Believing that a sequel isn't always necessary, Hax Monsters gives his view on why we could of done without Hotline Miami 2

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , ,

I’ll cut to the chase right away: the Hotline Miami series has, for me, set the record for the quickest and most extreme drop in quality ever, a record which was previously held by the Payday series. Hotline Miami’s fall is even more jarring, considering that the first game was a work of art with tight design, near-perfect gameplay and an actual message, while its sequel to me is more like an incoherent mess that only seems to exist because of that a sequel had to be squeezed out one way or another. I should mention that I understand why the game has received such widespread positive reactions, but I just want to focus on less commonly heard part of the game, which are the things that are wrong with it.

In case Hotline Miami has slipped you by, which is only possible if you’ve closed your eyes to the entire indie circuit for years, let me give you a brief recap. The game was a top-down fighting game about committing massacres in 1980’s Miami, solely because of that you were told to do so over the phone. It’s strength was that it made you enjoy doing horrible things to your fellow man by forcing you to do the killing at such speed that you couldn’t think about the horribleness of your actions. Then, when you’d cleared out the building of all life, you had to walk back through the place past all the corpses, blood and smashed skulls. That way, the sheer brutality of it all hit you all the more, since you were not able to think about that while you were on your killing spree. In between the murder parades, you observe yourself lose grip on reality as the massacres and Miami as you knew it become inseparable. Few games ever could make me feel that bad about myself.

It is important to know what made the original great to see why the sequel should, in my mind, never have existed. The first reason would be the complete absence of a properly delivered message. Hotline 1’s message was perfectly caught in its most famous quote: ‘Do you like hurting people?’. 

 Well Do you?

A compelling question, as in that game we were just a normal person doing horrible things for no other reason than that a message on our answering machine told us to do so. ‘Fun’ was the only reason to kill because of that it was our reason to play the game. Hotline Miami 2 sometimes pretends to have the same message. For instance, you still walk past all the remnants of your targets after a level, but now this is no longer impressive, firstly because of that the game’s story now gives you an actual reason for the killing ( you were a soldier that had to capture a building, a criminal that had to assassinate a few people or, I kid you not, a writer that wants information for his book ). As we now had a reason to do what we did, it feels as if our hands are clean. We feel no guilt. 

The second reason for the absence of guilt is that Hotline Miami 2 is a way too flabby long game and the gruesome sight of a bloodbath loses something if you see it for thirty times. And although the sequel’s story does not fit with it, HM2 even on one occasion has to explicitly state the point of the story in dialog. In this dialog, one character says: ‘we do horrible things, and deep down we like it’. This came across as very misplaced, because of that the games message is no longer impressive, for the aforementioned reasons. What’s also worse than before is that they now wrap the message in a quote that is no longer a question worth contemplating, but a simple statement. Therefore, all introspective is lost.

You will be seeing this a lot.

As far as the story is concerned, I can be pretty brief. It’s biggest problem is the lack of ambiguity, because of that this makes it impossible to properly spread the game’s message: “we do horrible things and enjoy it’’. Where Hotline: Miami was mysterious, and compelling, providing next to no exposition, Wrong Number explains everything and gives every character a set of traits and motivations. This normally would be a good thing, but if your story is so disconnected from everyday reality as here, and if your message is that your murdering has no reason, then the last thing you want to do is make the characters people from everyday reality who actually have reasons to kill. This game has multiple characters, each with their own little story line that barely has anything to do with the other’s storylines. After every mission you switch to another character, which makes it impossible to actually get engaged with any of the stories. And then there is the ending, which is horrible because of that it comes out of nowhere and had no relationship with anything that happened during the game.

 The cover is even a spoiler if you can figure out what is happening.

Before launch I had already guessed that I’d dislike Hotline Miami 2’s story. I was right about that, but what I didn’t see coming was how horrible the gameplay turned out to be. To me it seems as if the developers forgot everything that Hotline Miami 1 was about gameplay-wise. The essence of the original was killing many enemies at insane speed without needing planning, but managing to survive by acting quickly based on your intuition. One mistake left you dead. This essence does not fit HM2’s levels, which are often filled with special enemies that take so long to kill that you might as plan in a thirty-minute appointment with them to end their lives. 

That's my 2 o'clock appointment, who is next?

On many occasions you will die because of ten assault rifle-wielding nutters that came at you while you were still slowly squishing another guy’s eyes out. Those assault rifles are another problem, by the way. Do you know what does not work in a game where you get killed by merely two bullets? Enormous rooms full of gun-equipped foes that accurately shoot you in a quarter of a second while they stay way out of melee range. 
 You can only get rid of these guys by standing at a corner and popping out briefly to shoot them one by one as they charge at you. This amounts to cover-based shooting and there are enough games that do that already. 

