It’s time for another 8-bit bloodbath with “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number,” a game where you play as a deranged killer on a murder spree. This time around, you can select from multiple characters, each with special skills. Corey can do a dodge roll, Tony kills people with one punch, Alex and Ash wield a chainsaw and gun respectively, and Mark uses two submachine guns to mow enemies down in a spray of gunfire. There are a few other characters you’re forced to play, but those just named are the more interesting ones.
Like its predecessor, “Hotline Miami” is a sort of blood-soaked puzzle game. One where you to maneuver your character across each level, eliminating all enemies, without getting shot, stabbed, or mauled by a guard dog. The levels are considerably larger than the first game, and all too often, you can end up being killed by something that comes or shoots at you from off-screen. The trick is often to hide around corners, knock enemies down with doors, work quickly and hope that nothing takes you by surprise. All the blood and gore almost become incidental after a while, as you make your way through each floor to eliminate all the combatants.
The story is told in a disjointed way that involves multiple points of view and plays out like a B-movie. But no matter what character you’re playing as, whether it be as a cop, a writer covering the masked killer from the previous game, a bunch of masked fanatics, or a drugged out Russian mafia enforcer, lots of 8-bit blood and guts are bound to be involved. As expected, the plot plays fast and loose with what’s “real” all the way to the end. The game can be interpreted as some psychotic interpretation of actual events, or as a strange ‘80s slasher/action flick, arbitrarily told by whoever is controlling the VCR. That being said, I should mention that there are one or two scenes that push the boundaries of taste, even for a game that specializes in craziness and gore.
“Hotline Miami” is a game that compels you to try over and over again, until you figure out the magic pattern that will get you through to the end. This is a game that tests your puzzle solving skills along with your reflexes. All the while, you could end up fighting with the controls, or the game’s 2D 8-bit art style. Although the art gives the game its distinct personality, it also makes it hard to tell what objects provide cover and what can be shot through. My biggest issue is how you can hide behind some cars in a chop shop, but not others. Also, enemies can’t see you over kitchen counters, and that pile of sand bags must be way higher than it looks.
As for the controls, they can feel a touch too sensitive at times, especially when playing with a gamepad, and it too often fires the gun instead of locking on to an enemy. When playing as Alex and Ash, you have to compensate for how Ash trails behind with the gun, forcing you to run a little further before shooting. At the same time, two characters make for a bigger target. My favorite character ended up being Tony. Although he can’t use any weapons, rushing in and punching everyone to death is extremely satisfying, and I don’t have to worry about keeping track of the bullet count.
Although enemies will react to sound, they pay little mind to the corpses littering the hallways. While they will generally stick to a fixed pattern of movement, they will occasionally break out and do something completely unexpected. This is part of what makes “Hotline Miami 2” so addictive. You’ve never completely sure what to expect with each retry. Those looking for a more straightforward action shooter might be disappointed, since your character dies after one or two hits, which forces you to restart the level. Few things are as frustrating as being shot from off screen and being forced to restart again.
If you’re looking for a game that provides a nice challenge, and you don’t mind the trippy story, “Hotline Miami 2” is a good way to go. In it, I busted through a door, knocked a gunman to the ground, threw a glass bottle that killed his partner, bashed the gunman’s head in, stole his gun, then killed someone else with it by shooting through a window. Those are moments that make you stand up and take notice. There’s definitely a thrill in figuring out how to efficiently complete levels with big combo points. That thrill just happens to be decorated with a ton of 8-bit carnage.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number” is available digitally for $14.99. The game is rated M.
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