Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review

I have heard that on my landline so many times over the last year…so that’s the tenuous opening reference done. Now on to the review.

I liked Hotline Miami, nay I LOVED Hotline Miami, it had the right balance of clever puzzle solving, mixed with a tight control scheme and an ultraviolence setting that set the tone wonderfully well. So Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number should have had me drooling at the mere thought of playing and it did.

However, things weren’t quite as I was expecting but let me explain why. I am not against violence in videogames, nor any medium of entertainment, I indulge in it, I crave it at times. I have played games in the past, even as a much more naive teenager, that have seen me do some of the most atrocious things. I got great pleasure out of maiming body parts in Soldier of Fortune, I got a moody copy of Thrill Kill. Carmageddon? I took great pleasure in killing innocent bystanders. I know and have always known the difference between what is real and what is fake.

If it works in context, then that’s cool and it worked in Hotline Miami, but something in Hotline Miami 2 just felt off to me and I cannot quite put my finger on it. I wasn’t disgusted by anything I saw, but it felt like this was trying to find an edge, a way to cause some controversy maybe? Who knows, all I know is that the graphic scenes didn’t sit right with me.

I wanted to make sure something hadn’t broken in my head, maybe I had changed in the months since first playing the original, since playing other ultraviolent games, or watching some sick and twisted films from the 70’s and 80’s. Nope I still enjoyed those, I even had a prolonged session on Hotline Miami, such was the enjoyment I got.

But this, this sequel made me feel the total opposite and the more I tried to justify the game, put the blame squarely on me, the more it got to me. But I could skip story stuff, just play the game and ignore everything surrounding it, I’ve played many games before where the story is gubbins and has been completely ignored just to enjoy the gameplay, so I would do the same here. Right?

Well…again not quite. In the original Hotline Miami levels were laid out in such a way that is was a mixture of puzzle solving, trial and error and reaction times. You went in, learned the layout, where the enemies were, where they could appear from, what the smart moves were and how to do it all in a beastly fashion.

Completing a level was satisfying, but failure was all part of that too, you learned from your mistakes and tried new things, it was all put together in a rich tapestry of awesomeness. Here though as much as it has the same general concepts, it also loses some of magic that made the first such a fine game.

There are a lot more offscreen deaths, where you simply have no idea where the enemy has attacked from, meaning that you often go into some areas trying to figure out a route, but end up relying on blind luck and whilst you can clearly move the camera around, it still doesn’t account for how much better the enemy AI is at spotting you well away from the action.

Even the maps seem to be a tiny bit worse, as though all the best ideas were used in the original, the same with how levels start out. There was always an element of slight randomness with enemy starting positions, but you could always factor that in to your next approach, because it still seemed to follow a pattern, but here that randomness seems to be too much, positions change a lot more drastically from turn to turn that planning becomes secondary to hope.

So far, everything about Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is worse than Hotline Miami, the story seems off, the gameplay isn’t as tight as the original and it has made minor changes that really do alter the way you approach the game. So it is awful, correct?

That’s the thing, despite all of that, it is still a damn good game. Had it not been for the fact it is a sequel to Hotline Miami, if it has been a new IP or the original had never existed, then this would have been wonderful (bar the story, but I still cannot pinpoint why I hate it), but it does live in a world where this game has been done better by its own predecessor.

It’s like going to see Toy Story 3 after watching the first two. You know it is good and technically a brilliant piece of entertainment, but it just isn’t as good as the first two films, they nailed it first time around and probably won’t be bettered in their franchise. This is how Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number comes across. A technically competent game, but lacking that little something it’s original had that made it special.