The Right Number: A Review of Hotline Miami 2
Devolver Digital/Dennaton Games
March 10th 2015
I was gifted the first Hotline Miami game ages ago and adored it. Beautiful colors, intense gameplay, unnerving artwork and confusing narrative + story theming, and the most amazing soundtrack to a video game I’d ever played. I was looking forward to the sequel but was horrified by news of the its tutorial featuring a potentially triggering sexual assault sequence. It was cut short and revealed to be within a fictional narrative within the greater fictional narrative, but I was still not impressed by the justifications, even within the final game.
I watched a Let’s Play of the game just to find out what was up with the story, and I had to grudgingly admit there was interesting things going on in there. I did end up getting Wrong Number after it was revealed that the scene in question could be disabled before the game started, ultimately getting it when I ordered the vinyl soundtrack, which came with a digital copy of the game and its full soundtrack along with a remix EP.
The game itself plays a lot like the first game, but a tad slower. It’s still a top down action game, it still features alternately horrifying and amazing pixel art by Dennis Wedin, it still has an incredible soundtrack filled with electronic artists leaning towards synthwave/neo-80s sounds recruited from Soundcloud/Bandcamp, you can still run through levels without any reason and still cut down your enemies in a splash of blood and gore. It’s just going to be much, much harder–there are often enemies who are juuust off screen with guns, and loads of them. The floors are much bigger and the levels longer, there’s new types of enemies with strategies you won’t immediately know until you die to them, new kinds of environmental obstacle that you have to consider. Sometimes you won’t be able to tell whether the pixels you’re hiding behind can be shot over or not until it’s too late.
[pullquote]Ultimately, the game expands on the first game’s initial themes of questioning why video game players like violence and pointing fingers at American nationalism[/pullquote]The story is similarly sprawling in scope–crossing timelines of multiple perspectives in a non-chronological narrative, with your characters living, killing, and dying often at each others’ hands.
The creators wanted to tell a story about sadness and endings. They wanted the player to feel more than just the thrill of successfully getting through a level/the comedown of seeing the floor red and the level’s music fading away as your character walks back to their car.
Ultimately, the game expands on the first game’s initial themes of questioning why video game players like violence and pointing fingers at American nationalism–the game is set in an alternate version of the 80s and 90s where the Cold War went hot, and many of the enemies in the game are members of the Russian mafia, and a couple members are playable characters. It is worth noting that both Dennis Wedin and programmer Jonatan Söderström are Swedish, and were inspired by films like Cocaine Cowboys, Drive, and Kick-Ass when making the first game.
There are a few twists that make the game interesting, each character has their own playstyle setup that vary from Jacket’s many different masks or Biker’s three throwing knives and cleaver in the first game.
A level editor was announced months before the game came out, and it still hasn’t been released–the plan is for all of Wrong Number’s characters, Jacket and Biker with new sprites, and a new secret character to be playable. Whenever it does come out, it looks pretty versatile.
I have actually enjoyed playing Wrong Number a lot, even though a lot of the level design choices seem initially unfair or overly frustrating. I’m also a megafan of the first game and able to let that help me through the game’s rougher gameplay and story bits. I don’t know if I could wholeheartedly recommend this game unless you loved the first game and were genuinely interested in elaboration that could potentially “ruin” the attraction of its mystery for you. Granted, this game was initially going to be released as DLC and featured story beats that were planned from the get-go, but there’s folks who are frustrated that you couldn’t have been left wondering why you were getting phone calls telling you to kill people–and why you were compelled to listen.