The original Hotline Miami was a surprise hit a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it so much that I ended up playing through it a second time on the PlayStation Vita, so when the sequel was announced I was of course instantly interested. After some delays (it was originally due late last year) it’s finally out. So how is it?

The first game had a fairly straightforward if weird storyline, following the nameless protagonist (known simply as Jacket because he wears a jacket, of course) who receives strange phone calls and messages sending him to a variety of places to basically kill everyone there. He eventually tracks down the people he believes to be behind the calls and taking them all down. If you unlocked and finished the extra levels and secrets there was some more to it, but that was all you really needed to know to have a basic understanding.

 

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, however, is massively more complicated. The storyline takes place over a span of several years, and from the viewpoints of about a dozen characters filling in both events before and after the original game. The vast majority of the characters are never referred to by name, and given the pixel artwork and lack of voice acting it can be a little difficult to fully follow what’s going on. There’s enough information given to keep the story flowing but I did find I had to do some background reading to fully get everything that had happened and particularly what order they were in – while each chapter begins with a clock that states the date I couldn’t keep these all straight as I was playing.

The core gameplay mechanics remain unchanged, with the basic twin stick movement and aiming controls functioning exactly the same. Everything controls pretty well, though I did find myself getting stuck on corners and doorways every now and then that I wasn’t expecting to. As before, you’re going to die a huge amount of times. So many, that there’s an achievement for it. It’s still a brutally unforgiving game and a single mistake can easily lead to death and restarting the section you’re on.

 

Hotline Miami 2 is roughly twice the length of the first game, and took me about 9 hours to get through. My play time on Steam is a little longer than it was on the original game so far, and I spent a lot of time on that one going back to try and get A+ rankings on each level and find all the secrets, which I haven’t yet done here so there’s plenty to do.

Many of the levels are a lot bigger than in the previous game, and feature much more detailed designs. I was quite impressed at noticing that one cutscene set in the writer’s house showed that his son had the full set of Turtles figures on his floor (with that scene being set in the early 90s and completely appropriate) and similar levels of attention to detail are found throughout.

 

The bigger levels aren’t without a downside though. I found that the enemy AI is now a lot better at detecting you at a distance, which resulted in getting killed by an enemy you haven’t even seen. The game does have a distance look feature which can help with this, but it makes it very difficult to tell what’s happening right by your character which can, you guessed it, lead to you getting killed.

Unlike the first game, where you collected the animal masks that gave you different powerups and could then reuse them on any level, each level will have a particular character. Most characters have a selection of a couple of powerups with some of them matching the masks and some new ones but this does massively decrease the options on how to play any given level. I quite enjoyed the masks that gave lethal melee damage or doors that kill enemies when you slam into them when I played through the original game, but many levels here give you no option but to use guns. This gets taken to its logical and horrible conclusion later in the game, with some areas starting you with no gun and a combination of armed enemies and ones who can’t be killed with melee at the same time.

 

This also means that some levels have specific ways in which they need to be played to get through them, which I found took a lot of the freedom to play how you want to play away. Even after completing the game you don’t get the option of playing any level as any character, which seems like a missed opportunity.

The difficulty level is kind of uneven and weird. I had a lot more trouble with the levels around the middle third or so of the game than I did the last half a dozen, which felt a bit strange. For a few levels in the middle I had literally dozens of deaths seconds apart before working out the correct way to get through without dying, before then getting to the last couple of levels where I only died a couple of times.

 

The pixel art in the game still has a lot of charm to it. I’ve already mentioned the level of detail in the levels, but most of the character sprites are also very well drawn with a lot of expression. I think we’re about reaching a saturation point with pixel art games as there seem to be a huge number of them about these days, but the well done ones like Hotline Miami 2 still really shine. The colour palette of the original game remains here too, with lots of bright vivid colours preventing things from looking stale. A couple of levels have some water effects with the tide coming in and out on the beach that look great.

Plus, it all sounds fantastic. The first game had a great soundtrack, and many of the contributors return here with a large number of new artists. Most of the tracks fit very well to the 80’s VHS aesthetic that the game goes for, and with very few exceptions aren’t anything I minded listening to over and over again while I died repeatedly. It’s yet another game soundtrack that’s going to end up on my playlist for a long time.

 

The PC version of the game also is due to have a level editor released, allowing players to make their own maps, but this sadly wasn’t available in time for launch and is due imminently.

Ultimately I don’t think it’s as good a game as the first. The increased length means the game feels a little bit dragged out, and you don’t have as much free choice in what tactics you can take on each level which can lead to some levels being a bit frustrating. It’s certainly not a game I would recommend to newcomers to the series, with the first game being more accessible and honestly a bit more fun, but it’s definitely an enjoyable follow up that tries some new things with its formula.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is out now on PC and PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita.

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