Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

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Giant Bomb Review

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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review

3
  • PS4
  • PSNV
  • PC

Hotline Miami's thrillingly brutal gameplay is stretched to the point of breaking in this aesthetically pleasing, but otherwise disappointing sequel.

Hotline Miami was an exquisitely nasty good time. Its premise was simple: a killer receives phone messages from mysterious third parties, each instructing him to go to a place, enter, and kill everyone inside. How you went about killing everyone inside was left largely up to you. Every locale presented the player with a kind of homicidal brain teaser: What mixture of guns, melee weapons, and environmental kills can I use to most quickly eliminate every target without taking a single hit? Player death was frequent and encouraged, to the point where tapping on the level reset button morphed from repeated annoyance into reflexive action, a vital step in the game's intoxicating dance of death and dismemberment.

Hotline Miami asked players if they liked hurting people. Hotline Miami 2 assumes the answer to that question was a resounding yes.
Hotline Miami asked players if they liked hurting people. Hotline Miami 2 assumes the answer to that question was a resounding yes.

Hotline Miami also knew when to quit. Clocking in at just a few hours of play, the developers at Dennaton built Hotline Miami to be a ruthlessly efficient experience, focused primarily on getting the player in and out of each stage with minimal bullshit to distract from the core concept of blisteringly paced murdering. This is part of what makes Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number a disappointment. This sequel is obsessed with enlarging everything about the original, often at the expense of said efficiency. Wrong Number bolts on considerable length to every element of Hotline Miami's design, and as a result feels bloated and out of sorts. Pieces of it periodically capture the spirit and energy of the original game--most notably the soundtrack and art design, which are as hypnotic as ever--but just as often, Hotline Miami 2 comes across like a meandering, more verbose retread of its predecessor.

That isn't to say that Hotline Miami 2 is bereft of excitement. There are moments peppered throughout the game's 26 scenes that match the level of disturbing (yet thrilling) frenzy Hotline Miami was so good at delivering. In those moments, the visual design, pulsating beats, and breakneck action all swirl together into blood-soaked delirium, reminding you of how Hotline Miami got its hooks in you to begin with. But those truly terrific moments are delivered inconsistently throughout Hotline Miami 2, and they're often book-ended by sequences that turn that psychedelic frenzy into teeth-gnashing frustration.

It's not enough to just say that Hotline Miami 2 is a more difficult game than the first. It's why the game is more difficult that negates a lot of the fun. Nearly every stage in Hotline Miami 2 is a great deal larger than anything in the first game, and along with that increased real estate comes a greater abundance of bad guys to take out. I said in my review of Hotline Miami that its level designs were just the right length, that "were each level to drag on just a bit longer, the game would give way to irritating repetition." That's essentially what's happened in Hotline Miami 2. Sussing out each floor layout takes many, many tries, and all too often you'll find yourself splayed out on the ground because you failed to notice a shooter in a far back corner that picked you off entirely off-screen, or because a dog that happened to blend in with the dim stage lighting caught you unawares.

It's stuff like this that makes Hotline Miami 2 more often a chore than a pleasure to progress through. Level designs often go heavy on windowed rooms, scaling down the number of useful hiding places you can use to plot your next course. And even when you are in a seemingly functional hiding spot, there's often some guy off in the distance that manages to snipe you before you even know he's there. Enemy AI is troublesome as well. Blast a nearby foe and watch as guys from three rooms away start bolting toward you, yet the guy in the room right next to you remains unmoved. You'll see enemies (especially dogs) get hung up in doorways, spinning around endlessly until you put them out of their misery.

