Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

A game by Dennaton Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, and Switch, originally released in 2015.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the follow-up and narrative conclusion to the original Hotline Miami. While the sequel offers much of the same minute-to-minute gameplay as its predecessor, it is bigger in almost all respects, with more enemy-packed areas, more complex level layouts, more enemy variety, and a range of playable characters with different weapons and abilities. The more challenging gameplay and layered time-hopping narrative assume that you have already murdered your way through the original game.

The original Hotline Miami featured a masked protagonist taking down Russian mobsters in a dingy version of 1980’s Miami. The game challenged the player’s perception of events as its unreliable narrator seemed to be suffering from some sort of mental breakdown. The world seemed unreal, with haunting messages from masked men and strange phone calls that directed you to your next kill… and even the “real” world had an air of surrealism with the same clerk appearing in every store and always giving you merchandise for free.

The narrative in Hotline Miami 2 greatly changes the feel of this world by offering a much clearer picture of each of the characters and their motivations, grounding most of them in reality, and even shedding some additional light on the events of the first game. As such, much of the surrealistic tone is gone here, although the dingy environments and sickening flashes of light remain, along with some of the most gruesome deaths ever to grace a 2D video game.

The game occasionally provides flashes to its formerly unhinged nature with characters – most of whom are not good people – dealing with their own demons and mental issues, or just killing for fun… and sometimes a guy in a rooster mask whispers strange things in your ear for no discernable reason.

Hotline Miami 2 splits its story across a dozen playable characters, with most of the game taking place in the early 90’s, following the events of the first game. There are occasional flashbacks to the mid-80’s with a group of characters stationed in Hawaii and fighting a war against Russia… thus solidifying the game’s presence in a reality separate from our own. These sequences offer a bit of history, as they feature the original game’s protagonist and the ever-present shopkeeper.

Other characters include a corrupt police detective who is investigating the murders from the original game, as well as a new string of murders that have sprung up from copycat killers. Of course, you also take on the role of these copycats, a group of five murderous maniacs who wish to continue the legacy of the original protagonist… but with no Russians to kill, they take their killing spree to the local gangs and drug dealers, shooting up everything they see.

In the original game, the player was able to unlock masks, each of which allowed for some sort of secondary attribute during combat. Here, many of the characters do not wear masks at all, and the “murder fanboys” each have a different mask, so selecting a mask at the start of the mission actually allows the player to select one of the playable characters. In an interesting twist, two of the characters, Alex and Ash, actually have the same mask, so selecting it allows you to play as both characters simultaneously.

Alex (not Ash) wields a chainsaw for up-close kills, while the Ash follows behind with a gun to clear out baddies from a distance… although he occasionally gets hung up on level geometry or stuck outside a doorway, making him somewhat less reliable. If either of the characters is killed, the mission is failed.

Other protagonists include an assassin with a silenced pistol who needs to do one last job before he gets out of the business; another is a writer who doesn’t use guns, but rather disables enemies with bludgeoning weapons… unless you really get him worked up; another is an actor playing the lead role in a movie about the events of the first game… except that not all is what it seems. Many of these characters' paths cross during the course of the narrative, often leading to things going badly for one or more of them.

The array of characters does more than flesh out the narrative, as many have distinct abilities and weapons, and the player is generally not able to control which character he will play next. This forces players to change up their strategies with each new level and take advantage of their character’s abilities, such as a dodge roll move, one-hit melee kills, or just the ability to take more damage.

As before, the pace of the game requires that the player alternate between cautious exploration and aggressive brutal murder, often switching between the two at a moment’s notice as a stealth approach can sometimes break out into a gun battle… and gunfire alerts nearby enemies to your presence. You can kick in doors to disable the men standing on the other side, rush knife wielders to knock them to the ground before they get a chance to strike, or risk it all to take down a guy with a shotgun before he has time to turn around and blast you in the face.

Player characters can generally only take one or two bullets before they are killed, which returns them to the most recent checkpoint. Checkpoints appear when moving between floors and between scene transitions. However, levels are larger and more complex this time around, opening up many more avenues for the player to meet a quick end. Larger levels mean a longer playtime and more repeated gameplay when you do eventually take one in the gut.

The level designs work against the player more often this time around, with many more wide open environments that extend beyond the player’s range of vision, and lots of windows for baddies to shoot you through as you pass by. The player is able to extend his field of view to a longer distance, but even with this, enemies are often placed just outside of this range, meaning that the player has no way of determining what awaits him.

As often as not, players are killed by bullets from offscreen enemies that were impossible to detect, requiring a restart and memorization of enemy placement… and even then, varied patrols mean that enemies won’t always be in the same place on each attempt. The game is already punishing and brutal, with enemies swarming when you enter a room and attacking you on sight, but with enemies that can kill you from offscreen, longer levels, and more repeated gameplay, Hotline Miami 2 offers a less focused and more frustrating experience than the original.

To offset large rooms with unseen enemies, the player is given a concession in the form of a lock-on ability that allows him to lock onto the closest enemy in the area and track him even when he is offscreen, and it is possible to shoot many enemies from offscreen as well. Of course, if the enemy is outside your field of view, there’s no way of knowing whether a machine gun-wielding baddy is standing nearby who will cut you in half as soon as he hears the shot.

As in the first game, players can take on enemies with their bare hands, as well as with bludgeoning weapons like pipes and bats, sharp weapons like knives and swords, and a number of limited-ammo small arms, including pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles. Enemies are similarly equipped, although there is a sizeable contingent of melee-based foes (who will still charge you, even if you have a machine gun).

There are a few special enemies this time around, including heavy-set men who absorb damage for the machine gunners behind them, and a nearly unstoppable man with a bulletproof vest who appears in the police station. Dealing with multiple enemy types – including the returning attack dogs – requires players to stay sharp and change strategies quickly, particularly when trying to string together a long combo for a bigger score.

Hotline Miami’s aesthetics are as grainy and bloody as ever, with huge sprays of blood appearing after every gunshot, and a wide range of knockdown kills that see players bashing heads into paste, slitting throats, and opening up guts with chainsaws. The game is wrapped in a VHS-style menu system – and the occasional fast forward and rewind effect during cutscenes – featuring a blue menu, as well as staticy tracking lines and a warping sound effect when pausing the game. The new synth soundtrack has a wider array of tracks from a number of artists, including some from returning favorites.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number was developed by Dennaton Games, made up of developer Jonatan Söderström and artist Dennis Wedin, following up on their first commercial release, Hotline Miami. Sound design was provided by Jordan Fehr, who also created sound effects for Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, Snapshot, Shank 2, Krunch, and Incredipede.

The game was published by Devolver Digital, which has published a number of 2D indie games including the original game, as well as Serious Sam: Double D XXL, Luftrausers, Broforce, Foul Play, Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Ronin, Downwell, Enter the Gungeon, Mother Russia Bleeds, The Swords of Ditto, Minit, The Messenger, Crossing Souls, Gato Roboto, Katana ZERO, Carrion, GRIS, and Witcheye.