If you played Hotline Miami, you’ve probably repressed parts of it in your mind. You’ll remember the beautifully reactive controls, the instant restarts and the intricate ballet of destruction as you learnt to perfectly juggle weapons and aggro to clear out a complicated room in a brief five second massacre. You’ve probably forgotten just how violent some of those deaths were, the ambiguous morality of the main character (is he really evil or insanely evil?) and the atmospheric and classy but mind melting sound track and visual effects. To make sure you can’t push them out this time, Hotline Miami 2 has dialled all of those aspects up to 11 while maintaining the hectic skill-based gameplay prowess the original won so much acclaim for.
In short the game is a 2d top-down beat-em-up where a single hit or shot will kill you. Thankfully with a single tap of a button you will reset the level and try again. You can knock people down with doors, shoot guns, throw weapons and grab new ones, all at lightning speed. A normal room entry will involve you waiting for an enemy to get close enough, slam the door in his face, steal his gun, shoot at the two others in the same room, throw the empty gun at a final enemy who enters, stamp on the head of the first guy before running across to the last and bashing his brains out on the carpet.
The game is disturbing and there’s no two ways about it. The opening scenes involve simulated rape, the bloody murder of many assorted thugs, corrupt police and neon pixellated graphics that refuse to stay put as you’re trying to focus. The game is designed to trick your brain into thinking your part of some drug fuelled rampage where the motives are unclear but you need to keep going and it manages it with a worrying amount of success. As you clear levels people cease to be people, they’re targets, moving targets that occasionally want to scream or beg for their lives. Scores appear and you’re graded at the end of each bloodbath, you begin to empathise with your character while you struggle with cryptic phone calls and other NPCs who just don’t understand you.
The soundtrack begins with a beat that oozes style but without you even noticing it heavily distorts into the kind of thing that you’d expect to be coming out of a broken hi-fi from the 90s, the pause menu is a fuzzy VCR recorder menu, everything about the game subverts what you’d expect and refuses to conform to exactly what you’d want it to be.
Unfortunately this doesn’t carry over to the gameplay. While it’s hard as nails, the game isn’t quite as original as the first one was and with a lack of originality some of the ideas begin to grow stale. Larger levels isn’t a plus, it means what used to be an engaging puzzle becomes a laborious chore as every death sends you back to the beginning. A new cast of characters with their own gameplay quirks throw you out of your own play style and force you to play the way the developers want you to, like only using guns or never using guns. It doesn’t feel as immersive when there’s these bizarre arbitrary laws that only serve to make some of the action more difficult.
Overall Hotline Miami 2 is an excellent game that’s been weakened by some poor design decisions in regards to the gameplay. It’s bigger but not necessarily better. What it does have going for it is an atmosphere and ability to profoundly effect you as a gamer and that’s worth the admission price alone in our eyes. If you haven’t played Hotline Miami before, get the original, then come back for this if you feel you can take some more. Then we’ll apologise for putting you through that.