The first Hotline Miami was a revelation. A mix of precision, speed and ultra-violence it pumped along to an incredible soundtrack that pulsed through your very veins as your balletic murder spree spread red pixels across the walls and corridors of intricately designed levels. It’s a lot to live up to and expectation for the sequel have been high. It’s now here and it’s probably not quite what you expect.
Unlike the original, the game now follows a number of different characters and stories as they make their way through the neon tinged world. It also jumps around in time to both before and after the events of the first game. There are dream sequences, drug fuelled sequences, some of it’s a movie – basically you’ll never really be sure what’s real and what isn’t and that’s part of the fun.
Throughout the game you’ll play as a grizzled detective, a soldier (who later becomes the shop owner in the first game), and a movie star losing his mind, a writer, a group of copycat masked killers and various goons. Most of them have something which distinguishes them from the crowd – such as the writer not killing people or the different masks that the ‘fans’ wear giving them different abilities. It’s a different system to that of the first game and as a result you may feel a little more restricted in the levels.
The characters are what set each level apart here as the design is somewhat different. Each level in the original game had something that made it stand out. You had the train arriving, or the car smashing through the wall of the disco. There’s even the level where the swat team charge in half way through. Unfortunately, there is nothing like that present here and after a while the levels do begin to blur together a bit. We can see what they have tried to do by turning things on their head with the approach and variety now dictated by whom you are playing but it does lose some of the magic.
Levels are also much less tight now. Many of them have wide open spaces to traverse and your ‘look’ command will often not see to the end. This is a real pain as a number of times we were killed by enemies we couldn’t see and had no real way of knowing were there. It turns many of the levels into more of a memory test which is something we really don’t like.
The new level layouts change the flow of the game as well. You need to take a much slower and more careful approach to your slaughter as you are never really sure what is up ahead. While this does raise tension levels it often just ends up being frustrating. The fact you pretty much have to carve a set route out of the enemies also doesn’t help this as you can end up repeating the same starting actions over and over again.
The levels also go on a bit longer in the main which is difficult when you are basically being asked to perfect run a killing spree of thirty plus goons. You do get used to it but much of the time we really weren’t having fun and that never happened with the original. There are also some bugs with objects and characters getting stuck in things and the game also crashed out on us right at the end of a very long and tricky section which made us cry a little bit. Occasionally a level will start with the cursor stuck in the middle of the screen as well which makes moving around interesting to say the least.
When the game works it does do a great job of making you feel like some kind of super hero. When you’ve got the sequence of a level down and you know where the bad guys are you can cause some serious chain damage and come out feeling exhilarated. It’s moments like this that you realise how good the game can be – but there are far less of them than before.
There are also moments of crazy genius at work here. Picking the duck mask for instance gives you two on screen characters to deal with. One uses a chainsaw while the other uses a gun. It’s mad as you pile through cutting and blasting and feels wonderfully unhinged. The story arc and writing is also exceptional and once you work out what the hell is going on and how everything links up with the original you can only admire what’s been done here. The music is also exceptional and tracks set the scene perfectly for the levels they are attached to.
Overall, it is fair to say that no other game has caused us some many headaches when it has come down to working out how we feel about it. At times we loved it and at times we really despised it. It moved from a six to an eight and back even within the same level and at its core this is the issue – it’s not consistent with its quality. Sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimes it’s downright bad. Fans of the original will both love and hate it in a single play through but it does do a lot of things right. It’s a difficult one to score. It’s both a six and an eight so we’ll take the middle ground and call it a seven.