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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Suffers From Sequel Syndrome
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has had a generally positive reception since its release two weeks ago and it is fair to say that it has been a success. It’s the follow up to one of the best top down shooters ever made, Hotline Miami, and following such a critically and commercially successful hit was never going to be an easy task. Unfortunately, Wrong Number is a game that, whilst remains a good game, doesn’t live up to the monumental success of the original and suffers from Sequel Syndrome.
Sequel Syndrome is a cliché that many forms of entertainment fall into where the creator(s) of a piece of media decides that the best way to improve upon their original piece is to give it MORE. One example of this is the Call Of Duty franchise. Every sequel since Modern Warfare has tried to come up with a way of bettering the last by adding more explosions, nukes, tanks, helicopters etc. You can add as many nukes to a game as possible but it isn’t going to be a better game for it.
Dennaton Games have fallen into this trap by giving Wrong Number MORE, and unfortunately it completely destroys the nature of the original. Hotline Miami is a game that simplifies everything. Death is quick, easy and shared equally amongst everyone. One bullet or baseball bat to the face and you are dead, but that same bullet or baseball bat can blow the brains out of your enemies. The objective is to kill all the ‘bad guys’ in the level as quickly as possible by being as brash and bold as possible. Death is a motivator, a reason to move onto the edge of the seat and play ‘properly’. It is an incredibly simple score attack game and it is bloody brilliant.
The sequel adds a lot more of Hotline Miami to itself: more guns, bigger levels, and more enemies. But these additions fundamentally change the way it plays. All of the added content aggravates you and pushes you to destroy the very machine you are playing on.
In Wrong Number, there are too many enemies. The incredible amount of violence that you inflict on people in such a small amount of time quickly desensitizes you to it, and suddenly Wrong Number becomes a parody of Hotline Miami. As you swipe a knife across your enemies frame, blood explodes onto the ground around him and his head becomes a football to kick around for your sick amusement. This action performed once is an alarming sensation; nevertheless, a wry smile will creep across your face. Do this 100 times in quick succession, the smile fades into mute indifference. The decapitated head is no longer a sadistic toy; it is just another head. You are supposed to be shocked by the grotesque amount of violence you are inflicting, but it loses its impact quickly after murdering so many, so quickly.
Coupled with the large amount of goons each level provides is the huge spaces these goons patrol; the levels in Wrong Number are huge (whether this is to house the vast amount of enemies you face or the reason there are so many enemies is not clear). When you move the camera around the level, it can’t go far enough to see the whole level. The original game allowed you to see almost the entire level from the beginning and make a plan. “I am going to go here, kill these two guys, grab the knife, go here,” etc. However Wrong Number almost blinds you to what is ready to meet you. Add to this the extraordinary amount of windows in each level, enemies will see you way before you see them and leads to a swift death. It is such a haphazard way to play: walk, stop, check the map, rinse, and repeat. There is no flow to the game, and it just isn’t fun.
In Hotline Miami, guns are relatively rare. Sometimes, they were even useless due to the small levels. If you shot an enemy, everyone would hear you and bum rush you to death, so you were better off arming yourself with a good ol’ golf club. The sequel throws guns at you left, right and center. You always have access to a gun and due to the levels being much bigger, wide open spaces are populated by small gangs of gunmen. If you run into the room guns blazing (like you would have done on the original game), you will become a human colander. This forces you to bait enemies around corners to gut them one by one. It is a very unsatisfying way to play, but you don’t have a choice unless you have the reaction speeds of Jet Li on cocaine.
There is one horrendous level set on a boat where Wrong Number becomes a cover shooter. It is close to being a game-ruining experience. You have to pop out of cover, baiting enemies armed with machine guns out of cover to kill them. This is followed by corridors of enemies, almost all armed with guns. After finishing the various stages of the level, I was informed it took half an hour to complete (the game takes the total level time including failed attempts). Damn.
Dennaton Games wanted to reach a higher purpose by introducing a complex story to Wrong Number. The previous title had a very loose story but many enjoyed the distant and ambiguous tone, which created a base for its surreal, violent atmosphere. On the other hand, the sequel’s story is confusing, poorly written and the characters are incredibly boring. You could ignore it, but the story actively affects the gameplay, making it feel like a necessary evil in order to play the game.
Throughout Wrong Number you have to complete levels as specific characters with specific traits and you only pick a mask in about a third of the levels. Picking your mask and playing a level how you want to play it was an excellent part of Hotline Miami but this isn’t in most of Wrong Number. It feels like you are being forced to notice the story, forced to play how the game wants you to play it, and force fed narrative.
All of the reasons above culminate into a single, torturous experience where death is immensely frustrating. Being killed in Wrong Number never feels motivating due to the nature in which you die. Often, it is because an out of view enemy sees you and pulls of an Olympic gold medal winning shot from half way across the level. How could you have prevented that? The constant death, huge levels and abundance of enemies completely flips how you play Wrong Number. Instead of recklessly flying through the levels, you tip toe. You check every corner, analyse every doorway and stalk every AI path-finding pattern. You can die so easily and unfairly in levels that are so big. Ultimately dying is just too aggravating! You just want to finish the level.
The frustration and repetition of each level are the main contributors to the desensitization of the violence as well. Enemies fall to the floor with their intestines flayed in brutal fashion but it doesn’t mean anything anymore because I have already flayed these guys and died 30 times!
In an attempt to better Hotline Miami, Dennaton Games have taken its perfectly refined formula, added more ‘stuff’ and unbalanced the game. Sequel Syndrome strikes again. Whilst Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number isn’t by any means a failure or a bad game, the original is more satisfying, more enjoyable and better balanced. “Less is more,” as they say and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is the perfect example why.