They're all staring at me. The pig and swan, peering into my sole, while the tiger keeps telling me to do it. We’re all agreed. I have to kill her.
No, this isn't the frenzied scratchings of my diary, nor the voices in my head. It is in fact, a scene from Hotline Miami 2, Dennatons sequel to their indie gore fest, which simply blew people away with how far they could take the original grand theft auto visuals when slapped together with some 80s flare and a soundtrack to make fans of Drive drool uncontrollably.
This sequel isn't simply more of the same though, from the very outset its clear that Hotline Miami 2 is aiming to expand on everything you think you know about its core values, with bigger maps, longer cut scenes and a more fleshed out story that flicks backwards and forwards in time, Pulp Fiction style.
Bulking out the stripped down and heart pumping sequel, while still aggressive, addictive and gory as ever, unfortunately loses a few elements that endeared its predecessor to us so much in the first place. The story is told through a collection of VHS tapes, with Dennaton going the whole hog, complete with tracking lines, background noise and everything that makes the kid inside of you glow with fond memories. As you press on you’ll swap between the lives and murderous exploits of an actor/schizophrenic, a mobster and fans of the series original masked killer. This in itself is a fine idea, but thrown into a game that prides itself on lean, mean fast paced action and the pieces don't fit. The story itself is extremely interesting but delivered in such fragments at a fast pace, it all begins to get lost in the sea of blood and broken bones.
The gameplay is still top notch, with everything you could expect from a sequel as the violence is utterly perfect (it feels weird to say that, sorry mum) often reaching heights the previous game couldn’t. Thanks to much larger maps, you’ll need to play it a little more cautiously as you wander the halls looking for your quarry. Sometimes this can feel a little awkward as your only chance to plan ahead is to peer off screen while stationary and of course, with windows littered rather heavy handedly it seems, goons with guns might well take you down before you even notice them. This added difficulty aside, once you get the ferocious pacing right, you’ll feel positively giddy as you pile bodies on the floor and become king of the ring! (Not everyone envisions Royal Rumble when they take on 6 goons then?)
With a wide variety of characters to play with as the story unfolds, Hotline Miami 2 offers up some unique experiences too! Each with their own motive for committing such heinous atrocities, some as off the wall as you would expect while others will leave you more disturbed than an all nighter with The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film. As I mentioned before, the story is satisfying but misses the mark a little because of its tendency to cross wires over and over, almost stumbling over itself.
With a wider arc of characters, the team at Dennaton have clearly worked to make sure each offers their own twist on the games core mechanics. From a Soldier that can only reload at ammo caches, to the fans who much like Jacket from the original, offer different upgrades depending on choice of face wear. Fancy rolling under bullets? Don the Zebra mask.
My personal favourite was Evan, a writer who forces you to try and avoid killing anyone, but if you tip him over the edge and spill blood, hell throw his coat to the ground and enter a manic frenzy of bloody murder.
The selection of different play styles is great but sadly, due to the way the games narrative pushes you onwards and upwards, time with each feels far too short.
As you pick up pace and finally master a particular character, Hotline Miami 2 will rip you from that strand of gameplay and throw you into the shoes of someone else, never quite letting you get comfortable enough to feel like a true master. Perhaps this was a purposeful design choice, to keep players forever feeling like its their first day but after a few switches it can feel a little bit fatiguing.
Another sad omission is the lack of ability to mix and match. With such a fine choice of players it would have been brilliant to see them thrown into each others maps, using each character as an almost unlock able extra to shake things up on replays but unfortunately this just isn't possible.
Fans of the original will no doubt have a huge love for its soundtrack, something that not only worked well with the game itself but was simply stunning on its own! Who out there couldn't fall in love with pumping beats of ass-shaking electronica while pummelling criminals into a pool of wet sludge? Thankfully, Hotline Miami 2 pulls it out of the bag all over again, this time with a collection of tracks that while offering the same erratic beats also have a few softer moments that are truly perfect. I honestly have sat on the games opening menu for a while, just letting the music wash over me. In fact, I’m doing it now.
Hotline Miami 2 is a great game, despite its missed notes and a few glitches here and there that might leave you staring at a dog spinning in circles on the spot. It has an interesting story, some great new mechanics to toy with and bigger maps. The unfortunate and confusing thing here, is that all of those extras and additions also detract from the game you remember somewhat. Its a bigger game which is great but part of the first titles brilliance was in its short yet brutal immediacy.
Theres so much to like about this game and any failings aside, Dennaton have managed to preserve that addiction, that need to keep pressing onwards towards the end. Hotline Miami 2 utterly oozes style and is definitely worthy of anyones time, just don’t expect a game entirely the same as its predecessor.