It’s safe to say that following up any great game with a sequel is a vast undertaking. Not only do you have to understand what worked well from the original but you have to change it up enough to give fans a reason to seek out the new work. It can be a disaster, and often times, it is.
Scene One – “Expectations”
In the case of Hotline Miami 2 the expectations for a sequel to such a masterpiece was very high. However it wasn’t unreasonably high. There are a number of natural progressions to the game that I expected to see from HM2 and some of which were delivered, some of which were not. Some of these expectations were: A ton of gameplay changing masks, even larger maps to clear, additional weapons and map mechanics, a fantastic soundtrack, and some improved AI situations. Plus a real delve into the story the Devs were hoping to tell. (We will not be getting into story in this article.) I’m going to do my best to discuss these expectations and their overall impact on the game.
Scene Two – “Unlockables”
Personally my favorite part of Hotline Miami was the unlocking of “Characters” or masks for the main character “Jacket” to wear. Each mask with it’s own special mechanic that altered gameplay. Some of them more slightly than others, but all of them giving me a sense of completion and achievement when they unlocked. This made the first playthrough of Hotline Miami extremely rewarding. Add to this the cryptic nature of the story and the masks basically helped the player to really put a personality on the character.
Unfortunately in terms of this wild success in the original, Hotline Miami 2 did NOT deliver. After clearing a stage, you were lucky to even see an “item unlocked screen”. And the few times you did, felt awesome for a minute or two until you realized you were still going to be streamlined into playing a specific character and style without choice for nearly every stage. The idea of unlocking some later masks that might be really fun to use earlier on in a second playthrough was completely removed. This led to a rather dull sense of accomplishment on finishing each “Act”. This lack of achievable unlocks didn’t stop at masks, it carried into another category, weapons.
Once again a mechanic that allowed the played to feel like his or her performance actually made a differece in the long run was completely removed and replaced by a strict regimented placement of character weapons. Most of which were substituted on the beginning of the stage in place of mask selection. That being said, in terms of rewarding first playthrough the new system left me very unimpressed, and quite honestly disappointed with the turn out.
Scene Three – “Level Design”
This is a topic that I’m still on the fence about. The improvements made to the standard “boxy” designs of the first game were massive. We had round objects, performance stages with 360 degree view and single access points. There were multiple entrances to several maps. There were also a ton more transparent objects. Overall I was wildly impressed with the level design and it was exactly what I wanted from the game. I know upon playing Hotline Miami one there was a huge ceiling in terms of what could be done without the game engine for additional stages and it looks like the Devs were thinking the same thing. With the whole of the community crying out for a Steam Workshop Level Creator for Hotline Miami do we think think that’s a path that will be open to us soon? I hope so.
Scene Four – “The Soundtrack”
I couldn’t be happier to say that this was a total success. On the back of the first game I expected there would be a killer soundtrack, but I didn’t expect it to be this good. I found myself leaving the game running even when I wasn’t playing, just to keep a song going. I stayed on some levels longer than I probably should have just listening to the music several more times. I played the game without headphones when my girlfriend was working next to me because she (not being a gamer) loved the soundtrack as well. I turned the game effects down and just enjoyed the masterpiece that is the Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack.
This is a topic that for me is very important. Often times I think we overlook the excellence of a well placed OST in a game. It can really take the player to an entirely different head space depending on what you choose for music. Made even more important by the fact that you will undoubtedly spend a ton of time dying on your first playthrough just trying to figure out the map layout. Having a refreshing soundtrack playing makes those 100+ deaths a lot more manageable.
Scene Five – “Enemy Design”
Unfortunately here we fall off the bandwagon again. This isn’t to say that it’s all bad, but overall I don’t think this element lived up to expectations. In the original game the amount of “peek-and-wait” style gameplay was fairly low. The amount of time you spent running straight through a map punching peoples heads off with Tony’s fists of fury was pretty high. Which made for a very fast paced, exciting gameplay style. However Hotline Miami 2 in most situations you basically poke your head around a corner, maybe fire a shot, and wait for the crowd to come to you. Then move up to the next safe location, rinse and repeat. This made the AI feel extremely useless. Having predictable triggers for the AI is a strong way to build up a players sense of “knowledge” in your game however you have to be careful not to make those triggers so wildly effective as to trivialize all other options.
I was given a “roll” mechanic in a few instances and it’s sad to say there was exactly zero times where I actually found it useful. Instead I just fire a single shot and wait for the flock of lambs to heard themselves to the wolf. I kept waiting for that one moment to play a fast paced “ninja” style with the sword, and roll, but it never happened.
Like I mentioned, the enemy design wasn’t all bad. There were certainly a few stand out elements. One of which being the extremely fast moving prisoners, and the crouching sword wielding assassin type mobsters. Both of these enemies added another level of depth to choosing your strategy for a specific level. Unfortunately the lack of a real apex in these elements basically introduced an extremely interesting situation and then refused to bring it up again. There could have been such a fantastic conclusion what brought together all the AI archetypes in a single level making the player recall all their knowledge about how to fight these types of enemies in a single time sensitive moment. However that never occurred. Instead we continually got introduced single serving situations that we solve and never have to think about again. This made for a less than rewarding first playthrough, and no real sense of progression.
Final Scene – “Conclusion”
It pains me to say this, but definitively I’m going to have to say the original game remains the champion. Hotline Miami 2 was an interesting and reasonably fun experience but nothing like the nearly life changing design I got from the first game. I wish I could say it was just nostalgia forcing me to believe Hotline Miami was better than the sequel, but I know that feeling all too well, and this isn’t it. This is a truthful recognition of the two games side by side.
I will say that I am by no means done with Hotline Miami 2. I’m going to grind out the rest of the achievements and really research some of the deeper elements in the story and gameplay. Hoping this adds a new sense of excitement to the game. Maybe there was just some big secret I was missing all along my playthrough? I have to hope this is the case.
In the future it’s possible I will do a write up on my research of the Hotline Miami story, and revisit my opinion of the game after I have a larger amount of time to spend with it. Despite that future knowledge, these are my initial viewpoints and first impressions of Hotline Miami 2.
Thank you for reading!