Hotline Miami 2 has made me appreciate the Dark Souls series in a whole new light. I used to stare in disbelief at people throwing themselves at a particularly slow and gruesome meat grinder over and over again, unable to understand the self inflicted punishment. Compress that loop down to seconds instead of quarters of hours, and you get my experience with this sequel to the indie hit from 2012. It’s unfortunate that their ambitious narrative fails to make any sense, as that core hyper-violent gun-toting puzzle-solving loop is still as thrilling as it was before. Just be warned that the difficulty level starts high and ends somewhere in the upper levels of the stratosphere.
This would be the point where I describe the details of the plot of Hotline 2, but I am really struggling in this case. The time from finishing to writing is remarkably short, and yet I cannot begin to put down a summary that will sound anything other than the ramblings of a mad man. There are “The Fans”, a collection of bored guys to take up emulating the first games protagonist as a hobby. There is a writer and a police detective, and we occasionally visit Hawaii in the 70’s for some kind of special ops military operation. This all takes place over multiple crossing time periods in non-chronological order, and left me exceptionally confused as to what the plot was trying to convey. The first game had more of a plot device than an actual plot that seemed to happen by accident, by reflecting your actions in a way that was unexpected and left an impression. The sequel seemed to have grand aspirations of multiple inter weaving threads that would all come together in the conclusion to dramatic effect. I maybe am solid on how two of those link, the rest are still a mystery.
The story does manage to set up some interesting new locations for the Hotline formula of severe tension followed by bursts of frenzied ultra-violence. With the game a surprisingly lengthy seven to nine hours, they attempt to keep you on your toes with characters that have their own play styles. The detective, for instance, doesn’t use guns, and will dismantle any that you attempt to pick up. While this forces you to think differently about how you approach some levels, other characters are not as successful. Two members of “The Fans” are twins, one with a gun and one a chainsaw, with one being controlled directly and the other following close behind. This seems to work antithetical to the accuracy and methodical nature of Hotline, with the lagging Twin often being stuck outside a room making his gun useless, or being at such a different angle than the main character that making the best of the limited ammo is nigh on impossible.
That core loop is still as endorphin releasing as ever, sometimes scarily so. The pulsing soundtrack gets the blood pumping as you slaughter your way through the multi-stage levels, only for the record scratch as the final enemy falls to replace it with a droning ambient noise as you are forced to walk back to the entrance through the abhorrent mess of what you have just done. The Hotline games have probably the most effective use of violence in video games that I have seen, forcing you through the regret stage of your carnage rather that simply awarding you XP and a new pistol scope.
Hotline Miami has probably the most effective use of violence in video games that I have seen, forcing you through the regret stage of your carnage rather that simply awarding you XP and a new pistol scope.
The Hotline games have always been difficult, a high intensity loop of try, die, repeat, but the sequel takes that to a new level. Those new to the series get no coddling at all, and are thrown in at the deep end without a single floatation device, and it only gets more insane from there. This is more puzzle than action, where you are thrown into a situation and have to think your way out of it, while also having reactions quick enough to handle when your intricate plan goes sideways. The AI has a tendency to flit between incredibly predictable and complete randomness, requiring both skills to be on top form all the time. The stages themselves are also much larger than in the previous game, but unfortunately keep the same “checkpoint at transition” behaviour. This makes running a stage an exceptionally tense affair, where one misplaced shot can force you back to the start with little or no warning. By the final stages this was starting to get irritating rather than tense, and without some kind of narrative hook to pull me through I was very close to not finishing the game. The final levels are brutal, and replaying a stage 30-40 times doesn’t sound too insane. This is where the Dark Souls comparison comes in. The sheer sense of relief that comes over you when you kit a mid level checkpoint or finish a stage is so intense that I can see why people fall down the Souls hole. For me, however, it’s just not enough. Completing a particularly troublesome level with less a sense of accomplishment and more a thankfulness that I will never have to do that again is not what I want out of a game.
That soundtrack plays such a critical role in saving Hotline Miami 2 from being simply a more unnecessary complicated version of the previous game. A part of me was actually looking forward to the track listing more than the game. Hotline is now a genre between myself and Calum, and represents all we need to know about a track as we send the YouTube link over IM to the other person. Hotline Miami 2’s soundtrack is incredible. No other way to describe it. I write this on a train with Divide playing in my earphones, and it’s hard to not just pump my fist in the air at fellow passengers screaming “YOU SHOULD HEAR THIS SHIT” in my most obnoxious voice. Stay tuned at the end of the year, where “best track on the Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack” category is shaping up to become a knife fight. I’ve embedded the two big competitors below, so you can decide for yourself. Spoilers, it’s Divide.
Calum’s Note: – This is one of the many cases where my dear brother is very VERY wrong. Sexualizer is a much better piece of music. Although both are remarkable successful in their intended purpose within Hotline Miami 2.
When the soundtrack is paired with the seriously trippy visual presentation of Hotline 2, it becomes such a unique package that has yet to be copied or improved on. It captures the era and mood it’s going for so perfectly that it makes it all the more disappointing that it doesn’t do more with it. I have to give Dennaton full marks for the ambition in what they attempted, but they what they put down is just not enough and leaves far too much in the players hands to put together. Pairing down what they were attempting would have ended up with a better end result. While that core loop is still fun, and the presentation is so spot on, it’s still a few hours too long, and fell over the knife edge between fun and frustration on the wrong side a little too often to get my full recommendation. If you liked the original and thought it needed to be more difficult, this is the game for you.