Also, like Hotline Miami 1, Wrong Number is a top-down game. This is extremely frustrating because of that there are so many big rooms that you can’t look all the way through and often these are filled with the aforementioned assault-rifle dudes. Here you can’t even do the peek-out-and-shoot thing because you can’t see the enemy. You also can’t go out and look for him because of that they’ll always see you first as your camera barely shows you anything and you can’t move your camera properly while moving. These situations where you can’t see your enemy come up all the time and can be resolved in two ways. 
 One: You find a gun and spray into the distance, hoping you’ll hit anything. Two: you stand out of cover just long enough for the enemy to see you to lure them into your cover so you can melee them. Not only does this feel like prostituting yourself, it also breaks all the game’s flow.

Silverain: I think you mean been bait here Hax unless you've have some strange encounters with those in the escort business. 

Furthermore, the title was still too broken to play right after launch. Often enemies would endlessly bounce back and forth between two doorposts and often they, even after many patches, won’t see through open doors. Sometimes it is even possible to leave the playable area of the map by going left or right before you entered the map. You can even lure enemies out with you and none of that is supposed to happen. And like in the previous game, the AI reacts very inconsistently. In Hotline Miami 1 this was a good thing because of that this uncertain factor made improvisations and quick reactions a necessity. In Hotline Miami 2 however, the levels are all built in such a way that you can only get through them with repetitive trial-and-error gameplay and exactly that does not fit with AI that acts differently when it is not in a good mood.

 Example of the door bug.

Another part of the original that for me was ruined was the soundtrack. Where Hotline Miami had a calm and subtle soundtrack that not only fit the setting but also underlined the intensity of the massacres by juxtaposing it, Wrong Number tried to improve the music following the same philosophy that dictates that you can improve a hamburger by only adding more meat. The clips are now so full of noises that it sounds as if your speakers are busted and the entire change feels like a useless effort to try and raise the stakes. It is as if a storyteller wants to make his story better by yelling it at the top of his voice.

Silverain: I think this one is down to taste I think that there are a few songs I'd mix and match between the two titles rather than call either of them superior judge for yourself below: 

One more personal niggle that I’d like to mention is not exactly a complaint but mostly an undesirable marketing tactic which Dennaton have most likely adopted because of that Grand Theft Auto V made a lot of money following the same tactic. Wrong Number supposedly comes with a level editor, but that is not released until many months after the release of the actual game. 

Silverain: Wait there's a level editor? That was released so late I didn't even hear about it.

Firstly, I find this unacceptable because of that the people who bought this game paid for the full thing and therefore should get the full thing on release. Secondly, this pre-emptively blocks any and all criticism towards the game runtime or level building, because of that now any fanboy of the game can thwart all complaints in this department by saying that the community will add a lot of good content soon. After all, a level editor theoretically means that you get an infinite supply of levels. However, I don’t expect things to work out this way. 

After all, because of that the level editor comes out so late, the vast majority of the people will already be done with Hotline Miami 2. They will have moved on to infinitely better games and won’t come back to the level editor. Not only does this mean that those people effectively paid for more content than they actually used, it also means that there will not be as much new content as one might expect because of that the fans of the first hour will have moved on. 

Silverain: Thankfully there is a collection of levels available over on Reddit sub hotlinemiamimaps for those of you looking. 

Should you ask me, then the main game’s launch should have been pushed back to the date at which the level editor is currently due. I would have been happy to wait a bit, because of that one proper launch is way better than two rushed-out ones. The extra waiting time would also have given the devs the needed time to take care of all those remaining bugs.

I know that it is unfair to completely rub a game’s head over a belt sander just because of that it was not classic material like it’s predecessor, but don’t get me wrong. Had I not known about Hotline Miami 1, then I would still dislike Wrong Number. Less so, but still. 
 Disregarding HM1 Wrong Number feels like a very schizophrenic game. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants. The entire game’s core mechanic, the combat, is built around high-speed melee-based combat, but many enemies take ages to kill or have guns. The game is top-down but demands that you see dangers that lie far beyond your vision. The killing is accompanied by more blood than a medieval battlefield, but suddenly, in the missions with the aforementioned writer character, you can only knock people out and guns fall apart the moment you grab them. 

 Been able to do this is awesome though.

In normal levels you constantly have to switch weapons out in accordance with the situation, and you can’t reload, but in some levels, with the soldier character, you suddenly can only use one set gun and a knife. You also suddenly have to reload your gun and find ammo for it. In every level you play alone, but in some levels you play as a ‘character’ that consists of two people. 

 The Swan twins arguably the toughest characters to play.

In these parts you directly control one guy that melees when you press the melee button, while another guy follows you closely and shoots when you press the ‘throw weapons’ button. This system often doesn’t work because of that the two are not in the exact same position. Therefore, on many occasions, you will shoot someone because of that he is in range of the melee character you directly control, only to see your gun character shoot into a wall, attracting every goon in the state of Florida to you exact position.

In summary, I think Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number should not have existed. It brings little good and seems to do everything in it’s power to retroactively ruin it’s predecessors. I am not exactly blaming the developers for making a sequel, because of that so many fans asked for it. If my guesses are correct, most fans were satisfied with this game. That’s great, of course, but I myself am left with a bit of an empty feeling, because of that sometimes sequels do more harm than good. Enough is enough and more is not always better.


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