Friday, 13 March 2015

HOTLINE MIAMI 2: WRONG NUMBER - Gamertroll Review - PS4, PS3, Vita, PC

If the mere thought of solicitus violence and sickening gore turns you off to certain video games: then this one is not for you, but please bear with Gamertroll's review because this is an important game and you might as well know why. As for the rest of you desensitised sickos, this game is for and about us so let's just get started.

HM2 obviously continues to showcase the famous blocky retro visuals laid down in the first Game, so as before any violence is inherently more about transmitting the idea of what is happening onscreen and the gravity of it's aftermath; a shockingly effective device.

Slick presentation was also a hallmark of the first Hotline Miami (click for Gamertroll's review of that). Hotline Miami 2: wrong number is even slicker. You'll have never heard pumping 80's slasher film music spliced with cop action thriller and 8-bit techno ambience done quite like this. It is, for want of a better expression: seriously Badass. HM2's hugely entertaining and unique soundtrack is yet again, a revelation that immediately makes a player sit up, alert in the understanding that something special has just rolled onto the television set.

The previously successful, late 80's vibe has been accentuated to a new level in HM2's tactile LoFi presentation. For example: Pause the game and a perfect simulation of a paused VHS tape player halts proceedings complete with appropriate distortions and contextual commands like EJECT replacing the option to quit. Gamertroll has probably seen this before in a game, but not done anything like this well.   

Such improvements to the original's already notable presentation are just the beginning and as you'd expect from so many other great video game sequels, HM2 just has MORE. That bombastic 80's cinema-inspired 8-bit soundtrack is somehow more brash and more atmospheric than last time round. The quaint but horribly descriptive character animations occur more often and boast more complexity. More levels, more weapons, more masks, more protagonists more plot, more adversaries, more violence. See? More. Shucks, even the fish tanks have more, Gamertroll saw a fucking shark swimming in one of them.

This Maxim does mean minor consequences for the delicately balanced gameplay: The new, bigger levels make the game harder, demanding longer periods of survival from the player. It's the biggest single difference to the core of the game, an area that needed little tinkering with in Gamertroll's view. After HM's frantic but short stages, the sequel's vast buildings can feel slightly like rock climbing without a rope by comparison. Gamertroll is not quite sure that's an improvement on HM's tighter levels but it certainly feels like a progression.

Every other change Gameplay-wise is as stated earlier in this review: there's simply more of everything. If you played the original you might remember the heavy dudes that couldn't be killed with melee weapons. Playing as 'Jacket', the main avatar the first time round, we had to frantically find a gun and shoot them as soon as they appeared. They were really the only special characters back then, apart from attack dogs, but now HM2 has several special enemies that pose different challenges to dispatch. The HM games in many ways are superbly disguised, action-orientated puzzle games with the need for memorisation and improvisation as a key player skills. Looking at the game like that, these new special characters are tantamount to adding new block types to Tetris. Everything that has been enhanced in this way makes HM2 more layered than it's predecessor. You might miss the first game's simplicity but all things move on and what you end up with in HM2 is worth the ticket price.

The real ambitious changes Dennaton have made in HM2 are unrelated to scale. The only elements they have really messed with are arguably the least important to gameplay: It's the characters and the storyline that have seen bold new strokes of innovation. Gamertroll might even suggest that it's less strokes and more a Jackson Pollock-esque random chucking of whole buckets of paint. There is a marked move to diversify the cast of protagonists and chop the game into a confusing collection of unfathomably shuffled storylines but the bottom line is that everything and nothing has changed. You still play a murderous protagonist massacring a building full of enemies in a biblical rage before the blood pumping soundtrack gives way to eerie, tinnitus framed ambience and you sullenly walk back through the blood and bodies to your vehicle. It's these bemused and solemn death marches amongst the gore, that serve to dole out more guilt on the player. It's a unique experience having your grizzly handy work held up to your face in this manner and the resultant feeling is that not only does HM illustrate levels of violence seldom seen anywhere but It also appears to take profound responsibility for it. Make no mistake, HM2 pushes the boundaries of decency even further than it's forebear did. Even if you take the provided option to skip the scene containing sexual violence (perpetrated by you), you will still end up doing things like sadistically
torturing characters to death as they plead wretchedly for their lives.

Yep. Being asked to identify with an endless stream of murderers can be discomforting at times and your mind will certainly return to some acts after the fact.

So in HM2 we have, in effect, the gaming equivalent of a cult film but with all the knowingly emphasised elements that only a game could provide. In cinema making an even better sequel to a wildly successful cult film is Incredibly problematic, but with the differing experience games provide, such a thing can be accomplished through the simple act of adding or subtracting the nature and volume of existing elements. Dennaton didn't need to gamble the whole farm on big changes, just perfect the balance and flavour of the original's winning recipe. That is exactly what they've done with HM2. If HM3 ever happens, more core innovation will be expected to justify it. Right now Gamertroll is overjoyed that Dennaton opted to 'tighten' the original experience.

Like the first Hotline Miami, this sequel has been produced fully mindful of what veteran gamers need to wake them from their collective FPS-induced comas. Gamertroll regards both games as super-violent Tetris's, a product of our time cleverly wrapped in the nostalgia of our childhoods. They are masterworks that demand our attention when so many AAA's are failing to deliver.


Filling the seats left vacant by all the delayed, broken big budget games: Indie titles have surged into newfound prominence. Dennaton's latest opus is a game at the forefront of an seismic shift in our hobby whose gameplay is as relevant as their uncanny design. However these games will come to be judged retrospectively, Gamertroll has no doubt that many future academic dissertations will be written referencing 'Hotline Miami'.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong number is a concise perfection of video game design dropped in a bucket of blood and LSD with an ending like nothing you've ever seen.

9.4/10