Hotline Miami, released in 2012, was a masterpiece, with simple, tight controls and breakneck top-down 2D action supported by an almost perfect soundtrack. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (reviewed on PC, also available on Mac, Linux, PS3, PS4, PS Vita) arrives with a lot to live up to.
Despite some delays, developer Dennaton Digital has delivered a deserving sequel stuffed with more of what made the first game so great. Even the hyper brutal combat is back, along with heavy hitting musical talent from the original, and a hard mode for the real masochists. While it might not be as groundbreaking as the original Hotline Miami, new and returning players will need to carve out time to find out what's at the other end of Wrong Number.
Story - An Animal Breaking Free from the Camera
Unlike the first game, which hid a subtle plot behind the bloody action, Wrong Number's more complex story forces you to piece together what's really going on. The beginning of Hotline Miami 2 puts you on the set of Midnight Animal, an action movie that jumps between the late 80's and early 90's, and among multiple settings, including sewers and drug dens.
You start off as a character in the movie, battling thugs and generally wreaking havoc, before jumping into another role and place. This forces you to repeatedly switch leads and locations, but, without spoiling too much, you'll quickly realize that the movie’s on-set brutality extends beyond the camera.
It's clear that the developers spent a lot of time thinking about how to intricately weave a story into the Hotline sequel, and for those who found the cutscenes between missions during the original a little sparse, the added plot layers are a nice treat.
Gameplay - Harder, Bigger, Faster
Wrong Number adds a few tweaks to Hotline Miami's formula, but it's basically more of the same twitchy room-clearing, puzzle-solving mashup that made the original so popular. You'll still be grabbing clubs, guns and even chainsaws to mow down your foes, but this time there's a bigger roster of characters, and the puzzles are a little harder.
Dennaton ups the difficulty of the game’s top-down 2D gameplay by designing levels that are much larger in size, forcing you to rely even more on the game's look button to check out the far reaches of your vision. Unfortunately, you can sometimes still get sniped by distant enemies you can't see.
This ends up being a tiny knock on Wrong Number. In the original game, if you died, you knew it was your fault. But when enemies can kill you from 100 miles away, it feels less like a mistake and more like simple bad luck. Thankfully, this doesn't ruin too much of the action, and it's forgivable, considering Wrong Number’s bigger and more complex levels.
The variety of weapons hasn't changed much. Instead of choosing your loadout by selecting from one of more than 20 masks, as in the original, you now pick from a set of characters, each with a unique playstyle. The original game’s mask system isn't completely gone -- it’s just been reduced in scope and applied differently across various characters.
Some may lament the loss of choice, but the character-specific playstyles add to the challenge, forcing the player out of his or her comfort zone. Besides, now that you can control multiple people, or become a commando Ramboing his way through the jungle, a little less freedom seems like a fair trade for more adventure.
Looks - A Gorgeous Neon Nightmare
Wrong Number is retro-styling done right. Dennaton takes Hotline Miami's original chunky 16-bit graphics and 10 tons of style and refines it, making its signature franchise look even better.
Even as the budget-breaking hyper-realistic graphics of AAA games force major studios to repeatedly play it safe (and boring), Miami Hotline's visuals feel like a steamy punch of perfume and sweat that's oozed its way out of a South Florida nightclub in 1989.
Wrong Number keeps the aesthetics of the original, pushing acid-trip-inspired ultraviolence that blurs the line between dreams and reality. Vivid neon masks and bright-red blood stains highlight the action, while constantly shifting graphics evoke a desert mirage, reinforcing the jumpy multi-perspective story that's never what it seems.
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Even the settings menus recall the VHS menus of old, with an electric-blue background, fuzzy pause icons and static that creeps in along the top and bottom of the screen. It's a theme carried through Wrong Number, and it makes you really appreciate Dennaton's attention to detail.
Music - So Good Your Neck Will Hurt
I wasn't sure if it would be possible to create a soundtrack as good as the original Hotline Miami's, but Dennaton's done it. While other developers scrape the Top 40 in hopes of capturing some sort of topical mass appeal, Wrong Number's synth-heavy electronic tracks shine, complementing its gameplay better than Don Johnson in a white suit on South Beach.
Most of the best artists from the first game are back, along with new banger tracks to excite your ears. MOON's relaxing "Dust" soothes your frazzled nerves during the score screen at the end of the levels, while Perturbator's sinister "Sexualizer," featuring Flash Arnold, re-ignites your adrenaline so you can jump back into the fray. There are nearly 50 tracks of electronic mastery, and even if you don't care for the gameplay, the soundtrack is worth listening to on its own.
I'm not sure the developers got the name quite right -- this game should have been called Hotline Miami XL. Like an addict on a binge who just can't get enough, Dennaton took the original game and added more of everything. There's a deeper story, more characters, bigger levels and a massive soundtrack to keep your high going. If you've been jonesing for more Hotline, Wrong Number has your fix.
Newcomers to the franchise may find the game a little on the difficult side. It's certainly possible to jump right into Wrong Number, but with the original Hotline Miami available for $10 or less, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not checking that out first.
If you wanted to know whether Dennaton could repeat the magic of the original, it has. While it seems there won't be a third installment in the series, I'm thrilled at what we've gotten so far, and I'll probably still have Wrong Number's soundtrack in my playlist by the time Dennaton's next game rolls around.