I, like a lot of people, was completely won over by Hotline Miami. It was a humble little Gamemaker game developed by the 2 man studio Dennaton Games with some pretty great ideas. They took a tried and tested genre and sparked new life, creating an intense little slice of rapid violence that offered a new twist on trial and error based action games, as well as an interesting plot and killer soundtrack as the cherry on top. This incidental stage based top down shooter was hailed by many and regarded as one of the best games of 2012. The grungy neon interpretation of Miami, along with its extremely violent combat, gave it a unique character, reminiscent of a mix between Grand Theft Auto and the film Drive.
Hotline Miami 2 immediatly throws you in a seemingly directionless story comprised of 5+ playable characters, each with their own story and abilities. As you scramble and attempt to piece together what on earth is going on, you get to brutally murder countless people with a variety of individual gameplay styles that each character posses. This variety of gameplay is in theory a good thing, characters having their own little perks and hold backs, such as being able to kill in one punch but the inability to use weapons, provides the gameplay variety needed for Hotline Miami 2's 6 or so hour length. This results in an interesting level to level experience, switching back and forth and mastering each individual style leaves you feeling like an expert by the time the credits roll around.
The standout characters are the Alex & Ash team. Picking these characters allows the player to control one chainsaw wielding and one handgun wielding character, leading to extremely satisfying and skilful combat in which you are taking out multiple enemies at once. But this doesn't help the fact that Alex has the annoying ability to get stuck on every doorway the team enter meaning many infuriating deaths.
The wealth of characters comes at the price of each character only having 3-5 masks/items to unlock, or in some cases no masks at all. Whilst the abilities of the characters are rather diverse and a welcome change of pace, the ability to go back and try every level with 20+ different masks that each offered is a small gameplay tweak that is gone. This somewhat limits the creativity the player could inject into the game and by extension the replay value of each level. Sadly, a lot of these character/mask specific abilities in Hotline Miami 2, such as the dodge roll, are entirely contextual and not really that useful in most situations. The replayability is helped somewhat by the inclusion of a NG+ mode that increases enemy difficulty and requires you to play through the levels backwards. This is a fun little mode but does not really compare with the sheer amount of different approaches offered by the first game's mask selection.
The story of the first game was obtuse enough to be interesting with a nice self-aware critique of violence in media in the background of it all. Hotline Miami 2's story conversely is insane, some may find it a little too obtuse and out their to care that much what happens next. Those of you for a high tolerance for this post-modern experimentation will find the insane mish-mash of media violence commentary, 4th wall breaking, timeline jumps and multiple story threads a welcome change from standard videogame narrative.
The story isn't the only thing to be turned up to 11. One of Hotline Miami's most unique points was its fantastic 80's psychedelic synth-pop soundtrack. It became one of the games biggest draws but despite this, the constant reuse of individual songs somewhat diminished the effect. This time Dennaton have pulled talent from all over the shop to create a wild and varied soundtrack that completely outdoes the already outstanding original. Each track seems tailor made to punctuate each individual door slam and gunshot, upping the adrenaline fueled gameplay to an almost ridiculous degree.
The level design is about as varied as you could ask for from such a formulaic game. Some of the stages are great, such as the Hawaii chapters that provide a nice change from the same old gritty apartment interiors. However, Hotline Miami 2 suffers in the decision to include a lot more open areas and long corridors. While this might sound like a petty point to make, this results in a lot of off-screen from the extremely competent AI that can shoot before you even see them. This really clashes with the ability to plan out and quickly execute everyone in a room, leading you to instead try and bait enemies out of the room and draw them to you in order to prevent an unpredictable death, completely breaking up the fast paced meticulous execution in favor of cheap tactics.
Along with big rooms comes far bigger stages, while hardcore fans will relish the opportunity to expand tactics over a far more expansive area, the stages might just be infuriatingly large for some players. The amount of times i'd be set back after spending minutes executing a meticulous room to room plan only to get killed by a stray dog that I had missed in the process did test my patience.
One would have also hoped that the small problems of the first game would be fixed in the sequel. The AI pathing is still unreliable, meaning that your perfect plan for clearing out a floor can be thwarted by one shoddy AI that happened to get stuck in a well hidden corner rather than their normal patrol route. On top of that, the most egregious failing was the developers insistence on placing unskippable cutscenes in front of instakill bosses. This is at such odds with the instant 'one button and your back' design of the rest of the game, completely breaking the fast paced flow of bloody genocide to see a 5 second cinematic you've sat through 10 times.
Although I have given a lot of criticisms, this game is far from bad. In fact it is great. If you liked the first game you will most likely adore the sequel. Hotline Miami 2 absolutely succeeds in expanding upon the formula but sadly it ignores and exacerbates existing problems and finds new problems in the introduction of the new design choices.
The game can be purchased on the PC from Steam
This game/tech was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform.