame, because I came into this game wanting to love it, but I ended up “just” really liking it.
Fortunately, the same cannot be said about the soundtrack. An absolute beast that is heaving with tracks (Seriously, it’s well over 3 hours long!), the music in Hotline Miami 2 deserves to be heard. Loudly. A thumping mix of weirdly hypnotic techno and chiptune-inspired chaos awaits as you slice and shoot your way through the hordes of folks thirsty for your blood. After you finish off the final enemy in every level, the pounding beats immediately stop and leave you with a haunting ambient noise that would strip the paint from the very walls of the buildings you’ve just redecorated in a nauseating shade of crimson. The simple message “Go to car” hovers in neon blue at the bottom of the screen as you’re forced to re-trace your steps in reverse, contemplating what you’ve just done. It’s a hauntingly brilliant trick in a game that could (and arguably should) have had much more of them up its sleeve.
Hotline Miami 2 was in a very difficult spot. Had it solely done more of the same as the first, it would have endured criticism for not evolving. Instead, Dennaton has taken some of the formula that made the first game brilliant, and literally expanded pretty much everything in the game. Sometimes to its credit, but often to its detriment, Hotline Miami 2 hasn’t quite managed to live up to the hype of the first game, and will often leave you feeling unfairly treated as a single bullet will come from literally out of nowhere. It’s gone from a tightly paced action puzzle game, to a slightly flabbier paced action puzzler that relies much more heavily on the firepower that the first one encouraged you to shun so much. It’s worth playing, if not for the soundtrack alone, but this is really the only area that it surpasses the original title. All in all, a shaky sequel that is built on extremely solid foundations.
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