The blood-drenched world of Hotline Miami returns for more of the same (sort of), and that’s a good thing.
I had a very brief period of time with the original Hotline Miami from Dennaton Games. Playing on the PS Vita, I got in a few solid days of figuring out how best to tackle situations and practicing how to -as fast as possible- take out guards and clear rooms, before I moved onto something else.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like what the developer had put together with Hotline Miami though, as the disturbing world of insanity and gore matched with some tough as nails levels was actually pretty engrossing. As someone who actively writes about and reviews games though, sometimes I don’t always get to play what I want to play, and HM was a victim of too little time.
With HM2 however, that’s not the case. I had plenty of time with this one, and I got out of it pretty much what I thought I would, that being tons of blood & guts, and gameplay that made me want to throw my console out the window at semi-regular intervals.
Getting into the story here first, Hotline Miami 2 is similar to the first game, but decidedly different in who you control and what situations that you find yourself in. What that means is that the overall story is almost as weird and confusing as the original, but unlike in that game, part 2 of Hotline Miami casts you as several different characters throughout. Each and every one of them has their own motivations, from a psychopath acting out a horror movie in real life, to a cop clearing out a robbery of bad guys- but each and every one of them is acted out as a twitch-filled massacre.
As you’re cast as different characters, you’ll have different abilities that are set in stone at the beginning of each mission. And that means that you won’t have access to the assortment of power-activating masks like last time. While that might be a bummer for some, it’s actually not bad at all as the levels themselves are designed specifically for each character and the game does a great job of mixing things up and keeping gameplay interesting.
Framing all that on-screen action are the graphics and sound. This is a game that sports a retro look and really revels in the simplicity of SNES-era graphics… well, if SNES games looked like neon-infused fever dreams that is. The entire title is awash in 80s neon, with sensibilities to match. The menu’s are all done in a VCR style, right down to eject and rewind functions, as well as tracking lines and distortion. It’s an awesome presentation that keeps you in the moment and time-frame of the adventure, even when you close out to the main menu.
Musically, the game hits all the high notes as well, with a soundtrack that matches the on-screen action well and strikes the right chords. On the flip side of that though, the sound effects are kind of ‘meh’ and there’s no voice acting at all. But with the rest of the game being this beautifully done, and with the lack of a voice track in keeping with the retro style, it’s not really that much of a negative.
Above all else though, it’s the control that defines Hotline Miami, and the gameplay that results from that. Most of the title, outside of a few situations, is an exercise in trial-and-error, and that has nothing to do with the spot-on controls. Basically, you can never be 100% sure of how an encounter with enemies is going to go down, and that will lead to a lot of restarting and trying again.
For some reason, this isn’t all that annoying. Well, it’s not annoying most of the time. There are so many ways to approach most scenarios that you’ll find something new to try almost every time you retry a level. For instance, in one section you might have to tackle a roving guard who’s circling a room with another guard inside.
If the guard is by the door, you can knock the guy out by slamming him with said portal-covering and then silently kill him. A gunshot into the hall will then draw the rover into your line of sight, meaning that you can then blast him, or wait for him to come to you and melee him till he’s done… or you can miss the door-smash and get shot in the face right there, forcing a respond.
That’s combat in Hotline Miami 2 in a nutshell, and believe it or not it’s mostly fun, though it can get aggravating at times. After all, there’s only so many times that you can replay a section till the shine comes off any gem, and that does happen here. Also, and this may be nitpicking given the simplicity of the game in general, but the enemy AI is laughable.
Enemies tend to ‘forget’ about gunshots at times and just wander away, while bum-rushing you (a guy armed to the teeth on occasion) with no regard for their own sense of well-being, at others. They also don’t really notice blood-covered walls and bodies littering hallways, which I found -I don’t know- a little odd. Again, with the theme of the game (throwback everything) I’m probably just picking on things that were conscious design decisions, but I would definitely have liked a little more out of the enemies in terms of mental capacity.
I liked Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number a lot. Yes, it is hard and at times more than a little disturbing, but the gameplay is fantastic and the sheer amount of freedom that the campaign gives you is awesome.
I’m also a pretty big fan of the 1980s vibe and this game does so well in with that, that is it’s undeniably attractive. In fact, the entire visual (and audio really) presentation is just so great that it actually makes restarting levels so often not entirely head-bangingly aggravating. And there’s just something to this series and the way that Dennaton Games has designed the play, that makes you want to play ‘just one more time’ every time you screw something up and get killed.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re ‘bothered’ by blood and/or gruesome situations, but it is an excellent game that should be looked at by pretty much anyone else.
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