Hyperviolent surrealness in ‘Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’

Borrowing equally from the films of Nicolas Winding Refin and the Grand Theft Auto series, Hotline Miami returns to bloody sunkissed shores. (Photo provided by steamleaks.com)
Borrowing equally from the films of Nicolas Winding Refin and the Grand Theft Auto series, Hotline Miami returns to bloody sunkissed shores. (Photo provided by steamleaks.com)

In 2012, two-man Swedish development team Dennaton released the original “Hotline Miami.” Set against the neon backdrop of a late ‘80s Miami, the game followed a nameless, masked contract killer tasked with assassinating members of the Russian mob.

Despite being firmly entrenched in the Cold War politics of its setting, “Hotline Miami” was less concerned with developing a coherent plot than it was loosely contextualizing the hyper-violent acts perpetrated by the player. From a top-down perspective reminiscent of early “Grand Theft Auto” titles, players clear levels of mob-owned houses and compounds to trance-inducing electronic music. While fun and fast-paced, the violence retains a high-impact, brutal quality that the player is forced to reflect upon in silence after clearing a level, backtracking through the carnage they had just gleefully committed.

These sobering moments act as the basis of many of the changes and improvements made to the game’s sequel, “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number.” A direct reaction to both the commercial success of “Hotline Miami” as well as the demand for a consistent narrative, “Wrong Number” firmly places itself among the likes of “Metal Gear Solid 2” and “Spec Ops: The Line” as postmodern deconstructions of interactive entertainment and violent media.

Save for a few frustrating segments, the gameplay of “Wrong Number” is just as visceral and uncomfortably satisfying as the first. In order to accommodate its complex storyline, certain controversial changes were made to the structure of “Wrong Number.” Players no longer control a single character with free rein over two dozen masks with unique abilities, instead being limited to 11 characters.

While players aren’t given the same choices to tackle a level as the original “Wrong Number” sees Dennaton experimenting with new ideas that make the experience more enjoyable and difficult.  For example, Evan, an author, refuses to kill enemies, opting to subdue them and disassemble their firearms, while the vigilante duo of Alex and Ash are controlled simultaneously, armed with a chainsaw and pistol, respectively. While these additions to the character roster are welcome, a soldier-character introduced in the third act of the game proved frustratingly difficult, as his sequences feature overwhelmingly large areas and copious amounts of enemies, breaking the fast-paced flow of the game. Despite this minor gripe, these mostly successful twists on the “Hotline Miami” formula should make for compelling user-generated content when the game’s level editor releases this spring.

While “Hotline Miami 2” pulls out all of the stops, its perfect soundtrack brings the entire experience together, somehow managing to usurp the original in addictive quality. Featuring excellent cuts by French house musicians like Carpenter Brut, El Huervo, and Perturbator, “Wrong Number”’s soundtrack also takes influence from acid house and post-punk, making for a more diverse experience that’s just as recklessly blood-pumping as it is contemplative and melancholy. With its disturbing visuals, addictive gameplay, and superb soundtrack, “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number” is, undoubtedly, one of the most enjoyable video games in recent memory.