Taking place two years after the incidents of the first game. Jacket, the protagonist of Hotline Miami, stands on trial for his actions in 1989, where he was manipulated into killing head members of the Russian Mob through messages left on his answering machine. The events of the first game serve as the driving force for the story in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, as you take control of several new characters with interconnected stories. From a cop investigating the murders, to a vigilante crew of masked copycats paying homage to their hero by assaulting criminal gangs in the same brutal fashion as the 1989 slayings, to a mentally unstable actor playing Jacket in the movie version of the incidents, slipping in-between reality and fantasy.
The game plays the same as the first Hotline Miami, you’re given control of a character and placed outside a building. It’s then up to you to take out every single person in that building with swift, brutal efficiency. It’s not an easy task though, these men are armed to the teeth and will shoot on sight. When you die, and you will die, you can instantly restart the level from the beginning of the checkpoint (usually the start of the floor), and have another attempt at your rampage. This allows the game to be very forgiving on death, and allows for quick replayability. Each time the level resets the enemies are placed around the same spot, with some random deviation, and you can try your approach again. The best tactic is to get a firearm as soon as possible. They’re loud and will bring the attention of characters, but you can’t argue with that range. There are a large selection of melee weapons to use if that’s more to your liking, from baseball bats to oversized machetes, for quick stealthy kills.
As you cut a bloody path through the hordes and hordes of bodies, the story will unfold, revealing a twisted tale of excess and mayhem. You will jump from character to character across a couple of timelines as the story is woven in front of you. There are no happy endings here, just a mess of violence, drugs, and blood to drag everybody down. The way the game sways back and forth makes you feel like you’re playing the nightmare of a psychopath, and it’s all on tape. With the UI designed to look like a VHS tape menu screen it really adds to the drug-trip feel of the game.
Things are never what they seem, and as the game progresses it becomes harder to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy. As the characters sink deeper into a hazy delusion you begin questioning their motives. Flashbacks and dream states are scattered along the storyline, with a familiar mask making appearances to converse with characters as they spiral down their self-destructive path.
The soundtrack of Hotline Miami was arguably the strongest part of the game, with 21 tracks of pumping, electronic dance music with a flair for the psychedelic. Wrong Number brings nearly double the amount of music to get you into a trance-like state, ready for some grisly anarchy.
I would have liked to have seen more mask options, with the split between characters and around half of them not wearing masks at all, the game loses one of the best features of the original, where you could wear a different mask during a stage to change the style of play. When under control of the vigilantes choosing a mask means choosing the actual character, but I found myself choosing Corey in the Zebra mask every single time. Trailers showed a character that was actually two individuals acting as a single unit, Ash and Alex, one with a chainsaw and the other with a handgun. But playing as them proved to be just too tricky, the handgun wielder kept getting stuck behind walls causing the other to get killed. Mark’s bear mask offering dual machine guns was a decent starter for a level, but his alternate fire ability to shoot in a sweeping arc didn’t come in handy very often. It seems that more of the gimmicky mask options only served to look cool in the previews.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a perfect example of how to make a sequel properly. It takes what we loved about the first one, and gives us more of it, but changes enough so it doesn’t seem like a rehash. It’s a shame that this game is considered the finale in the series. I would have looked forward to at least one more.