Devolver Digital have achieved something quite remarkable. With the weight of expectation on the eagerly anticipated sequel to 2012 hit indie smash Hotline Miami hanging over their shoulders, you would have been safe in assuming that we would have just been treated to a re-hash of the original in Wrong Number. We have indeed been given the same gameplay we know and love, but what makes Hotline Miami 2 such a triumphant is it ambition. Mixed in with all that action and bloody violence we have come to expect, is a well-crafted narrative, with a whole host of character that each have an interesting part to play in the overall story.
For fans of the original Hotline Miami, the gameplay in Wrong Number will be very familiar. In fact, fans will instantly feel right at home. You see the world from a top down perspective, given you a birds eye view of the each area of a level. The aim of each level is to destroy every enemy in sight, with any of the tools at your disposal. These can be anything from knives, to guns or a variety of blunt instruments. The one hit death rule also makes a return, which will undoutably lead to a few Vitas being thrown at the nearest wall in frustration. One mistake and it’s a restart for you, and believe me you will be restarting a lot. Luckily it’s an addictive experience with a true “one more try” attitude. It certainly is a great feeling finally completing a level after hours of trying different routes and strategies. Hotline Miami 2 is a form of puzzle game, with each levelled needing to be solved.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is not for the faint hearted. But you already knew that. You will rip, tear, slice, shoot, squish, disembowel and behead enemy after enemy, time after time. You won’t do it quietly either, with every hit giving a (disturbingly) satisfying sound. A particularly memorable moment was ripping the head off an unfortunate enemy, spinal cord in tow. You will quickly make a blood bath of each area, and as some sort of twisted reward for completing a level, you will walk back through every blood soaked area to exit a level. After such a satisfying feeling from completing the level, you won’t help but feel slightly unclean after looking back at the carnage you have caused.
It takes good timing, patience and even luck to be successful in Wrong Number. It may feel much more fun going in all guns blazing through each level, but you will soon find that using that tact will more often than not see your innards spread across the floor. The best tact is to plan each move, luring enemies away one at a time to pick them off. There are a few variations throughout the game, but for the most part you will have two types of enemies: Ones who have guns and ones who don’t. Making sure you are not exposed is essential, but with hidden traps along the way this is sometimes easier said than done. Each level holds different features, which can work both for and against you. Trial and error is definitely and essential part, but not always that helpful as enemies frequently change their movement pattern.
Wrong Number is a challenging game, much more so than its predecessor. This is partly down to the much more alert enemies, who will instantly spot you if you emerge into an open space for too long, but primarily due to the level design. As I said earlier, Hotline Miami 2 is an ambitious game, and this once again shows in its level design. Devolver should be applauded for their creative design choices, but sometimes it can seem like they got slightly carried away. When viewing a map on the Vita, you are able to drag your finger along the screen to get a better look at your surroundings. However, as you progress through the game, levels become bonkers with countless room, large exposed areas and window filled spaces which can become quite overwhelming. Also taking into account enemies patrolling every square inch and you are looking at a fair few hours of frustration… and how frustrating Wrong Number certainly is. Imagine planning a route through a level, taking out every enemy with care and precision, only for it to be ruined by an unwittingly camouflaged dog, or randomly concealed enemy. In some instances it becomes borderline unfair, and you wonder why you even bothered investing so much time into the game at all… and then you just restart and the cycle continues.
Its not all smooth sailing gameplay wise. During my playthrough I found myself being subjected to a variety of game ending bugs, from required items being thrown past the level walls out of reach, to being trapped inside the walls themselves, with no way of re-entering the level. On a couple of occasions the game crashed altogether. Although these issues could easily be rectified with an update, for game that was in development for a considerable amount of time I would have hoped these kinds of simple issues wouldn’t have appeared. Alas it has become an all to frequent occurrence in modern video gaming as a whole, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.
Art-style wise, Wrong Number is a joy to behold. The game plays out as if watching on an old style VCR. After each act is complete, there will be an animation depicting the game fast forwarding or re-winding to a different time period. It really is creative and really fit into the overall feel of the game. I also enjoy the Pause menu, which literally takes the form of a pause screen from an old time VCR.
And how could I write about Hotline Miami 2 without mentioning the soundtrack? The question, is does it surpass the original games score? Quite simply, yes, It does. It is amazing. A distinct difference from the original is that there is a much greater range of music as well. Sure there are still the pumping beats, but there are also songs that varied from dark and sinister, to almost light and fun. Hearing an almost relaxing tune is quite bizarre as you brutally murder enemies, but was also oddly satisfying.
As I alluded to earlier, Devolver have managed to tell a story in a non- linear and creative way, which spans a variety of different time periods. Saying too much would ruin the different story elements, but this style introduces the player to a variety of different individuals. You can even play certain level as a character without killing ANYONE. No really, you can actually choose to not kill. With another character you are killing for what seems a just cause, and are actually praised as a hero. It is that diverse, and you will want to keep playing to find out the outcome of each character as you progress through their story arc.
In the original, you were given a choice of mask to wear before each level, which would give you different special abilities. This selection process has, on the most part, been removed from Wrong Number. Each character has their own unique abilities, and there are a few choices here and there, but on the most part you are assigned the skill of that character. This is a shame, but with the large variation of abilities that each character possess, and with each level changing perspective, you can soon forgive the scrapping of this feature.
For me, the original Hotline Miami remains one of my favourite PS Vita games. Its style and gameplay just feel right on the Vitas screen, and its fun and addicting gameplay led to me having multiple playthroughs. With its sequel we have been treated to more of the same, which is exactly what we wanted. We also got what we desired in terms of story, with more depth and a better understanding of the events depicted. It looks amazing, sounds even better and will keep you hooked right through to its conclusion. Sure the designers sometimes get carried away with their level designs, and there are a few bugs here and there, but overall Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, is a successful sequel which may even surpass the original. With the constant urge to better your score, and an unlockable Hard Mode, there definitely is reasons to keep coming back. This is a game not to be missed on PS Vita, so long as you don’t mind a bit of blood along the way…