Whether by design or not, Hotline Miami 2 too often works against the kind of freeform action that made the original so compelling. I'm not suggesting it's impossible to fly through Hotline Miami 2's levels--I've seen plenty of videos that show players briskly laying waste to hordes of enemies and scoring highly for their efforts--but the barrier to getting to that point is much, much higher this time around, and for my part, I didn't find it to be worth the effort. In Hotline Miami, I often found myself slamming dudes with doors, flinging weapons around, and pouncing for execution moves in bursts of movement that came almost without thinking. In Hotline Miami 2, I mostly found myself slowly peeking around corners, carefully examining every corner of the environment in the hopes of avoiding unseen shooters, locking onto enemies with the auto-target and trying to create choke points for waves of bad guys I knew would inevitably come running the second I let a shot ring out. In Hotline Miami, I could clear whole floors just using melee weapons, never using a gun for anything but a fling-able object. In Hotline Miami 2, I don't think I ever cleared a stage without using a gun unless the game specifically prevented me from using one.

Wrong Number's larger level designs make guns a far more vital component than in the first game.
Wrong Number's larger level designs make guns a far more vital component than in the first game.

This is the primary way that Hotline Miami 2 attempts to differentiate itself from the first game. It sets up its story through multiple character viewpoints, and builds its levels around specific abilities tied to each character. One character, for instance, can only punch people to death, whereas another can only use non-lethal attacks (and becomes an enraged psychopath if you do try to pull off a killing move). These variances in abilities take away a bit of the improvisational spirit of the original, though not entirely. There are still character specific perks tied to masks (or other objects) which can radically change how you approach a stage.

There's something laudable in the notion of forcing players to change up their style, to keep them from falling into a comfortable, one-size-fits-all approach. That said, it's an idea I like better in concept than in execution. I'll admit a certain satisfaction in running through a stage, obliterating enemies with fists perpetually akimbo. But having a character who can only use one gun (and only refill ammo at conservatively placed crates) is little more than an obnoxious barrier, and trying to move a pair of chainsaw-and-gun-wielding psychopaths around proved to be as profoundly irritating an experience as I've ever had in one of these games, thanks to the second character's predisposition to getting hung up on the scenery.

The game presents these characters as integral pieces of a larger, more convoluted fiction, all surrounding "Jacket," the deluded killer from the original. Some of the characters you play as include a reckless police detective, a true crime writer, the son of the Russian mob boss, an actor hired to play Jacket in the film version of the first game's story, a military operative fighting off a Russian invasion of Hawaii, and a gang of killers who consider themselves "fans" of Jacket's exploits. The story is told in nonlinear fashion, jumping from time period to time period as each scene metes out a bit more insight into how these various personalities relate to the events of the original game. However, the effectiveness of each story arc varies wildly. The nonlinear structure does the plot no favors in terms of coherence, but the bigger issue is that the game has little to say about anything beyond itself, and spends a lot of time saying it.

Hotline Miami's story essentially amounted to a loose assemblage of trippy imagery strung together by occasional moments of introspective guilt-tripping. Hotline Miami 2 tries to flesh those few dangling threads of plot out into a wordier, weirder saga, and the result is only rarely of any great interest. It presumes that players were dying to know about all the ins-and-outs of Jacket's backstory, where the mysterious 50 Blessings militia group came from, and just what it all means, man.

Whatever revelations Hotline Miami 2 has are largely self-indulgent, and what shocks it delivers feel mostly empty. Take, for example, the game's opening scene, a brief sequence of sexual assault that immediately flips into a reveal of movie set fakery. The scene was a point of controversy leading up to the game's release, and it comes with a menu prompt asking if you want to disable viewing it entirely. That this prompt exists is less an indictment of any outrage directed at the game, and more of the scene's necessity in the first place. It, alongside the majority of the "movie" section of the plot, feels entirely superfluous, a combination of disorienting fake-outs and cheap shocks that never amount to much. Other areas of the story come together better, but none of it ever approaches the elegant ambiguity of the first game. Hotline Miami 2 succeeds only in spreading out the fiction of the series, without ever improving upon it.

It's understandable that Dennaton would want to fashion Wrong Number into something other than just
It's understandable that Dennaton would want to fashion Wrong Number into something other than just "more Hotline Miami," but the divergences this sequel takes aren't often to the game's benefit.

