In 1991, major events took place that changed the world: Operation Desert Storm began, Boris Yeltsin wins first free elections for Russia’s first popularly-elected president, and cyclones in Bangladesh kill hundreds of thousands. And someone went so far as to recreate the murders seen in the original Hotline Miami. Crazy year, right?
The story takes a page from the plot of the slasher film, “Scream 2”, where a movie is made based off the killings that occurred in the original that made it a movie within a movie. The same goes for the events of Hotline Miami 2, making it a game within a game.
And that’s kind of the more interesting thing as a whole, there’s more story this time around. The narrative jumps through time, forwards and backwards to weave its threads together. It’s evolved, less coherent, but it goes deeper than it needs to. And if you don’t want to be bothered by motivations, twists, or otherwise cliched tales, then you’re free to skip it all if you’d like.
Of course Hotline Miami 2 is about brutal, gory, and unnerving combat done puzzle-like fashion, where things must be done in the right order or suffer a horrific death. But it can be undone by simply pressing ‘R’ to return you back to the beginning, off to do it all again. It’s almost like “Groundhog’s Day”, where completing a level can’t be accomplished until you do it perfectly right. And it’s in Hotline Miami 2 that it feels more linear, more focused in the way you should go about killing people to clear the level.
Rather than just collecting masks as one protagonist, you are playing as several with different abilities and masks all to themselves. For instance, one character kills in one punch, one carries a pistol through the whole level, and another refuses to use a gun and will empty out every gun you pick up, for some additional points and also preventing the enemy from using them as well.
There is an added challenge of playing as many different characters with distinct play styles, and it was an adjustment. But I still preferred the original in the freedom that I was allowed from level to level, or just the mask I could equip that I preferred. But the way Hotline Miami 2‘s story unfolds, is all about leaving your comfort zone, and the different characters service the story in the ways it needs to, rather than servicing you as the player.
Levels are bigger in the wrong ways. All too often I was killed from an off-screen enemy that I couldn’t see, but could see me. The rules of engagement are high in favor of the AI, which is just plain unfair. Pressing ‘Shift’ to see further ahead was used a whole lot more now than I’ve ever used it in the past. But even then, the reach of being able to see ahead was not always enough and resulted in many meaningless deaths. I myself never became frustrated, but I can see how this is something that would be too unfair to be enjoyable over time.
There’s no doubt how visually appealing Hotline Miami 2 is. The top-down, retro aesthetic is highly saturated neon colors, soaking into your retinas in that way that 90s apparel. The pause menu completes the feeling of the era with a VHS style treatment, complete with tracking static and all.
Hotline Miami 2 goes for that thumping synthesized soundtrack, and absolutely nails the gritty, urban feel of the game on an emotional level. The highs are high, and the lows are low making this a soundtrack that rivals the first game in what would be an unthinkable way back in 2012. But it has surpassed the original with amazing beats.
Hotline Miami 2 didn’t move me in the ways I wanted to it to, for a sequel to Hotline Miami. It hit all the right notes, and I even enjoyed the combat a bit more than the original, but the limitations imposed on my player freedom were enough to bog down my patience and willingness to retry a level. Hotline Miami 2 first and foremost has a story to be told, and the gameplay and characters within service that story throughout, making it a more focused, blood-soaked adventure that’s worth the frustrations.
A Steam code was provided by PR for review purposes