So Reuben recently wrote a piece on why “Hotline Miami” (the original one) is a great game that you should definitely check out (it’s just below this review, so you could go read it now if you wanted. It’s okay, I’ll wait.), and I agree. I reviewed the original PC version and then did a thoughts piece on the PS3/Vita port, and I love that game to bits. Its tough but fair gameplay combined with an ace synth score and brutal violence all wrapped up in pixel graphics and an ambiguous plot made it one of the most interesting and fun games I’ve reviewed. Then the sequel was announced. I checked out footage and new information when I could, but didn’t actively seek it out, mainly because I knew I’d be getting it anyway. It’s finally arrived, I’ve beaten it, and I am here to tell you people whether I thought it was any good. Just a word of warning first: I’m going to be avoiding specific spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about the game’s plot without going into some detail about its themes and tone. If you want to go into the game without knowing anything (which I recommend) I’d leave the review until after. At least the plot part of it. Gameplay part should be a-okay.
After Jacket murdered nearly the entire Russian mob in the first game, he’s been caught and put on trial, his story sweeping the nation and turning him into a “Natural Born Killers”-style pop culture icon. A film is being made about his exploits (that misinterprets them to a pretty slimy degree), a gang of copycats emulates his now classic “Burst into a building in an animal mask and horribly murder everyone inside” formula and a journalist with an honest-to-buggery handlebar moustache is writing a book about what happened. You play as a number of different characters with often varying playstyles; for example The copycat “fans” have a mask each that give them different skills, the writer knocks people out and unloads any guns he picks up, and sections involving a spec-ops soldier in occupied Hawaii have you switching between a firearm and a knife on the fly, picking up extra ammo from strategically based crates. The game jumps back and forth between each character often, and for the most part they fit in with the tone and story. The only one that feels out of place is Evan, the writer. His sections just feel odd given that he’s a writer purely out to do research and yet is willing and capable when it comes to bludgeoning his way through a club full of armed Mafiya goons. As for the plot itself, it’s easily one of the most bleak, nihilistic game stories I’ve ever seen. I can’t really go into why, but I will say that it takes the ideas of futility, hopelessness and pointlessness connected to violence established in the first game and runs with it. The way it ends (both before the credits and the main ending after the first few names) are gut-wrenching in just how empty and hopeless it was. It’s not for the feint of heart, and it does not pull a single punch. I’m not saying any of this in a negative way, far from it- I loved the story, and I love that it takes risks I’ve not seen before. It doesn’t give a damn what you or anyone thinks of it, but if you’re willing to hang in there, it’s rewarding in a very dark way.
Gameplay wise is where problems start to occur. Those familiar with the first game will find it easier to handle, but regardless, Dennaton have really beefed up the difficulty here. Rooms are now bigger and harder to scope out, with blind corners and a lot more windows. The game mixes melee focused enemies with big guys who can only be killed with guns, then throw in a couple of new enemy types that can only be killed with melee weapons, all the while having two gun-wielding goons patrolling the area. Also dogs. The dogs are back and even worse than before. There are three main problems that I ran into. First of all, the levels are bigger and so require more careful planning, but a lot of aspects of the gameplay are random. What weapons enemies are carrying, whether they’ll be close together and therefore easier to kill, whether they’ll completely ignore you or spin on the spot and cap you in the head from a mile away, often seems down to chance, particularly the latter two. You can clear out an entire floor but then not see a shotgunner hiding in a big pot plant, or a dog blending into a dark background will suddenly speed up and tear your throat out. It’s frustrating, particularly when combined with the game sometimes not reacting fast enough. Several times I pressed the attack button but the game didn’t register it so I died instead. It’s the “Dark Souls” problem- the combat is so excellent that any issues, no matter how small, are magnified. Secondly, parts of the game are just barely do-able. I wouldn’t call the game too hard, because I did finish it, but there were definitely sections where the difficulty made the game genuinely stop being fun to play. A few sections in particular where you play as (SPOILERS) Richter from the first game, whom Jacket stormed a police station to get to (SPOILERS END) were seemingly set out in the way that a bonus challenge level might be done in another game. It was frustrating and ground the game to a halt, at least for a while. Finally there are glitches. At one point one of the fans had thick black lines over her sprite like a cage, another mission had all the walls, doors and windows missing (I had to switch over to the PS4 version to beat it), and several times guards got stuck in doorways and couldn’t be killed, though they could kill me. However, I’m going to let this slide because it was made by two people and it’s just come out. I didn’t get any game-breakers, either.
On the more positive side of things, the shooting feels more satisfying and is better structured around the lock-on, although said lock-on still has trouble prioritising targets, and sometimes made me miss the right targets anyway. When the game isn’t being unfair the extra challenge is genuinely rewarding, and, much like the first game, the sense of style in the graphics, delivery and thoroughly excellent soundtrack make it all worth it. The game also automatically cross-saves between the PS3/4/Vita versions, which is a nice touch.
Overall, “Wrong Number” is excellent. It’s bigger, better and braver than the first game- more characters, more gore, better soundtrack, more levels, and a depressing bold story about violence, humanity and sheer inevitable futility. Misguided steps in difficulty don’t spoil a ferocious, rewarding experiece; it takes risks and they pay off.
By James Lambert
Reuben and I will be doing a video later on discussing the game in-depth, he’ll give his thoughts on it, I’ll talk about the Vita version, and hopefully by then I’ll have played around with the upcoming level editor.