Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Hits Hard
What do people want in sequels? Most want a developer to continue on with what made first so impactful, but make it better; take it in new directions, and create a true successor that stands on its own.
In this regard, Hotline Miami 2 is a perfect sequel.
Shoot 'Em Up, Shoot 'Em Dead
The conclusion to the series, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a murder simulator. Well, no, it's an action game that challenges the player with chaotic, quick action as you cut, shoot, and beat your way from one level to the next. It's always immensely aware of its own inherent violence, and builds a story that brings the reality of the player's actions into severe contrast with how we've traditionally perceived violence in games.
It's always immensely aware of its own inherent violence, and builds a story that brings the reality of the player's actions into severe contrast with how we've traditionally perceived violence in games.
The series is a perfect little shot of indie action, replayable on its own gratifying merits of perfectionist twitch-reaction gameplay while keeping you competitive with the best times and scores. Later levels provide quality difficulty, and the core gameplay in HM2 makes for a well executed, hard-hitting timesink set in one hell of a world. Truly, a hell.
HM 2 is a brutal experience throughout, intentionally and gratifyingly made. Upon first loading, the game asks whether or not you'd like to skip scenes "that allude to sexual violence." This is a wise decision, given the first scene and opening tutorial, which I will describe in the paragraph after next. Spoilers, I guess you could say.
There are many kinds of violence, for many reasons. HM2 is a wretchedly exquisite blend of them all in a very effective way. While our industry and culture as a whole has a staggering amount of growing up to do, some games have matured to the point of effectively communicating the experienced violence of movies and books that are not enjoyed, per se, but are impactful and appreciated as a depiction of that terrible experience. Games are more immersive due to their interactivity, which makes HM2 effective at the highest level in terms of providing a visceral experience of active atrocity. At no point do you act out any sexual violence, however; HM2 is all about the good ol' murderous kind of violence.
Murder, Rape, Etc., Inc. -SPOILERS-
In the tutorial, you learn how to move your character, kill with your fists, and throw melee weapons. You learn to knock people down, and what button lets you pin them for a finishing move.
The phone rings after you clear the first floor. The voice on the other end says she's upstairs; kill her. You walk into a bedroom; two people are having sex. If you chose to have to not sexual violence depicted or suggested, you kill them both. If you chose yes, you kill him, and when you pin her, she is not killed but raped (specifically, your character straddles her in the same fashion as you straddled the other people you killed, but instead takes his pants down). "AND CUT!" says the director. The scene ends, and the actors get up. It's just a movie you were filming called Midnight Animal. Oh, god. Just a movie.
HM2 is just a game, though, right? Immediately, you're presented with a broad, pervasive tone of stark, sickening violence and its place in media (much like the media you've bought this game for). The director says they will be filming the scene where they carry her into the car tomorrow. The director asks the girl to "work on [her] femininity. Act more helpless and scared... You know... more girly!"
Damn, that too? Cue the title screen.
Wrong number. Care to start a new game? It's not an opening that everyone will like, nor is it meant to be "enjoyed"; and, yes, it has already sparked controversy.
It's clear that HM2 is as immediately as possible making a statement about the deep-seated violence inherent in our established culture, sexual or otherwise. And not only violence against women (remember, it was three "bad" guys you brutally murdered in cold blood before you got upstairs), and not only the objectification of women as well ("girly"), but the worshipful capturing of the worst of humanity in film as an opening for a challenging, well crafted game designed to bring you into a dark story set in a darker world. This is a very thoughtful, deep, fast-paced action experience.
A Wider Context at Play
Given the state of the culture, it's important to not be overly deliberate in forcing a message into a game or any other media; subtlety is key in order to make the experience revelatory, so it sticks with you, so it means something. But many players won't necessarily pick up on that subtlety, and while the context is clear from the perspective of the developers, context is often misconstrued or simply missed entirely.
The scene moves on quickly in such a way that it seems all part of this vomitous tapestry of Miami. In the prologue of the first game, your character stops in the middle of the carnage to fall to his knees and spew bile. HM2's opening scene of savage violence is meant to stick out, and does to some, but fits in so well with the world of violence that it makes a sick sort of sense.
In a statement from publisher Devolver Digital two months prior, and in an interview with RPS, the devs have stood by their decisions. Their game. Their art. It's just a shot away, yeah?
Violence of the Mind, Violence of the Hand
In books, the imagery can be granderand because your imagination is the only visual, and that has no limits. While pixels certainly do have limits, the violence in HM2 is carried out at a pace which forces you to concentrate on the killing.
The thuds, whumps, bangs, and splatters build a rhythm that hits you deeply and the music pumps on. Whipped up in a frenzy of concentration and the pounding of the electronica, the violence you envision in HM2 is as vicious as any hi-res CGI, if you let your imagination run with it. Pixelized games in this retro style have come along way. Here, the style is particularly effective for communicating the late '80s/early '90s era you're in.
For keyboard or controller, the controls are tight, simple, and effective; the game specifically lets you focus on one kill after the next. Each level is presented as a VHS tape in a series of violent films. In HM1, the environments were usually limited to homes, mob hideouts, and the like, but HM2 has a great deal more locational diversity while staying in the quality theme of sleeze, crime, and depravity.
While they retained the masks from HM1, which provide you with special abilities for your character, Dennaton Games did their sequel a solid by adding new characters (male and female) that you control.
Broken, desperate, evil, or not, the characters of HM2 tell a horrifying tale as the events of the first game unfold into a twisted tragedy.
Where's Don Johnson?
I always have trouble defining genres. Whatever this dirty, sexy, bloody neon landscape is, it's ugly in such a beautiful way. Cyberpunk? Postmodern retro-futurism? Neosynthpop?
The music throughout HM2 is even better than the stellar soundtrack to the first. The music between gameplay is really quite soft and soothing, but still keeps with the tone of this early '90s Miami. When it's time to go to work with that bat, though, the electronic sounds beat with concentration. Each VHS track level even states the song that plays as background to your symphony of murder.
HM2 is brutally, sickeningly, violently pixelated.
The sounds are heavy, the gameplay hits hard, the world is enthralling; it's altogether amazing. It can be tiresome to continue the violence, and that is amazing. It's an experience to be had unlike most in its class. It's another success in exploring the outer edges of how far games, especially those made by small, passionate teams, can go.