Leaden as the plot can be, Hotline Miami 2 is still incredibly effective at building atmosphere. The game's visual design builds nicely on the neon nightmare aesthetic Hotline Miami established, especially in the game's final stage, where the designers finally give in to Hotline Miami's psychedelic undercurrent and go full drug-trip in one of the most visually arresting scenes I've played in a long time. Even better is the soundtrack, which marks a huge improvement over the already excellent array of songs found in the original. Music was the motor that kept Hotline Miami's murder treadmill going, and Dennaton has curated an amazing list of songs for the sequel. It's a diverse soundtrack that spans multiple genres, but heavily leans toward that particular subgenre of electronica you usually hear in movies where a lone wolf cop is stalking a serial killer through a seedy, crowded dance club. As a standalone playlist, it's terrific, but it's even better in the context of the in-game action.

If only that action were more consistently enjoyable. When Hotline Miami 2 is firing on all cylinders, it shows flashes of the focused, nimble brilliance of the original. But those moments aren't the norm. More often, Hotline Miami 2 feels bogged down by its aspirations, caught between the rock and hard place of both trying to expand upon the original game's concept, and recapture the same magic that made Hotline Miami such a surprise hit. Where Hotline Miami felt lithe and creative, Hotline Miami 2 often feels sluggish and inflexible. There's fun to be had with this sequel, but it's the kind that only the original game's most ardent and obsessive fans will find in great supply.

Alex Navarro on Google+

145 Comments

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TruckSimulator

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Edited By TruckSimulator • 

yeah it's ok but i don't know if i want more

though i'm still reading, thanks for the review alex

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supermonkey122

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Brundage

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rmanthorp

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rmanthorp  Moderator • 

I am the 1%!

No legit I LOVED this game. I'm still going over it in my head and I've played them both back to back twice in the last week but I think I might like 2 better overall... :0

Great review Alex!

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Tortoise

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Tortoise • 

Sad to say, but I agree. The levels are way too big, and designed in ways that make unpredictable or unlucky death very likely to occur.

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ThubbeYo

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Edited By ThubbeYo • 

The music in this game is so goddamn good. Combined with the great gameplay and awesome look, i really enjoyed it. I'd give it a 4 at least.

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MATATAT

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MATATAT • 

I thought a lot of the inclusions were really fun to play as. I like a brutally tough game but sometimes HLM2 was kinda bs.

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roccobotte420

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TheOrz

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TheOrz • 

I was kinda up and down on the game, but man the last level is pretty damn cool

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poobumbutt

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Edited By poobumbutt • 

Damn it. I was thinking about writing my own review of HM2, but this review says most of what I was going to. And better. And then some.

Needless to say, great review, Alex.

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unreal999

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unreal999 • 

Sounds like you didn't like the game because it was too hard, which to me is so subjective. I found it challenging, but not unfair. Game is fun, albeit not an instant classic like the original. 4/5

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enragedstump

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enragedstump • 

Interesting, i have really been loving it. The gameplay has been giving me the same brutal feeling as the first. The issue i am having is the elongated conversations that seem to detract from the game.

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dr_mantas

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Edited By dr_mantas • 

That's, like, your opinion, dude.

And I'm glad they included a scene they wanted to include. Outrage, schmoutrage.

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Herk

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Edited By Herk • 

I really liked it, a solid 4/5.

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ejc93

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ejc93 • 

Great review, always love to read your writing.

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Hayt

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Hayt • 

Scrub city, USA. Population: everyone that disagrees with me

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hassun

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hassun • 

I do miss being able to make that 1 great non-stop run through an entire level. Maybe I'm just not good enough...

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Wagrid

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Wagrid • 

Really great review. Your take on this game reminds me of how I feel about Dark Souls II.

