If the original Hotline Miami is to be seen by the developers as a too-small first draft, Hotline Miami 2 is their second rewrite that overcompensates a bit too hard. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number wants to put more, more, MORE than the first game, and makes everything bigger in every way. There is an exponentially larger story with more characters, there are way more amazing tracks to jam to, and the levels themselves dwarf the originals by comparison. But how much of that did we need?
First off, the music is still incredible, and I’ll take a dozen more Hotline Miami‘s if they all crank out soundtracks like this. Every level has a distinct sound, and the credits for the music is like five screens long, so go listen to that even if you have no interest in trippy hyper-violence. The expanded story is much easier to comprehend this time around, even though you’ll still probably need to read a couple of essays to make sense of the big picture. Instead of not being sure about what or why the events were happening like in the original, the second game has explicitly told story beats for each character. You’re controlling a wide cast now instead of just Jacket, in what feels like an anthology series. You’ll split back and forth between who you’re controlling, each having different motivations and abilities, and it’s a fantastic way to pace the game to stay engaging. If that were the biggest change, this would most likely be the definitive Hotline Miami experience.
The game’s real problem lies in its level structure, which seems to not understand that bigger isn’t always better. Instead of having short, concise rooms to clear out before you exit a level, Hotline Miami 2 seems to think that some levels should double the size of the first’s. Rather than blazing through a level and learning strategies after every death, sometimes you’ll feel punished for trying anything interesting or new. The fast paced action of the original is also diminished by the lack of weapons each character will have access to, since for whatever reason, the weapon-variety seems much smaller than before.
I also felt that I was forced to use guns to clear the stages in any reasonable amount of time, when in the first game it felt better to melee everything in quick succession. Sprinting around a corner to take a guy out will often result in being shot from offscreen by an enemy your camera refuses to let you see. Many times when I reached a level end screen this time around, I let out a sigh of relief rather than one of satisfaction. This isn’t every screen, and it’s hardly every level, but I felt more frustration in a few levels of Hotline Miami 2 than I did in the entirety of the first game. There’s a fine line to when a level becomes an annoyance, and when it feels rewarding to take everyone out after methodically dying and planning a new strategy. Hotline Miami 2 doesn’t leap over that line for all of its dozen or so hours, it just tiptoes over it a time or two more than I’d have liked.
I liked Hotline Miami 2, a lot, but the action didn’t feel as pure as it did in the first game. I feel like the perfect Hotline Miami game is one that lies somewhere between the first and second. One that blends the commentary on violence and players into an intelligible narrative with interesting characters. As much as I love the first game, I’d have been hard pressed to explain much of it before reading a glut of forum posts. The same happens with some of Hotline Miami 2, but at least I can point to specific plot events this time around, rather than flailing my arms wildly and confusedly shouting about “the video store guy” and “the janitors”.
If you want more Hotline Miami, the sequel is dead set on giving you more. A lot more. The series is still super interesting to me, because it’s one of a handful of games (Spec Ops: The Line, The Stanley Parable) that’s even interested in having a conversation about what games are. I can’t say that Hotline Miami 2 is my favorite of the two, but it is a game you should see for yourself. Also, If you’re willing to push through to the ending, you’re rewarded with an incredible final sequence that pushes the psychedelic nature of the series to its logical extent.
Hotline Miami 2 is bigger, better, weirder, and worse than the original, and I’ll probably still play it again sometime. Maybe not on hard mode though, Jesus Christ, I can’t even imagine.