Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review (PC)
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number leaves me very conflicted. It's another great Hotline Miami experience with the same fast-paced action and blood-soaked retro graphics, but if I were walking past a screen showing it without knowing it was the sequel, I might think it's the first game. This is one of the safest sequels I've ever played, playing its hand close to its virtual chest and stubbornly refusing to reinvent the wheel for the second go-round. There are some new elements of course, but where I expected a build on the previous game's mechanics into a brand new experience instead became the same basic feel in a different scenario. Hotline Miami 2 indeed has the Wrong Number in its title, it should read 1.5.
Wrong Number plays exactly the same as the first game, tasking me with controlling some psychopath through floor after floor and room after room of enemies that will kill me at first sight. The game is all about "kill or be killed," only here that could be changed to "see or be seen" and have the same accuracy. I had to know how many enemies were behind every door and what kind of weaponry they sported before I even thought of opening said door, and that's what makes the game so damn fun. However, I'd done it all before in the first game, so the concept didn't feel as unique this time around.
The biggest difference comes from the removal of the original Hotline Miami's mask system; instead of choosing between over two dozen masks with different powers before every mission, I only get to choose between three or four masks at a time before about a quarter of the game's 25 missions. Gone is the strategy of using certain power-ups in certain situations, replaced with approaching most of the missions the same way. This may be the most disappointing part of the entire game, as I really wanted some new and interesting ideas thrown into the mix, but that was not to be.
Where Wrong Number fulfills its sequel duties is in the story, following the aftermath of Jacket's rampage against the Russian mafia in the original game. I get to follow thirteen different characters between a war zone 1985 and the familiar multi-floor buildings in 1991, filling in some backstory while telling me the new tale as well. This would be great if the story was told chronologically, but like the ABC show Lost I'm being thrown all over the place without knowing where exactly everything fits. Some missions are obvious flashbacks while others aren't, and it took me reading a synopsis after playing the game to make all of the pieces fit. I'm all about thought-provoking stories and putting pieces together, but thirteen different stories being told by jumping between decades is a bit too convoluted in my eyes.
The best part about Hotline Miami 2 and the one thing that kept me going is the incredible soundtrack playing behind all of the violent madness on-screen. Like its predecessor Wrong Number calls upon some excellent electronica artists to create a soundtrack tailor-made for death and destruction, and I already know it's going to be a part of my playlist for years to come. A true indicator of an excellent soundtrack is when the music fuels me and drives me to continue playing even when I'm hopelessly stuck, and I feel like that happened in every Wrong Number mission.
I probably sound like I'm giving Hotline Miami 2 a really hard time, but I want to make one thing perfectly clear: the game is still fun. I still reveled in blasting bad guys in room after room, I still got that "one more mission before bed" feeling that good games tend to generate, and I still am really enamored with the whole Hotline Miami experience. What disappoints me is the lack of big change or innovation in this sequel, and that everything feels and looks like the original game. I wasn't expecting a completely new experience, but I was hoping for some kind of shake-up, and the most I got was killing enemies in giant open areas instead of just killing them on multiple floors.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is not a bad game. It is, however, a bad sequel. Carrying a "2" in the title creates an expectation for a new and exciting take on what the last game did, and Wrong Number doesn't do that. Instead it takes the "don't fix what isn't broken" approach and presents the same gameplay with a new story behind it. I still enjoyed the game and I still will recommend it to friends, but I would have been much more accepting of the approach if that "2" was instead a "1.5."
This review is based on a download code of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number provided by the publisher for PC.