Hotline Miami might’ve been my favorite game of 2013. Even stacked up against triple A heavy hitters like The Last of Us, DMC, Injustice and Batman Arkham Origins it was the game I couldn’t get out of my head. Dennaton Games’ 16 bit-style love letter to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was captivatingly strange and subversive in a way that few video games ever achieve, not to mention a blast to play and a feast for the eyes and ears without peer. When I heard that a sequel was in the works I was ecstatic, ready to pull on my mask and jump right back into the corpse filled neon gutter.
From the outset you can tell that this is a completely different kind of animal, rather than controlling a single vengeful protagonist, here you are put in the shoes of a rich tapestry of Tarantino-esque lowlifes on both sides of the law in a variety of missions related to and taking place before, during and after the original “Jacket” killings depicted in the first game. There are crooked cops, a gang of masked copycat thrill killers looking to re-enact Jacket’s rampage out of sheer boredom, members of the Russian mafia that Jacket took down in the first game trying to rebuild their empire, and many more.
Several scenes detail the trail against “Jacket” for the murders depicted in the first game.
At the beginning of each “scene” you’ll take control of one of these new heroes, varying your gameplay options greatly. The gang of copycats offers the closest experience to the original game, each donning one of Jacket’s masks and gaining the appropriate buffs and nerfs (Tony the Tiger, who has lethal punches but is forbidden from using weapons, is a personal favorite), on the other end of the spectrum in Evan, a writer investigating the events of the first game who refuses to kill. He can pick up melee weapons and use them, and once he bats or pipes someone they stay down, but his inability to utilize ranged weapons does put him at a grave disadvantage and makes his levels some of the hardest in the game as a result.
The difficulty here is MUCH tougher than the original game, and can vary wildly from scene to scene, again, depending on your available offensive options. I can’t remember ever using the ability to look ahead or lock on in the first game, basically just playing as if it was a twin stick shooter. But this one had me planning ahead and peeking around corners like I myself was one of the members of the game’s paranoid schizophrenic cast. It’s not any better or worse, it’s just different. The stakes are much higher here and that reflects on the story as well. Again, not to beat the Tarantino analogies to death but if the first game was Reservoir Dogs then this one is Pulp Fiction. There’s just so much more of everything and if you’re drinking Dennaton’s particularly insane Kool-Aid then you’ll love every second of it. If it’s too much for you just go back and play the first game. Dennaton set out to craft an experience to stand far apart from their initial achievement and in my opinion they’ve succeeded with flying colors.
Mark the Bear dual wields machine guns that can be aimed in opposite directions.
Speaking of colors, one thing that hasn’t changed is the game’s 80’s day-glo nightmare aesthetic, looking for all the world like a Sega Genesis game on all the coke from the set of Scarface. The art style remains constant as well with each characters twisted and contorted visage accompanying their dialogue scenes. The animation seems to have been improved a bit and there are so many different ways for enemy characters to be shot, stabbed, sliced and beaten that you’ll be noticing new sprites even deep into the game. The excellent techno soundtrack makes a return as well, here leaning more towards foreboding John Carpenter-esque synths, the absolutely perfect musical accompaniment to the game’s demented retro milieu. Controls feel spot on. The game is rock hard and you’ll die a ton but it’ll never feel like the game’s fault, and when you overcome a particularly difficult scene it makes the accomplishment that much more satisfying.
Can the game possibly have the same impact as the first? Of course not. It’s very rare in the world of video games for a sequel to completely break the mold in the current climate of yearly updates to stagnant IPs like Assassins’ Creed and Call of Duty. Dennaton deserves a special commendation for putting in the work to make the sequel to their breakout hit be so much more than just “More Hotline Miami”. Games like these are the reason why we play games. Not for the violence or the sensationalism, but for the originality, creativity and ingenuity. Dennaton stated that this will be the last game in the series, which is admirable in and of itself, even though we love these games and would love to see more of them, we can’t help but respect that decision wholeheartedly. Even if it doesn’t involve masks and pistols and pixilated entrails, we’ll be following their future closely, and patiently awaiting their next mind bending, thumb busting masterpiece.