It feels satisfying that I won’t have to grind my way through Hotline Miami 2 again. It was frustrating in ways Hotline Miami never was. This is not a good game. In fact, it’s bitterly disappointing.
It’s hard for me to fathom what was going through the minds of Jonaton Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin when they were brainstorming ideas for Hotline Miami 2. All their new ideas are poorly implemented with what made the original work so brilliantly. Hotline Miami had bite-sized levels where improvisation and speed runs were the name of the game. There were some moments where you had to pull back the frantic killing with some environmental navigation to pin point where certain enemies were hiding. Searching the environment required the player to move the top-down map using their finger on the PS Vita. Unfortunately, this is something you have to do constantly in Hotline Miami 2 which seriously hampers the enjoyment factor and loses the frenetic flow that made Hotline Miami such a thrilling game to play. That’s because the maps in HM2 are substantially larger which means you can’t always access areas of the map. Enemies can kill you off screen and their numbers loom large. There are so many in fact that I found there was only one way for me to approach each level from a gameplay perspective which was to play peek-a-boo behind open doors and wait for the enemies to run towards me before I planted a pipe into their skulls. It wasn’t fun and takes away the fast paced thrills of the vastly superior original.
Other problems harm the experience further. A.I is wildly inconsistent. Some won’t notice gunshots going off next to them whereas others will hear that same shot from the other side of the map and run all the way over to your exact location. Also criminal is the exclusion of masks to choose from before each level. In Hotline Miami this gave you some choice as to how you wanted to begin each chapter. Masks gave you certain power ups like ‘lethal doors’, ‘start with a knife’ and ‘dogs don’t harm’ which proved useful. They added a sense of player choice that never came with restrictions. Hotline Miami 2 is a far more linear experience which inexplicably throws restrictions at the player putting an end to player choice.
What I found most disappointing with Hotline Miami 2 was its story. Hotline Miami had a fantastic narrative with a surprising pay off. From the start it presented a story that dripped with menace and mystery. All that is missing with Hotline Miami 2’s confused and unengaging collection of unconnected plot strands. Too many characters have no personality which makes them impossible to care for. Add to that a plot that smacks of self indulgent incomprehension. Comparisons to David Lynch are accurate for both games. Hotline Miami was David Lynch at his best and made me think of his 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive which had all the weirdness and mystery that defines his work but crucially a plot that felt cohesive despite its puzzle box structure. Hotline Miami 2 is David Lynch’s Lost Highway – complete nonsense.
HM2 isn’t all bad. The soundtrack is another incredible collection of thumping electronic tunes from the likes of Jasper Byrne and Carpenter Brunt. Byrne’s ‘Voyager’ is an example of a tune that elevates the action from unbearable to passable. Without the soundtrack I’m not sure this sequel would be getting the plaudits it has achieved from some critics.