There have been few games that can match the feeling that Hotline Miami provides. The unreliable narrator and his hallucinations provide a sense of confusion and unease. The gratuitous violence was shocking but was a subtle commentary on violence in the medium. Additionally, the fast-paced gameplay was brutally precise, leaving a sense of adrenaline and accomplishment. The same cannot be said for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, it felt like an imitation of the original. Still, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is an entertaining experience, but it lacks the careful execution and craftsmanship of the original game.
First and foremost, the gameplay and level design feels like a haphazardly created version of the first game. The level design in particular is a shocking downgrade. The series is based in a remarkably fast-paced environment in which the player partakes in shooting sprees and beatdowns on the mafia. What makes the game so interesting is that both the player and the enemies die in a single hit from a melee weapon or bullet. You have to quickly rush your way through levels to outpace the enemies and make sure they don’t catch you off guard. The player is encouraged to move rapidly to keep ahead of the enemies, you always want to be shooting first. The issue in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is that this style of gameplay often feels discouraged. There are so many long hallways that the game funnels the player into. You cannot see the enemies before they see you, leading to unwarranted deaths. Moreover, levels are littered with windows that make it impossible to rush through the level as enemies will spot and kill you instantly. Furthermore, each level is longer and houses more enemies, meaning it will take longer to complete each section. Melee weapons lack viability, as the open spaces encourage the use of guns. The giant floors and wide-open areas encourage caution and careful planning opposed to fury and bloodlust. This shift in dynamic is not suited to the series, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number feels more like a puzzle game than an adrenaline pumping and violent frenzy. Hotline Miami makes the player feel like John Wick, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number makes the player feel like a redshirt off of Star Trek.
The other bizarre change is with the general format and presentation of the game. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a tale of numerous protagonists. This does create the feeling of confusion and disarray like its predecessor, but for a completely different reason. The original game was focused on a singular character who suffered from PTSD, psychotic breaks, and other mental issues, generating a sense that much of the game was a fever dream. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was confusing just because there were just so many constantly shifting perspectives. Nine different perspectives spread out across 27 levels is a recipe for forgettable protagonists. There were only a few characters that I even remotely felt interested in, the missions that helped make sense of the first game in particular were intriguing, but the rest I just did not care about. Additionally, the original game let the player swap “masks” that changed the character’s moveset and abilities for any particular level. In this game, each character has their own individual gimmick. So instead of choosing how you want to play, you are forced into certain playstyles and are obligated to put up with frustrating gimmicks. I will admit it was somewhat interesting when the storylines of the characters linked up as they crossed paths, but still I just was not particularly invested in any of them.
As a whole, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number missed the mark for what made the original so impactful. Levels feel fan-made rather than professionally designed, and the gameplay as slowed downed tremendously. The more meticulous style may appeal to some people, but I feel like it just does not match the tone of the Hotline Miami series. Shifting perspectives create a sense of confusion like the original game but make for far less memorable characters. Jacket was an iconic character from Hotline Miami that will go down in video game history, but nothing similar can be said for the characters of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. On the plus side, the soundtrack is just as enticing as the first game’s. While I did rag on the game a lot, the core remains the same: rush through levels and kill the mafia. At the end of the day, the game plays similarly to the original, but lacks the nuance and flow. For these reasons, I give Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number a 6/10. The level design was just not up to par, which severely hampered the adrenaline pumping action which I’ve come to expect from the series.