Few games get inside your head like Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number.
Well, apart from its predecessor, and if you played that you’ll know what to expect here: lashings of ultraviolence; frantic, trial and deadly error gameplay and the best soundtrack this side of Los Santos. If you didn’t, the aim is simple: clear each stage of enemies using guns, knives, bats, iron bars and more before you can move on to the next one and do it all again. The difference is, everything in Wrong Number is bigger, tougher and nastier than before.
Wrong Number begins on the set of a film called Midnight Animal, which sounds like it should be an anagram of Hotline Miami but isn’t. At times you’re not sure what’s real and what’s fiction until the little 8-bit director shouts cut – and based on how the playable characters behave, they don’t always know either.
That’s characters plural, because over the course of the game you’ll control 13 different gun-toting psychopaths. There’s Martin Brown, the lead actor in Midnight Animal; Manny Pardo, a renegade member of the Miami police department who shoots first and ask questions to decapitated heads later, and a group of vigilante, mask-wearing copycat killers.
Many of them have their own set of special skills, which is probably the biggest change to the way Wrong Number plays compared to the original. Rather than your choice of mask dictating the way you approach a level, it’s often the character chosen for you by the game’s narrative.
That makes it more restrictive, but the powers offered by each character are often far more influential on gameplay than any mask in the original game.
Sometimes it works brilliantly, such as when when playing as The Soldier, who can switch between a blade and a firearm at the press of a button, or as dual-wielding Mark, who spreads his arms out to either side when you hold L1. Doing this with a submachine gun in each hand and firing both simultaneously while marching down a glass-windowed corridor is the stuff of shoot 'em up dreams.
But these moments don’t come often enough and the alternative styles aren’t always that effective. When playing as brother and sister pairing Alex and Ash, for example, the L1 button fires Ash’s gun and R1 revs up Alex’s chainsaw. The close-quarters stuff works fine but Ash’s movement and aim is linked to Alex’s, which often leads to him getting stuck behind doors and furniture, or Alex making herself vulnerable to enemy gunfire when you’re trying to line up a shot for Ash.
Despite the retro graphics this isn’t a game for kids. Wrong Number is just as violent as its predecessor, with arcs of claret spewing from holes where heads used to be and limbs littering the floor, the game’s new weapons only adding more gruesome ways for people to die. Knocking somebody down with a door and using Alex’s chainsaw to disembowel them is particularly nasty.
That difficult second album
On the whole it’s tougher than ever. Wrong Number’s maps are larger, which means you often have to tackle them by breaking them down into sections, clearing a small area and then moving on to the next bit, but their bigger blueprints mean you can easily be caught out by an unseen, off-screen enemy’s gunfire.
When you’ve just ridden your luck and chained together half a dozen kills, getting gunned down by someone you can’t even see can be pretty infuriating. HM2 includes a far greater range of locations to play, including jungle camps, police stations, subway ticket halls and dockside warehouses, but level design and enemy placement is sometimes a little on the abstract side.
Some guards don’t so much patrol, as wander randomly around, with AI occasionally falling short.
The soundtrack of your death
Hotline Miami games are the gaming equivalent of an earworm. Even when you’ve stopped playing the lurid, top-down massacre ‘em up you’ll find yourself going over moments in your head. That’s partly down to the brilliant soundtrack, which meshes synths and throbbing bass lines perfectly with the action, and deserves to be considered alongside Wipeout and F-Zero as one of gaming’s very best.
Getting into the rhythm of it is part of the experience. You have to sync your thoughts and your thumbs with the soundtrack, make friends with the restart button and let the game sweep you away. It’s one of those games that seems to make time stand still, while in the real world it disappears down the plughole at 1000mph.
Sometimes the only thing that causes you to snap out of it is when you finish a level and the music suddenly switches to an ambient drone.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Verdict
Hotline Miami’s simpler structure matched its protagonists singular focus: to be the last one standing. For purists Wrong Number’s slightly more varied approach may dilute the experience a little and the story isn’t always that easy to follow, but it is a more varied game with all the blood-pumping brutality that made the original so compelling.