Developer by Dennaton Games; Published by Devolver Digital; Released March 10th; Available on PC, PS3, PS Vita, PS4; Reviewed on PC; Review copy provided by Devolver Digital.
If you were to ask me to briefly sum up the problems with Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, I'd go with the word "more." The original game, in many ways, was a success built on simplicity. Explaining the core of its experience to someone was as easy as saying "it's an action game about a deranged guy going to war with the mob while wearing rubber masks." Everything about Wrong Number, meanwhile reeks of Dennaton Games looking at the first title's formula and trying to up the ante. It has more story, more action, more gameplay and more complexity. All of which adds up to an experience that's far less satisfying than its 2012 predecessor.
Set in 1985, 1991 and 1994, the story focuses on the events leading up to and following the mass murders of the first game. Unlike Hotline Miami however, which only included two playable characters (one in non-canon bonus missions), Wrong Number tells its story by jumping between the perspective of more than a dozen people, each of whom brings their own unique perspective to the table.
While I can admire the ambition it takes to expand on the original in such a large way, the story is almost as jumbled as it complex. Several characters leave next to no impression and those that do manage to be interesting often have their stories muddled by the honestly unnecessary convolution of the game's plot. It's unfortunate because there are several threads that, on their own, could have been fodder for a more concise and comprehensible story. As it stands however, it feels like the writing spends too much time straining to feel weird and unhinged when a more straightforward exploration of some of its characters and themes could have been fine fodder for a more interesting and comprehensible plot.
The narrative's drive toward complexity also yields some unfortunate moments of distracting excess. A controversial scene of suggested rape, for instance, brings next to nothing to the story save for some shock value and pixelated pair of butt cheeks. It honestly could have been removed or altered and the story overall would have been identical. There's also an early stage where you play as a journalist who, after beating his way through a building full of Russian mobsters, calmly interviews someone at gun point and is then allowed to walk peacefully away as though he didn't just assault a dozen or so heavily armed men. It stood out to me as being incredibly silly and out of place.
Thankfully, at least, the game is still fun to play, for the most part. In fact, if you enjoyed Hotline Miami and just want more gameplay content in its style, then Wrong Number should leave you fairly satisfied. The combat, in case you were worried, is essentially identical. You enter a building filled with enemies and need to kill them all with whatever melee weapons or guns you find. Gunfire will draw them to you however and one hit is all it takes to bring you down. It's just as fast-paced, bloody and brutal as you remember.
As entertaining as it can be in its best moments however, there are times when the developer's attempts to expand on the original's formula cause more trouble than they're worth. The mask system from the first game returns, but with some changes. Whereas in the first game, you could select different masks to take advantage of different gameplay buffs (faster walking, start with a knife, killer doors, etc.), the masks in Wrong Number put you in control of entirely different characters. This actually seemed pretty nifty to me initially.