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Humanity

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Edited By Humanity • 

I know this game is somewhat divisive in the community as some have learned to enjoy it all over again while others prefer the far simpler initial entry. When I say simpler I mean by design, not difficulty. Hotline Miami sported a less involved story with a no-nonse through line compared to the much more involved second entry with it's twisting and weaving story and much longer and exhausting levels. Despite this maybe superfluous new layer of complexity I've learned to enjoy and appreciate certain things about Hotline Miami 2. It's not perfect, and maybe it wasn't exactly what I thought a sequel to this series would be, but it still remains a one of a kind experience that I'm forever thankful for existing. I would say this isn't entirely made for obsessive fans, as I'm certainly not one to get all A+ ratings or play on hard mode, but it definitely isn't as accessible as the first game.

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triplestan

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Edited By triplestan • 

I'd agree with a lot of this review, especially the levels feeling like more of a chore. It got to the point (in the night club mission) that I finally just gave up and decided I would come back to it later, something I never did in the first.

I'm looking forward to seeing how it all resolves, but the game has definitely outstayed its welcome a little bit.

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Kvel2D

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Kvel2D • 

I feel that the experience of this game depends so much on how much you've mastered Hotline Miami. It might be a frustrating game for most people, but maybe for people who are really good at it this level of challenge is perfect.

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steellasagna

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steellasagna • 

I enjoyed how even more brutal the gameplay was, especially going through it on hard.

My main disappointment is the story. It felt so scattered, and some parts felt like they undermined the first game. I wish it had either gone in the direction of being almost completely removed from the first game, or let you see the events of the first game from different angles.

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rockhopper78

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rockhopper78 • 

Great review. Thanks Alex! I've never played Hotline Miami before, and was curious about whether to get this one. But it sounds like I'll just be really frustrated with dying all the time. And I've already got death coming for me in Bloodborne next week. So I guess I'll pass. Maybe it will come to PS Plus down the road and I'll definitely try it out then.

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OGJackWagon69

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OGJackWagon69 • 

I am the 1%!

No legit I LOVED this game. I'm still going over it in my head and I've played them both back to back twice in the last week but I think I might like 2 better overall... :0

Great review Alex!

same here man, this was a 5 star game for me, just none of the stuff about bullet proof enemies and the game being too long bugged me at all

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steellasagna

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steellasagna • 

@kvel2d: It really took me a while to warm up to the gameplay, and while I think the gameplay in the original is better, the challenge this game presents is awesome.

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alex

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alex  Staff • 

@rockhopper78: Play the first one. It's incredible and also pretty cheap these days.

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JoeyRavn

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JoeyRavn • 

I'd give it a 2/5, personally. I thoroughly enjoyed the last chapter, the fifth one, but everything leading up to it was either extremely dull and boring or extremely rage-inducing. The Hawaii levels were both at the same time.

The plot, however, was very interesting, even if it felt somewhat disconnected at times. Honestly, getting to know how it would all end was the sole reason that I found to finish this game. If it had been only because of the gameplay, I would have uninstalled it by chapter 2...

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SaucyGiraffe

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SaucyGiraffe • 

I loved the last level, which was probably the easiest level in the game. Too bad you have to slog through the rest of the game to play it.

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seakae

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seakae • 

The levels ARE ridiculously large. Playing on the Vita is a pain in the ass, always having to look ahead. But I'm having fun with it regardless. The story is more interesting, albeit annoyingly complex with the flashbacks/forwards.

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Woodles

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Woodles • 

This is exactly how I felt about this game Alex! I will still beat it eventually, but if it wasn't for the great music then I wouldn't care much about this game sadly. Everything about the gameplay I loved in the first one isn't really here in the form that I wanted. A harder game with the same frenetic pace I would have been happy with. I just wanted to run around and knife people instead of resorting to using guns. Then again this game could never have had the same impact as the first one. In my older days I tend to want "new" gaming experiences instead of having it all be more of the same with a new perspective. Yet, I still play mmo's and diablo games so shrugs. I don't know what I want anymore...

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MikeW1980UK

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MikeW1980UK • 

Couldn't agree with this verdict. I'm loving everything about it, but opinions are opinions.

