‘Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’ plays great but flounders narratively

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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Developed by Dennaton Games
Published by Devolver Digital
Available on PS3, PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac

When an indie title hits on the kind of success that Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami (a top-down murder simulator, and yes, that’s as deliberately vile as it sounds) found upon its initial release, expectations are bound to be high for its successor. Unfortunately Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has a bit of a tall order to deliver upon from the get-go in this regard, and, in some ways, is unable to make the grade on the years of hype and fanfare that followed the original .

While the first game cast you primarily as a murderous thug receiving phone calls from a nameless source, a source that subtly directs you to commit one atrocity after another, the second game has cast you as over a dozen characters effected by the events of Hotline Miami. While this might have worked on paper, in-game these scenes come across more and more disjointed and muddled as the game progresses. In this manner the more cryptic nature of the narrative in the original is instead traded out for a series of increasingly vapid and overdrawn sequences, (the “Fans'” storyline is particularly overwrought). Even if there are a few highlights in this depraved tale, there is simply too much going on to really allow the player to get invested in any of these anti-heroes for long, and the wildly-veering chronology of the story doesn’t do it any favors.

Luckily, though the plot lacks the punch and panache of the original, where Hotline Miami 2 does deliver is in the gameplay. One real strength of casting you as several key characters lives on in the fact that each character plays differently. From Corey’s dodge-roll to Mark’s dual-wielding machine guns to the “Soldier’s” broad arsenal of military-grade weapons to two characters who can even be controlled simultaneously in a Brothers-esque fashion, the character selection and constant swapping allows the player to focus on their differing tallents and tackle challenges differently this time around.

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This aspect also strengthens the variety of the game, as you will find yourself, mission for mission, going from gunning down Russians in the jungles of Hawaii, to slaughtering gang members in a subway station, to breaching a massive corporate stronghold using five different characters. In this sense Hotline Miami 2 soars, allowing for an addictive, freestyle campaign that can be played for hours on end without fatigue or boredom setting in (if you can handle the steep difficulty, that is).

Yes Wrong Number retains the brutal, arcade-like challenge of Hotline Miami, even stepping it up to a certain extent by changing guard patterns and weapons with every successive retry. “Press the _ button to restart” is a phrase that players will have to get used to very quickly if they hope to come out on the other end of this game without a smashed controller on their living room floor, as a single mild mistake or moment of inattention will lead to an instant death. To hammer this home, there is even an achievement that can only be engaged by dying over 1000 times, and it’s not at all hard to get.

Of course, there is an upswing to this constant masochistic onslaught of replays, and that is the brain-blastingly awesome soundtrack. Filled with groovy techno beats and dubstep-fuelled tunes, the insanely addictive music is so good that you could literally have someone just play the game at a party, with the surround sound blasted, and have the evening be a resounding success. In fact, even if the game is too violent or challenging for your tastes, I can’t recommend enough that you check out this soundtrack, as it is easily in the all-time upper echelon of gaming music.

A mixed bag of styles, influences, scopes, and tones, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is definitely worth a playthrough for fans of the first entry, even if it fails to match the jarringly introspective themes explored in its forebear.

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