We revelled in the way the game would slide us into a sort of hypnotic state - via its endless, blood-soaked repetition of levels and moments. We struggled, through trial and error, to carve out a successful route through them. It was like descending an infinite staircase into Hell, made from dripping, raw meat, bullet cases and discarded syringes. As much a game of chance as skill, the gameplay drew us in through the rhythmic beat of its brutally staccato 8-bit slaughter.
Appropriately, perhaps, there was something powerfully narcotic about it.
But the story? Weren't those "story" scenes in Hotline Miami 2 just there to facilitate the overall atmosphere? A Lynchian way of unsettling the player? Story is something more than that just atmosphere and some stuff, surely? A "bigger, broader, story - with more playable characters" was just about the bottom of the list of things we wanted from Hotline Miami 2.
Which is a shame, as Hotline Miami 2 is basically Hotline Miami, but with a bigger, broader, story, and more playable characters...
Let's deal with the raped elephant in the room first. Yeah. That rape sequence - sorry, "implied sexual violence" sequence - that had everyone (including us) up in arms not so long ago, is the first thing that happens in the game. Right from the off, Dennaton Games are setting out their stall, and there's a bit red banner hanging from it that reads: "We don't care what you think".
There's an option to play without the sequence, but if you forego that... well... It just feels weird, unsettling and lacking any real excusable context (but then, the Hotline Miami franchise is deeply weird, unsettling and inexcusable, once you get into it).
YOU'VE BEEN FRAMED
The game is framed by what is revealed to be a movie inspired by the events of the original game. Consequently, the "implied sexual violence" (basically: you, the player, shoot a woman in the back, and then stand over her, and then... pretty much straight away, the scene cuts, but still...) - is part of a "film".
A film that is part of a game. A fiction within a fiction, by way of a justification. So, y'know, the "rape" isn't "real". You are correct to assume it doesn't really succeed in its rather obtuse aims.
Despite all of Dennaton Games' protests that within context we'd all be hailing the rapey bit a masterpiece of artistic choice, it's difficult not to feel it's gratuitous and unecessary. Maybe that's the point, in a game that is entirely gratuitous, blood-soaked, and nihilistic. It's a grubby game, and that's probably intentional. Nevertheless, it remains rather baffling.
It comes back to a feeling we had throughout our whole time playing Hotline Miami 2: we can't work out whether Dennaton are making some sort of incredibly clever point about violence as entertainment (so clever, it sort of passes us by), or they're just a bunch of overgrown teenagers who think all that violence and the "implied sexual violence" are cool, and try to justify it by going "Yeah, 'cos, it's like an art thing innit - it's like art an' shit, 'cos, like, the player is playing a really violent game, and, yeah, what's that about...?".
The story, such as it is, jumps around in time, cuts between different characters - sometimes within the same level - but always remains obscure, and just out of reach. The gonzo atmosphere is still there, but its message - and it feels like they were reaching for some sort of message, otherwise why go to all that effort? - is elusive.
But anyway. If what they're saying is something something violence something - they're right. Hotline Miami 2 is entertaining precisely because it's violent. On the one hand it's exactly the same game as its predecessor... and on the other hand, it tinkers with the format and - at times - almost lost us.
Frankly, we'd have been happy with a more straightforward Hotline Miami 2. One that took in new locations - perhaps more varied still than what we get in Wrong Number - and new weapons. And there's a bit of that... but there's also something rather askew.
In trying to broaden out the world of Hotline Miami, the sequel forces you to play as certain characters for certain levels. It takes the choice out of the player's hands, as entertaining as some of the new play styles are - controlling two characters at once (one armed with a chainsaw, one with a gun), a pacifist "writer" (what are they trying to say?) who goes out of his way to use non-lethal force, and a group of "fans" of the original game's protagonist.
It's not a game-breaker, but we did miss having free reign to choose our favourite mask/special skill guy.
More problematic is the level design: the levels are bigger (as you might expect), but to the point that you're forced to constantly look ahead before going through doors, or jump round corners. But even then, your look-ahead feature only goes so far, and it happens too often that you get shot by some off-screen enemy.
Yes, Hotline Miami was an endurance test, and Hotline Miami 2 is generally still more of the same, but it feels less like laying down on the tracks and experiencing the rush of having a train run enjoyably over our head, than fannying around on the tracks trying to invent new ways to be hit by the train... only to be stabbed by a naked freak, who lunges at you from a bush.
It's still mostly brilliant - aesthetically, it's like nothing else, with its defiant retro-80s VCR vibe - and boasts one of the best game soundtracks of all time.
Yet, while everything we loved from the original is mostly intact, there's a tiny twinge of disappointment there that it has been diluted with new ideas that we didn't necessarily ask for. We're also not sold that the underlying message - the "What's it really about?" - is anywhere near as deep or clever as they'd like us to believe.
SCORE: 1986 out of 2015
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