Review: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

If I had to describe Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number in one word, it’d be “Kafkaesque.” The first Hotline Miami came out of nowhere and earned tremendous success in the crowded indie field, but Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number tears away the few safeguards that the first had. It wants you to feel disoriented, but keeps your dizzy form standing with an almost artistic indulgence on ultraviolence. It’s a top-down shooter in an ’80s retro pixel-art design, but it exists outside of your typical retro throwback. While Hotline Miami was a surprisingly enjoyable entry point for this bizarre trip to insanity, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number cuts the crap and embraces its own drug-induced illusions completely. I felt confused when playing Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, but my God was I having a good time.

Picking up after the events of Hotline Miami, Wrong Number follows thirteen characters, each with their own story. You’ll find a few familiar faces scattered throughout, but the protagonists each have brand new narratives to follow. You have a group of masked vigilantes who idolize Jacket (the character from the first game), a detective with a serious “bad cop” complex, a soldier stationed in the Pacific, and many more. These individual stories intertwine in interesting ways, complemented by a deceptive method of framing where reality is often askew. There are points where you’ll be confused as to the purpose of various events in the game, but it’s that bizarre misdirection that makes Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’s story so captivating. It’s all wrapped in a gritty, pulp wrapper, right out of noire crime drama and edgy grindhouse film. The story is hypnotic in its aesthetic; you’ll always want to see how far the rabbit hole goes.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number follows the template of its predecessor as a top-down shooter. You can shoot, but only in the direction you’re facing, while melee weapons have a larger range. You even have a handy lock-on technique, which is invaluable in the later stages, along with character-specific moves in certain cases. While the game plays well with a mouse and keyboard, I stuck to a controller, which is fluid and functional for twin-stick shooters. Wrong Number is a class example; it plays beautifully on a controller. It also has customizable bindings, which is a godsend for games like this. While the controls still feel a little sketchy and tough to get used to, you’ll quickly find yourself smashing up buildings and painting the town red in no time.

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While the main gameplay of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is practically the same, the design feels fresh and renovated. The masks from Hotline Miami return, granting new techniques and play styles throughout. These alternative play styles are where Wrong Number really shows its best colors. One character can dive roll under gunfire. One has no projectile moves, but can deliver one-hit-kill punches. These subtle tweaks to the classic Hotline Miami gameplay manage to keep the player guessing, while letting them settle into their own. Some story characters operate even more differently, like Evan, who disarms enemies instead of killing them early on, but eventually changes his own style with something more dangerous. The changes end up mattering a lot when it comes to variety; much like its story, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’s gameplay always likes to keep the player guessing.

In addition to these styles, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number feels like a bigger game. Levels are much more layered and almost labyrinthine in design. Some stages add atriums and foyers as large open rooms, with smaller corridors surrounding them. This makes the levels feel much more realistic in architecture, while also delivering a more diverse stage design. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number might be a gory bloodbath, but thanks to its “one hit and you’re dead” gameplay, it demands intelligence as well. Using corners as cover or luring an enemy down a hall to ambush them are crucial to victory. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number doesn’t mess around. It demands a lot, but you’ll be willing to give it your all every step of the way.

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The campaign lasts a considerable amount of time because of this difficulty, but you also get rankings based on each of your completed stages. Getting the highest ranking is no easy task. Between speed, precision and skill, you need to be in top condition to nail it. The different abilities also contribute replay value. Replaying a level as the duo Alex and Ash (two characters, each with their own kind of weapon) or the soldier Nicklas (who has a melee and gun weapon simultaneously) provide different experiences. If you’re especially daring, you can even try the heavier difficulties. Despite its similarities to its predecessor, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number feels like a more substantial package, both in content and design.

Hotline Miami’s retro pixel-art aesthetic was a unique turn when combined with bloody, pulp movie violence, and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number only reinforces that glorious sentiment. It’s artistically gruesome; enemies’ guts hang out of their dead bodies and even your most basic executions have a brutality to them unseen in other games. This is capped off with neon lights and shimmering graphics, echoing the night life of Miami.

Surprisingly, though, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number offers some great aesthetic variety as well. Some levels take place in the jungles of Hawaii, while others take place in a sewer. The graphics retain a twisted charm to them amongst the almost whimsical ultraviolence. And the soundtrack? What can I say — this isn’t just one of the best indie game soundtracks, but also one of the best game soundtracks period. It’s a mix of atmospheric electronica and dubstep, but emits a retro sensibility. Some tracks have twanging bass beats, like they were ripped straight from a lost Sega Genesis game. The superb musical direction is stylized and surprisingly diverse, emitting mood after mood to paint the surreal picture of the game. To no one’s surprise, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is an incredible example of top-quality graphic and sound design.

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Closing Comments:

At its core, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number doesn’t do much different than its predecessor. It’s gritty, pulp fiction cranked to eleven. Rich with drugs, sex, violence, corruption and all the other buzz words of its artistic scene, it dares to push the player further down a surreal trance of discomfort. But beyond its dizzying story is a game that feels honed and intense. Visceral and satisfying, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is bloody action, concentrated to a near-perfect balance. With the subtle changes to design and options, the game takes incremental steps toward evolution, while still feeling as mentally unstable as you’d want. It controls like a dream, entrancing the player with its accessible design, challenging difficulty and blissfully indulgent presentation. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is purposely discomforting and hypnotically visceral. It’s one of the best games released so far this year.