‘Hotline Miami 2’ stumbles where original soars

Jeffrey T. Paine
Staff Writer

Released in October 2012 and set in the 1980s, “Hotline Miami” by Dennaton Games was a top-down shooter game that set players in the role of an anonymous hitman carrying out assassinations ordered by cryptic messages on his answering machine. The game had a retro look befitting its ‘80s setting, violent, high-action gameplay and a psychedelic storyline that left players with as many questions as it answered. “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number” serves to tie up the loose ends of the first game, but it trips in many of the things its predecessor perfected.

While the story of “Hotline Miami” stuck with the unnamed hitman (nicknamed “Jacket” by fans of the series), “Wrong Number” bounces among a wide cast of characters: the Fans, a group of copycat killers picking up where Jacket left off; Evan, a writer searching for the truth behind the events of the first game; Manny, a detective investigating a serial killer known as the

Miami Mutilator; and many more, including some returning characters from the first game.
Gameplay in “Wrong Number” is identical to its predecessor; players control their characters from a top-down perspective and fight through the levels with whatever weapons they can find. What sets “Hotline Miami” apart from other top-down shooter games is that the player dies in one hit; one stray bullet or baseball bat to the head, and it is back to the beginning of the level.

This ends up being the biggest stumbling block of “Wrong Number.” In the first game, the threat of dying in one hit made the player feel like an action-movie hero — dodging bullets, moving room to room like a deadly blur and quickly eliminating enemies. In “Wrong Number,” the one-hit kills quickly turn the game into an exercise in frustration. The level design is mostly to blame for this: where “Hotline Miami” had smaller levels built for close-quarter combat, the levels in “Wrong Number” are bigger and more open, with the consequence that players can be killed by enemies far outside their range of vision. The game eventually devolves into poking your head around a corner to lure enemies over, ambushing them there, then moving up and repeating. The reckless, head-on charges that the first game encouraged will quickly get players killed in “Wrong Number.”

While the gameplay suffered severely, the storyline and style of “Wrong Number” stand up just as well as the original. The many unanswered questions of the first game are tied up neatly, and the new story threads are equally engaging. There were many moments when questions raised by the first game clicked neatly into their answers in an immensely satisfying way. Players will learn a little more about Jacket, strange moments from the first game become clearer and the trippy presentation that makes players question the reality of what they are seeing makes it incredibly engaging. One of the biggest questions that gets an answer is how the world of

“Hotline Miami” differs from the real world; in the world of “Hotline Miami,” the Cold War escalated into open war between Russia and the U.S., which sets the background for the events of the entire series.

It is strange and somewhat disappointing that “Wrong Number” changes virtually nothing from the original game’s formula and still manages to be noticeably less enjoyable. While the story of

“Wrong Number” is even more engaging and complex than the original, the gameplay is sadly more frustrating than fun.

“Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number” is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac and Linux for $14.99.

 

March 27, 2015.

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