Something I've noticed is that GB's last batch of reviews are 2-3 stars. Seems strange that they would review something like BF:H or The Order, but something like Ori goes without.

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TwoLines

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TwoLines • 

Yo, I guess I am also the 1%. Well, now that I read the comments, it's more like uh... 10%? 20%? Whatever. I'm still having fun, and I'm at the end. For me it's still a 4-5 star game.

Good review though Alex!

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ComradeCrash

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ComradeCrash • 

Couldn't agree more. Great review! I find it enjoyable and hopefully will have it finished by the end of this weekend.

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baka_shinji17

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Edited By baka_shinji17 • 

I really should finish the first Hotline Miami.

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KillEm_Dafoe

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KillEm_Dafoe • 

100% spot on review, Alex. I'm a few levels from the end, and I've crossed the point of having more frustration than fun. There's some seriously rotten level design in this game. Having the solution to every level be piling up bodies in a doorway doesn't give the same satisfaction as the original.

The music is so fucking good, though.

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Bocam

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Bocam • 

@alex Did you at least enjoy the last level of the game? Because I wished HM2 was more of that than less of just a retread of the 1st game

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Ghostiet

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Ghostiet • 

I don't agree at all, but whatever. Hotline Miami 2 is probably going to be beat only by MGSV for GOTY this year in my book - I've had tremendous fun with its gameplay and it's one of the smartest games I've played in terms of story.

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ArjanN

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ArjanN • 

Can't say I agree with this, the game just assumes you played the first game and got good at it, so the difficulty just picks up where that left off.

With practice it's still possible to speed through a level killing everything in a combo.

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Schlorgan

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Schlorgan • 

Last year was the year of the 4-star review. Hopefully this year doesn't turn out to be the year of the 3-star review.

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Dundahbolt • 

I just think that Hotline Miami 2 is a different game from the first. On the levels where you are supposed to be more cautious, the music shifts to a more considerate tone. On the fuck everything and go fast levels, The music shifts again. It cues you into how to play, and while the levels are not all laid out in a simple manner conducive to free-form playing, I actually rather enjoyed them. I think the characters are not like jacket, who was an extremely accomplished murderer. Also, much of the first game took place in a coma, and those where the levels which were the easiest to get through on the first try. I think that the difficulty spike makes sense thematically, as well as ratcheting up the tension. I mean, a few years ago, A lone guy killed a huge number of russian mob members because of the tight corridors of their hideouts, possibly without firing a single shot. It would only make sense for them to tighten up patrols, and move to hideouts with fewer blind spots and more visible area, as they were actually under attack. Also, the people who you play as tend not to be trained killers, but rather zealous yet untrained murder enthusiasts. It leads to a more mental approach which felt different, if not better than the original. I agree that the major plot points are about it's own story, but in the original, it was not much different. I never felt like Hotline Miami ever really explored the depths of any issue, It just used issues to help create an atmosphere. I liked this game, although I will admit that I had some trouble with some levels. Even so, I don't feel like dying was ever really a problem, and It felt more like a puzzle that I had to find all the pieces for, which gave me a different kind of satisfaction.

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Venekor

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Venekor • 

I played a bit of it and hated it, the first was so much better.

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Cirdain

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Edited By Cirdain • 

I complexly agree with you Alex. Those fucking hawaii levels... I was playing correctly. Only used the shotgun on the people I couldn't punch to death but christ.

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Edited By MoonwalkSA • 

@kvel2d said:

I feel that the experience of this game depends so much on how much you've mastered Hotline Miami. It might be a frustrating game for most people, but maybe for people who are really good at it this level of challenge is perfect.

I thought I might feel that way going into HM2, but after playing it, I agree completely with Alex's assessment of the level design. I'm sure it's still *possible* to complete levels without firing a shot depending on your character/mask, but it feels almost like the devs forgot about the importance of improvisation and non-lethality (that is, the knockout right before you bash their head in) that was such a huge part of HM1. It's not an issue of difficulty or challenge, really, but a much less simple issue of style.

