‘Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’ Review: This sequel is a violent trip worth taking
Often when we talk about violence in video games, we picture ultra-realistic depictions of gore: the savage motion-controlled murders of Manhunt 2, the highly detailed spine-ripping fatalities of Mortal Kombat or the uncomfortably real mass violence achievable in Grand Theft Auto. But violence is more than just an action that can be simulated on screen. It’s an emotion. The tiny part of our brains left over from the Stone Age flicks on, bringing twisted pleasure in the harm of others. More so than any “violent” game you’ve ever seen, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number flicks that internal switch. It’s equal parts dream and nightmare, told out in a graphical style that wouldn’t look out of place on a Super Nintendo.
For those who haven’t experienced the 2013 original, the gameplay of Hotline Miami is simple. You enter a floor full of heavily armed gangsters as a lone figure and leave covered in blood. It’s a game clearly designed by a team that loves old-school top-down stealth games like Metal Gear or Tenchu, but hates the part where anybody is left alive. Death is a constant; you’re prone to being shot, stabbed, decapitated or maimed at any second. Surviving a floor often requires patience, memorization and the ability to improvise when shit hits the fan. On what seems like your hundredth try, the experience gels; your every gunshot, knife slash and tossed crowbar is carefully calculated down to the millisecond.
Adrenaline floods your system, and the pounding EDM beats drown out the real world. You are an un-silent assassin, disconnected from all rules other than the law of violence and the pursuit of a higher final score.
Wrong Number innovates on this formula in a number of ways: multiple playable characters drastically change how you approach situations (often locking you into a single weapon or giving you two machine guns and throwing stealth out the window) and adds variety to the game’s extended campaign. Most of the variations are fun to use (aside from one character who is limited to non-lethal takedowns), though they may have purists pining for the simple focus of the original. There’s also a greater emphasis on story, which semi-coherently weaves together a narrative and lore out of the first game’s psychedelic premise. It’s nothing outstanding, but it expands the Hotline Miami universe out of the city and builds to several stunning sequences that demand attention.
The game is also brutally difficult in spots. As early as halfway through the game, you’ll be asked to look at every floor not just as a slaughterhouse, but as a puzzle. Certain enemies require certain weapons (forcing you to skillfully prioritize your victims), and you’ll need to keep track of every enemy on the board to survive. It’s also not uncommon to realize two floors in that you’re in an un-winnable situation and need to start the whole level over again to have the right resources. I spent plenty of time in Wrong Number cursing a level’s challenge, but the relief felt from victory kept me coming back.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number takes a simple premise and stretches it into something massive. It may not be as densely polished as the original gem, but it’s rich with new ideas and violent fun to keep your blood pumping long into the night.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter @Mushroomer25
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