If there’s any video game deserving of the “murder simulator” label, it’s “Hotline Miami.” The original game was a fast paced, twitch-based, top-down brawler filled with tons of brutal violence, the goal of each level being to eliminate every thug in your path. You are no more powerful than the enemies you have to defeat. They die in one hit, but so do you. The more reckless and brutal the kill, the more points you get and the higher grade you receive at the end of each level. Unfortunately, the sequel “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number,” feels like a significant step back in terms of game design, almost to the point where it seems like the developers, Dennaton Games, forgot what made the first game so fun.
One of the first glaring issues with the game is the level design. While the first half of the game is relatively fine, it declines in quality rather quickly. In the first game, levels were specifically designed in such a way that many different play styles could be incorporated. You could either be patient and take out the enemies slowly (thus sacrificing your score), or you could run around wreaking havoc upon all the enemies quickly and carelessly.
The latter is far more dangerous and requires much more skill, but is also much more fun. It’s a very well done risk/reward system, and the short time it takes to respawn and give the level another shot after dying keeps it from being overly frustrating.
“Hotline Miami 2” lost that philosophy based off things like the enemy placement and the size of each level. For example, many enemies are placed way off screen, so that you can’t tell they’re there until they’ve already seen you, ran after you and killed you, usually with a gun. Guns are far more numerous in this game compared to the first.
There’s also the fact that windows are definitely overused in many levels. Windows can be seen and shot through by enemies; this forces the player to be extra cautious at times since sometimes there are mobs of enemies near windows that can easily eliminate you in a second.
The size of each level is also far bigger than anything that was in the original, and if the levels were simply more compact, the issue of offscreen enemies would certainly diminish. Due to how many enemies are offscreen, how many of them carry guns and just the sheer number of enemies in general, it ends up being extremely restrictive in how you can go about each level. The whole risk/reward factor has been completely messed with, making patience the much better option, but also frustrating, perhaps even unfair.
That isn’t to say that the game is bad. There’s still quite a lot of satisfaction from completing a particularly difficult level, especially when you’ve been at it for a good 30 minutes. Not all the levels suffer from the odd design choices either, with a good handful being on par with the original game’s levels. Luckily the soundtrack, just like the first game, is fantastic, filled with catchy techno music that makes you pumped and keeps you going even after dying for the thousandth time. There’s also a good amount of variety in the settings of each level, from a creepy sewer to the beaches of Hawaii in the middle of a war. You also play as several different characters too each with their own abilities like a dodge roll or being able to dual wield machine guns. Despite having a good handful of problems, there’s still fun to be had.
Overall, “Hotline Miami 2” is an enjoyable, but severely flawed game that pales in comparison to its predecessor. It appears that the developers tried to make a game even harder than the first, only to make it much more frustrating, and ultimately disappointing.