Being good at the first game, at least score-wise, almost always involved incorporating knockdowns before an execution as much you could within a time-efficient run of a level - in other words: Never fire guns except as a lure, throw often, change targets often, and use lethal melee swings sparingly. Even in levels with firearms everywhere, it never felt to me in HM1 like a level was designed with gun use as the intended solution (besides obvious stuff towards the end, like the Boss). In HM2, it feels like the majority of the levels expect you to use guns & make noise, besides when there's some obvious character trait or gimmick changing the mechanics. Alex was spot-on with that complaint, and personally my preference is to use guns as little as possible even if it weren't a score thing. Winning with a chokepoint full of lined-up bodies just feels sloppy.

The hugeness of the levels, or more specifically the *openness* of the levels, also hurts improvisation. HM1 even in its largest zones was usually a maze of tight corridors and rooms and corners, while HM2 is often oriented towards huge empty warehouses and dancefloors and similarly exposed spaces, so you have far less opportunity to dash into melee range without being shot from offscreen. I don't mind being killed and the levels are still perfectly do-able if you're careful (or persistent enough to speedrun it until you get lucky), but the enemy placement and especially the placement of randomly patrolling enemies in these large spaces makes it seem like the game was also designed with the intended solution being to stop and carefully scan the environment to find out where the random patrols wandered to, which kills the frantic pace of those "perfect runs" that the first game was all about.

It's still a pretty good game, and I never expected it to be better than the first simply because it is almost impossible to re-capture novelty, but the specific level design of this game went in the total wrong direction relative to the things that made me love playing HM1.... that, or they were just lazier about making the gameplay than they were on the first time through.

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Applegong

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Applegong  Online • 

I didn't play the game but from I've seen, no other game seems to convey that feeling of hopelessness, confusion, and desolation quite like this game in its style and plot, all the while making players an almost unfeeling albeit willing participant in the relentless orgy of death and violence. Some could call the plot cheaply or carelessly handled, but I sensed a current or momentum delving deeply into the madness (never explicitly revealed nor discussed) driving the progression of the different time periods and stages. Maybe it is nihilism or it depends on how the player approached the game but the end could be deemed an act of compassion (this sentiment further bolstered by the inclusion of a bonus episode) rather than a cynical wrap up to the motley group of characters who were bound by the common theme of affliction. I dunno, I had to get that off my chest. There is nothing cheap or callous about this game and I never expected to say this about a game mainly concerned with grisly killing and mayhem.

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spankingaddict

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BlueJester

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BlueJester • 

I totally agree with you Alex. I wanted to like this game so much... Every time I play though I want to stop playing half way through a level.

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Rorie

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Rorie  Staff • 

I feel much the same. I'll probably space out my time in the game with a scene or two every night over the next couple of weeks rather than try to power through it.

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Edited By Yerolo • 

I finished the game, but it was very frustrating at multiple points. I had to stop playing at various times because I wasn't making any progress and just continually restarting. The point Alex makes about being shot off-screen or killed by those damn dogs was spot on

I ended up taking over 30hrs to finish it, which is probably 3x longer than most people (comparatively I took around 8-9hrs to finish the first game)

Maybe I'm jsut too old for these types of games now heh

Back to Cities: Skylines I go....

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L33T_HAXOR

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Edited By L33T_HAXOR • 

Great review. I'd personally give it four stars (sort of begrudgingly), but I totally see where you're coming from.

"the bigger issue is that the game has little to say about anything beyond itself, and spends a lot of time saying it."

Perfect critique of the plot.

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Redbullet685

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Redbullet685 • 

@schlorgan: Nothing has reviewed higher than a 3 so far this year and that's kind of alarming (out of 5 reviews). Maybe if Brad does a Bloodborne review then we'll most likely get a score higher than 3 stars. And I'm assuming Jeff will do a MKX review and surely that will be a good game, right?