Hotline Miami is a top-down, pixelated shoot/stab/bludgeon em-up, developed by Dennaton games and published by Devolver studios. The game was released in 2012 for PC and later ported to the PS4 in 2014. As the title of this post suggests, this is about Hotline Miami 2, but I’m gonna try to give a quick run down on the first game before taking a more in-depth look at the sequel.
Your objective in each stage is straightforward enough; enter a building, kill everyone, escape- despite it’s simplicity, however, it’s not an easy game by any stretch, and the perfect run requires a combination of luck, skill, and not being afraid of making mistakes. You will die frequently, as you are about as vulnerable as a balloon in a wind farm, but so are your enemies, and this balance makes it more fun than frustrating. I can’t talk about this game without mentioning the amazing soundtrack, which sets the mood of the game perfectly and gets stuck in your head for days.
It’s a fairly short game depending on how often you fuck up, but there is a lot of replay value, and the storytelling isn’t shoved in your face, meaning you can skip over it if you wish, but it does leave a lot of questions unanswered to make room for a sequel.
Now, onto the main subject-
Hotline Miami 2 is a sequel/prequel to the first game, developed and published in 2015 by the same team as Hotline Miami 1. The plot jumps back and forth between events both prior to and after the time frame of the first game, which serves to show the impact of the player’s actions, and also fleshes the characters out (before occasionally ripping said flesh off). The storytelling, again, is well paced, and just like the first game, certain sections and scenes are left unclear as to whether or not they are part of the characters’ imaginations.
There were a few points where I found the events of the game a little confusing- this may be because I wasn’t paying much attention to the dates that are displayed at the beginning of each chapter, but I found myself having the check the wiki page after certain scenes. The plot is a lot more well-rounded than the first game though, and a few moments hit me on quite an emotional level, which is something I wouldn’t have expected from a Hotline Miami game.
The mechanics have stayed pretty much the same; eliminate all the enemies, advance to the next area, repeat until the level is complete. One of the main changes, aside from the game being a lot longer, is the fact that you play as multiple characters, rather than just one. Some of the characters include a soldier, who can only use a firearm and a knife, a reporter who can only incapacitate enemies, and a gang of thugs who have their own special abilities based on the mask they are wearing.
The addition of multiple protagonists isn’t just a gimmick either- the layout each map reflects the strengths and weaknesses of each character, and some areas require you to think about the best approach, rather than running in wildly and hoping for the best. That’s not to say that relying on blind luck is not an option, but due to a stronger emphasis on gunplay, it’s important to prioritise certain enemy types according to threat. The game is a lot more difficult in this respect, and this can lead to frustration, especially if you have a clean run, only to get finished off by the final enemy of a certain section.
The level design is a bit of a double-edged sword though, as stages are significantly larger than in the first game, and the enemies have a slightly larger field of vision than you, so it’s not uncommon for you to alert an enemy without realising, or even get killed by them before even spotting them. It isn’t a game breaker, and there are little tricks to get around this, but sometimes it can just feel a little bit cheap.
Another awkward issue is the manual aiming, at least for the PS4 version, as it seems quite floaty and it can be quite difficult to pull off shots with any kind of accuracy. This becomes a problem in one particular level that sees you simultaneously control a pair of twins; one uses a chainsaw to carve enemies up at close range, while the other uses firearms to blow people away. This would be almost exactly as awesome as it sounds, if it weren’t for the fact that it is almost compulsory to use manual aiming the get the best out of the level.
There is an auto aim feature, which works well enough for the most part, but there have been numerous occasions where I have had three goons and an attack dog charging at me, only to have auto aim spin me around to focus on a guy in the room behind me. Like I said, these problems aren’t really game breakers, but let’s just say I’ve had to take a few too many unnecessary breathers during the levels that focus on gunplay.
It’s never easy to judge a sequel by its own merits, especially when its predecessor set such a high benchmark, and maybe I’m being picky with this, but it seems that in expanding the scope of the game and adding new features, it’s become easier to spot the flaws and imperfections. Anyway, I don’t want to end this on a negative note, and despite the flaws, Hotline Miami 2 is definitely worth playing if you enjoyed the first game (or just fancy a bit of the old ultra violence), and a lot of the features that made the game so appealing, such as the aesthetic and soundtrack (again, both are awesome) have carried on in a similar vein. Hotline Miami 1 and 2 are both available on most platforms, and are fairly reasonably priced, so if you have a bit of spare cash or are ready to give into the hype, go check them out.