Written by G. Russell
One Game A Week is a bunch of words from my brain to yours about whatever game has been occupying my time over the last 7 days. Once a week, EVERY week for the duration of 2015. God help us.
So, in a nutshell – Hotline Miami 2 came out and I played it every spare moment that I could until I completed it and then I went back and played huge chunks of it again. I was left feeling confused enough about the whole thing that I thought the only sensible course of action would be to interview myself. Perhaps I need help. Anyway, read on!
Right, straight to the point, did you-
Hey wait, hold on, this isn’t Newsnight. Aren’t you going to soften me up first? Ask me about how I am, how work is, how my kids are doing, that kind of thing?
No. As I was saying, did you-
Look, I don’t like how this is going. I mean, when I sat down to interview myself I wasn’t expecting it to be so direct and cold, it’s just… not how I pictured things, you know?
Are you done?
Well. I …. I’m just saying…
Look, I hear you, but can we just get going?
So, you were pretty excited about Hotline Miami 2, pretty hyped up and super buzzed about its release?
‘Super buzzed‘? Who talks like that?
Please. Answer a question. I’m begging you. I’m begging us.
Yes. I was. It was the first release of 2015 that I’ve been truly bedside myself with excitement for. I was, as you say, super buzzed. The sequel to arguably one of the greatest action games of all time? Hard not to be frothing at the orifices.
Buy it on day one, did you?
Yes, of course.
Did you check our bank statement first?
No, I…. what?
Oh, to be so carefree. Anyway, did it live up to your expectations?
Well, this is where it gets tricky. You see-
I’ll be blunt. Did you like Hotline Miami 2?
Er…. Yeah. Sort of. Look, it’s not as easy as that. It’s … complicated.
Ok, well, Hotline Miami 2 gets a lot of things right, but pretty much all of what it gets right is carried over from the first game. A lot of the new stuff that it tries? It fails in some way. And because of that, these changes feel like they are poorly implemented and made just for the sake of it. The major exception to this though is the narrative. There barely was one in the first game, and that worked exceedingly well, but Hotline Miami 2 has a surreal, beguiling and fascinating story, one that is told in a hypnotic, disjointed flow via a videotape aesthetic that is by turns gripping, disturbing and oddly touching. It really is a fantastically well told story, and it’s inclusion is reason enough to overlook the game’s flaws.
Ok so you say it fails at new stuff? Explain.
Don’t get me wrong; not all new stuff. The tweaks to the control of your character (much smoother), the animations (far more expressive), the environmental design (so much extra detail) and the sound effects (so crunchy and splooshy) are all marvellous. The issues are more to do with the way these levels are constructed, the enemies within them and how this affects the core gameplay. In some way, I admire the changes; its brave for developer Dennaton to try new things when the first game was such a success due to its relative simplicity. But not only do the changes remove some of the magic of that Hotline Miami feel, but they also don’t feel convincing. Take the level design – some of Hotline Miami 2’s arenas are enormous by comparison to the original’s tight corridors and tiny rooms. Corridors and rooms in Hotline Miami 2 are literally too long or too wide for you to see entirely, and more often that not have guys with guns standing at the edges of them, ready to shoot you dead the second you step out. It’s impossible to avoid death in these situations. This doesn’t feel like a challenge. It feels cheap. Some of these new levels, like Seizure, Stronghold or Moving Up don’t feel fresh or expertly crafted, they feel cynical. I get it – dying is an imperative part of Hotline Miami; your eventually flawless run through a level is built out of trial and error, but when the levels are so large and so packed with frustratingly placed enemies, the thought of dying and having to do it over becomes more stressful than it should. Which leads to more cautious play, which, as you peek out from corners and bait gun-packing enemies to your position, makes it feel just … not like Hotline Miami. I’m not one of those people who can’t accept a developer implementing adjustments to a precious formula, but it just feels so at odds to the very core of what makes Hotline Miami work. There are still plenty of exhilarating, breathless, adrenaline-overload moments on offer but too often are they countered by moments of pure frustration. I really, truly admire the balls that Dennaton must have to risk changing that core gameplay loop. I just wish they hadn’t fucked it up so bad in places.
You sound very upset and confused about all of this..
I am! I’m disappointed, hugely so. There are moments in this game that, had it not been the sequel to one of the best in recent years, I would have deleted it from my hard drive out of pure anger and frustration. But 50% of this game is still excellent. Still massively enjoyable. It still delivers that horrifically violent, nihilistic shock to the system that the original game did. It still, at times, presents you with a building layout and enemy routines to learn that, once successfully mastered, can see you seamlessly chain together a run of kills that will make your head spin. A trance-inducing whirlwind of extreme violence set to a thumping, grubby, electronic nightmare of a soundtrack. Stages like Withdrawal or Death Wish or First Blood deliver a brand of heart-stopping tension and flawless gameplay, all with that unsettling story going on in the background, that feels like nothing else. It’s just that every time I start to really enjoy myself, it throws up some awful level filled with cheap difficulty spikes (hey, let’s fill this corridor with enemies standing still and pointing guns out of windows) that make me want to eat my fucking controller and start-
I am calm.
Why are you reaching for that lead pipe?
I’m… I’m not…
Is any of this helping? Are you feeling clearer about your final thoughts on the game?
Not really. I still love it. I also still kinda hate it.
Have you played it anymore since you finished it? Seeing as it clearly angered you so much, I’m guessing you just walked away…
Not quite… No. I’ve replayed a bunch of the best stages, experimenting with different character perks. I’ve also completed some of the stages with the specific requirements required to unlock alternate cut scenes and even a secret bonus stage in one case. This bonus stage by the way is excellent, taking place-
Ok, you sound really exited again. I think you might actually love this game implicitly…
No, that’s not possible, there’s too many little things that pull me out of-
*sigh* Moving on, the soundtrack is excellent isn’t it? Like, somehow, quite impossibly, better than the original game’s soundtrack?
So good. So, so good. I’ve pretty much had it playing in the car constantly since just before the game came out. Dennaton’s ability to match a song to the level of a computer game remains unmatched. Particular highlights include Magic Sword’s The Way Home, a dreamy, buzzing heartbreaker of a track which plays out over an oddly poignant mission set during one of the Hawaii stages, Carpenter Brut’s Roller Mobster which is the most violent song I’ve heard since Pig Destroyer’s Loathsome and El Tigre’s She Swallowed Hot Coals, which features a mightily fucked up post-post-post-dubstep breakdown. It’s hard not to listen to it and daydream about a 18 combo kill streak.
Also, the ending is incredible, right?
Oh god yeah. What I would say to anyone who is on the verge of giving up because they’re already 50 minutes deep into a stage and can’t clear it because an off-screen bullshit sniper keeps murdering them is to persevere because the closing section of this game is one of the finest I’ve ever seen.
Better than the end of Red Dead Redemption where you track down-
Woah woah! Spoiler territory!
Dude the game is like, a million years old. Are you also going to get all pissy if I reveal that at the end of Global Gladiators, Ronald McDonald insinuates that it was all a dream?
Alright, let’s end this now.
Ok, fine. So, closing question – did you actually like Hotline Miami 2?
Are you sure?
Not really, no.