Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is very similar to its predecessor in both look and feel. This is a good thing. Those who enjoyed the first game when it was released last year (or who recently picked it up when it made the switch to PS3/Vita) will be eager for more of the same, and that's exactly what they'll be getting.
The hypnotic pulse of the soundtrack's beats, coupled with the returning trademark brutality and violence, will - and should - have fans salivating at the prospect of a return to Miami's colourful 1980s underworld.
One of the first things I noticed was that while the environments are entirely reminiscent of those from the original, there's more going on here. Nuanced details like washing moving on a line make it feel like a more plausible game space. Though this is no overhaul, there are no sweeping changes to the formula. It's more of an elaboration. It came about because Dennaton just couldn't stop thinking about the first game. They knew they had to make the sequel before they could move on.
"When we were making Hotline Miami, we had a lot of ideas when we were working on the game, talking about backstory and new characters," Dennis Wedin told us in a recent interview. "So we gathered all that up and the plan was to make another game in-between, and then do Hotline Miami 2, but we couldn't stop thinking about Hotline Miami 2. We just felt like there was a lot more that we could do with this game."
The demo starts on a film set. We're controlling the Pig Butcher, and are quickly shown the controls. Then it's straight into the action, and once again there's blood on our hands. After the nearby guard is easily and quickly dispatched we enter a room, kill a man, then our pig-headed character drops his pants and mounts the girl crawling on the floor. Not at all controversial, then.
But it's just a film based on the first game, called Midnight Animal, and before anything too outrageous can happen the director calls "cut" and we're into a familiar talking heads cutscene. We're told to be rougher, after all we're supposed to be killing people, and the female actor is told to "act more helpless and scared, you know... more girly". It'd be easy to be offended, but for those who've already sampled the delights of the series, it's clear that there's more going on here than meets the eye.
After the cutscene we're greeted with the title music, and it becomes apparent that there's going to be a more sombre feel to the soundtrack this time around ("what we wanted to change was give the soundtrack a more sad feeling to it, because this is the end, it's the final game.") It's still catchy though, and full of synth riffs similar to those that complimented the first outing so superbly.
Then we're back into another cutscene, and this one proceeds the action. Four animal-headed characters sit around a table, planning mayhem and destruction. We assume the role of one of these miscreants, don a mask, and head once again into the thick of it.
The levels themselves are continuations of what's come before. Dennaton are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. The improvements are subtle, and although we've not seen that much of the story yet, narrative is likely to be where much of the advancement presents itself, along with a variety of playable characters, each with different motivations. The Lynch-esque narrative twists are set to return, as is the unflinching violence.
The brutal difficulty setting remains. I lost count of the number of times I hit restart after being rumbled by a patrol and having my innards spread across the floor like jam hitting toast.
It didn't help that I kept nudging the auto-fire function on the R.A.T. mouse that I was using, meaning that if I had a gun it would often keep firing past the point I wanted it to. In the end I decided to go melee only, as it meant I wasn't left in a vulnerable state when my bullets were spent following a mis-click. It's a style I like using anyway (I used one-hit specialist Tony in the first game all the time), so it wasn't a big deal.
The game handles just as you'll remember. Hugging corners and springing traps. Fast reactions. Pre-emptive strikes. The element of surprise. I took advantage of timed door kicks to knock out passing patrols, and melee weapons to scythe through opponents. When it warranted it, I'd grip an automatic weapon and spray bullets around a room or corridor until nobody was left standing.
As it was in the original, one misstep and it's instant death. It's just as punishing in this respect. There were lots of restarts, but the insta-spawn feature is back, so it's no problem. In fact you could argue that this feature is the core of the game's appeal. These levels aren't simple propositions. You can't breeze through the different stages and clear them in one go (well, I'm sure some people can, but I'm not one of them). Hotline Miami 2 is exactly what you'd expect it to be; surreal, bloody and macabre.
Wrong Number is going to have a hard mode (for the handful people who found the first game too easy), which will strip away lock-on aim and give the player more to think about. Coupled with a more "meta" approach to the story, there promises to be more replayability and intrigue this time around.
I played the hell out of the demo, and after a multitude of attempts I was treated to the finale. The four animal-headed characters that were earlier plotting a spree of ultra-violence stand over a confused man lying helpless, face-up on a coffee table. A smash to the face splits his head open, but still he screams. Then the four masked figures pummel him to death without a shred of remorse. It's nasty. It's horrible. It's bordering on offensive. I bloody loved it.