Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2015)

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.


Hotline Miami (2012)

While playing through the calm and slow-going Stardew Valley, I felt like I needed to quench my thirst for action. And there is no better way to fulfill that desire than Hotline Miami. What makes Hotline Miami stand out from many other indie action titles is how intensely satisfying it is in every regard. Every factor of this top-down shooter feels tailored to making beating the hell out of enemies feel just right.


In an age where violence in video games in being condemned by the media, Hotline Miami revels in its violent nature. It is not afraid to go all out, and that is partly makes the game so gratifying, as sometimes you just need to play something intense. Another one of the factors that makes Hotline Miami so satisfying is how brutally brisk and quick it is. One shot is one kill. Many other action games suffer from bullet sponges and enemies that take entirely too long to take down. In this game, however, if you hit an enemy with a weapon, they are immediately dead. Of course, this works in the reverse as well. All it takes is one hit to take down the player. The unforgiving nature of this system is what keeps the game so fast-paced. Just a careless step by the player leads to death. Being able to blast through enemies with just a single hit from a bat or one bullet makes every action much more meaningful and satisfying. There is a real sense of “oomph” when you bash someone with the bat or blow them across the screen with the shotgun.


A game with such a small margin of error requires great level design in order to keep it from being aggravating. When a single stray bullet can lead to your demise, the levels need to be specifically designed to avoid cheap and unsatisfying deaths. That being said, you are going to die in Hotline Miami, a lot. Luckily, just a quick button press and you are back at the start of the floor, there is not even a break in the music. Since a game like this is reliant on its level design, it is a good thing that Hotline Miami is phenomenal in that regard. Small sectioned-off rooms make sure you do not have to tackle too many enemies at once. Every floor is designed in such a way that it is advantageous to go fast, and slowing down could be a death sentence. It is critical for you to get the first shot off in every encounter, which is a result of the “one shot, one kill” style gameplay. Every obstacle and enemy is clearly displayed to the player. Enemies are not hidden off-screen or sniping you from across the map. There is maybe two points in the game that I was shot by an off-screen enemy, which was definitely frustrating, but those moments are few and far between.


Every level in Hotline Miami feels like an intense and violent puzzle. Which mask and ability would work best, which rooms should I hit first, should I attempt to be stealthy or go in guns blazing; these are all questions I asked myself at the start of every level. Of course, any strategy that you might have quickly gets overridden by your desire to just run in and kill some Russian mobsters, and the game rewards you with bonus points for doing so. Enemies mostly have set patterns, but often deviate just a little bit so repeating the same exact actions over and over may yield different results. Most of the time in Hotline Miami, you just have to rely and your killer instincts in the heat of the moment.


Now that it is established that Hotline Miami is fantastically brutal, fast, and bloody from a gameplay perspective, we need to talk about its other aspects. The psychedelic and neon-soaked visuals of Hotline Miami perfectly depict the drug fueled city of Miami in 1989. You are dropped into the bizarre life of Jacket, who constantly has surreal visions and begins to receive phone calls that instruct him to perform massacres on the local Russian mafia. As the game progresses, reality and Jacket’s identity become warped and distorted. In some in-game sequences it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what is Jacket’s mind imagining violent scenes and imagery. Jacket’s identity is also perverted as time passes, he always wears a mask during the killings, but certain dreamlike sequences reveal that he is conflicted and confused. The player shares these emotions with Jacket, as unraveling the mystery of Hotline Miami is quite the task. Many questions are asked, and it starts to make sense as you reach the end of the game. Unfortunately, I felt like the ending was a little bit lackluster, but ultimately for a game that I was just playing for some violent fun I was pretty impressed by the narrative elements.



You cannot talk about Hotline Miami without mentioning its soundtrack. Thumping synth filled songs, like M.O.O.N. – Paris, are blasting when you slaughter floors upon floors of Russians. Deep and distorted guitars, from Coconuts – Silver Lights, play in the surreal sections of the game. And no song is better matches Jacket waking up from a drug induced slumber like Sun Araw – Deep Cover. Hotline Miami is full of great tracks for all different situations, and some of the songs are downright addictive.


One last thing I want to touch on is the ability of the developers to show restraint. Many of great games are brought down by the fact that they just drag on too long and become repetitive, to the point of being exhausted with the game. This is certainly not the case in Hotline Miami. The game is relatively quick, it only took me about 5 hours to complete it. I rarely revisit a game immediately after I beat it, but with this one I went right back in and replayed some of my favorite levels. The gameplay of Hotline Miami is definitely addicting and fun, but I feel like if it went on too long and overstayed its welcome, it could have quickly gotten grating. Luckily, Hotline Miami knows its limits and does not overdo it.


As a whole, Hotline Miami knows what it is and plays to its strengths. Quick, violent action with distorted storytelling and arcade-esque visuals. Hotline Miami has mastered the art of making everything intensely satisfying. This game is certainly not for everyone, and if you are not interested in violent games or games that require quick reaction time I would stay away from this title. But if you are looking for a blood-soaked, fast-paced action game, look no further than Hotline Miami.