“Hotline Miami” released in 2012 and became the most violent video game ever made. In essence, it was a drug-fueled psychopathic adventure wherein the goal was to kill as many Russian mafia members as gloriously and violently as possible. It was more than a mindless murder spree, though — there was a subtext of madness, and once players were reeled out of the violence-induced trance, it revealed just what it’s like to go insane.
While “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number” is great at inducing that trance, it isn’t so great at expressing the themes of insanity.
The story is told in anachronistic order — “Pulp Fiction” style — both before and after the events of the first “Hotline Miami.” It focuses on several characters and their reactions to the unnamed main character’s actions in the first game. In the first, players guided the main character into killing damn-near the entire Russian mafia in Miami; in the second, players learn how the world reacts to it.
The story, like any great Quentin Tarantino film, is fantastically written. However, there are a few plot holes, and some characters do things that don’t make sense. The violence that players act out doesn’t always match up with the storytelling. For example, one playable character is a journalist writing a nonfiction book about the events of the first game, and he’s directed to interview the head of the mafia. He gets to the building, and he has to kill or incapacitate everyone else in sight to get to the head. But why? He’s not a killer — and yet when he picks up a baseball bat, he swings with the best of them.
It may sound like there is too much nitpicking here about the dissonance between gameplay and story, because players who ignore the story will find that the level design and gameplay are insanely fun. It’s a top-down “Asteroids”-style shooter where the goal is to kill everyone in the level, but as soon as you’re shot just once, you’re done. The pacing still has that lightning-quick “Super Meat Boy” flair to it, where it’s obscenely difficult but easy to restart and try again. And since the levels are even more difficult than the first game, that means even more satisfaction for those that can beat them.
Oh, and the soundtrack is just awesome. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this is one of the best video game soundtracks of the decade.
Overall, “Wrong Number” is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the gameplay is so finely tuned that it feels like a worthy sequel to the original. But on the other hand, the story definitely needs to fill some holes, even if the style and writing finesse is already there. And even then, the story just can’t have the impact of the original. If you can ignore the weird story, it’s a fantastically fun, if incredibly violent, ride.