‘Hotline Miami 2’ is a blood-soaked tunnel of fun

By Austin Miller, @AMiller_DE

Do you like hurting people?

One of the most violent games of all time, “Hotline Miami,” first asked that question in 2012, surprising a lot of gamers and becoming a hit.

But if people thought it was too violent, “Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number” responds as Joker from 1989’s “Batman:” “Wait ‘till they get a load of me.”

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Spanning across several decades, “Hotline Miami 2” takes several paths to address the events of the first game.

Most of it takes place after the original, when a group of fans copycat the crimes of “Jacket,” the protagonist from the first game. Jacket wore several animal masks to murder members of the Russian mafia at the request of ominous voicemails.

The story is non-linear and comes together similar to “Pulp Fiction” but with a lot more blood. Lots and lots of blood. Like, enough blood to make a vampire reevaluate his diet.

Lots of gore will scare the squeamish from trying this game, but it is just as fun and stylish as it is violent.

Each level is filled with Russian enemies, and all it takes is one hit from a weapon or gunshot to take them out. Unfortunately, the same is true for the protagonist.

The speed of living or dying is not only a rush of adrenaline, but also very challenging. Nearing the end of a level, only to be killed by the final enemy is one of the worst feelings I have felt in a game. It is like seeing the light at the end of a dark tunnel, only to have a train come out of nowhere and blast you off the tracks.

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But that challenge makes the game addictive. It does not look very hard, so players may think they are smarter than the game. Seeing the end in sight and having it ripped away makes you want to keep going.

Some games dangle new abilities and weapons instead of carrots for beating levels, which “Hotline Miami 2” does too, but the real reward comes from just beating a level.

Hitting rock bottom continuously is rough, but finally climbing out feels like you have climbed Mount Everest. You cannot enjoy the high unless you have felt the lowest of lows.

One level in particular took two hours. After clearing three rooms filled with gunmen, large bouncers and rottweilers, I thought I was in the clear. Only to have one puny gunmen shoot me as I walked to the door.

I am not a violent person, but I have never wanted to throw my controller through my TV more. I wanted to reenact the printer scene from “Office Space” with my PlayStation. People with a low threshold for frustration should insure their console or computer.

Aside from the play style, the environment of the game is hauntingly addictive, too.

Neon blues, greens and yellows glue your eyes to the screen as you paint over them with crimson blood. But it is the ears that truly get the greatest sensation.

The soundtrack from the first game was one of the best ever, but this one leaves it in the dust. Themes like “Super Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda” are iconic and this one should be. It is like those songs took a bunch of cocaine and started running around like a beheaded chicken.

Each song drives the player into a marvelous, music-based trance and the only way to break free is conquering the level.

“Hotline Miami 2” does follow the formula of its predecessor, but allows strays from the path to offer something a bit different.

In the first game, various masks granted different abilities. A tiger mask could defeat an enemy with just his fists. A rabbit can make players run faster.

“Hotline Miami 2” improves on that mechanic.

Now, masks are character specific to each level. When playing as the copycat group, only their masks are available. A bear mask allows dual-wielding machine guns that can be fired in different directions simultaneously.

The copycat tiger mask still uses punches, but cannot pick up other weapons at all.

This restriction of choice is not a bad thing though. It pulls gamers closer to the story and characters.

Even though it is fun to run around guns blazing, this game focused too much on firearms as weapons.

Guns were hard to find in the original, instead focusing on melee weapons like bats, crowbars and swords. However, “Hotline Miami 2” has tons of guns. This slows down a game meant to be played at a fast pace. I have to wait to line up a shot, instead of previously only timing when to swing for the fences with my bat while sprinting around.

More guns make the game more stealth-based, which might be a plus for some people, but I prefer the need for speed.

While that issue is not a glaring hole, the level design is not as good because of the amount of guns.

Players cannot shoot assault and sniper rifles in a tiny room, so maps were made larger. This means most nemeses are not visible on screen. The game is hard enough when they can be seen, so being shot by some mobster I can’t even view is just infuriating.

People can argue that video games make people violent, but my savage rage was only directed at the game itself.

Even though “Hotline Miami 2” is one of the hardest games I have ever played, I definitely enjoyed it. Many games hold players’ hands nowadays, so it is nice when one comes out and provides a bit of a challenge. And this one is challenging turned up to 11.

The early months of the year are usually slow for good video games, so “Hotline Miami 2” sets the pace for great games in 2015.

4.5 stars out of 5

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