[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]t’s safe to say that when Hotline Miami launched in 2012 there was nothing quite out there like it. Sure, stealth and puzzle games are available, but none featured this specific brand of style that Dennaton Games produced. The gritty, disturbing vibe paired with ‘80s colors and thumping soundtrack simply came together in the best way possible. While there’s some debate (on the ending in particular) as to whether 2015’s Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number lives up to its predecessor or not those outrageous visuals were carried through. Only now it’s even bloodier and the visuals have been modified slightly to tie in with a slightly more 90s timeframe. No matter what your opinions are toward actual gameplay and storytelling, it’s still a damn good (if horrifying) game to look at.
Games with a true sense of style are still quite rare which is one reason Hotline Miami 2 stands out so much. Most out there are attempting to create “beautiful” pixel landscapes, the likes of which would have made us all drool in the 16-bit era. This game doesn’t strive for a gorgeous world, though it is mesmerizing in its own right. Instead we’re treated to scenes of excessive, nightmarish violence repeatedly. Most games would have a finishing blow of simply choking someone to death or stomping on them once. Here we’re treated to repeated punches, smashing a head until it’s nothing but mush, and other cruel scenes. Given the pixel art aesthetic this is acceptable as it’s still far from reality. Even so, seeing a cleared stage full of extremely bloody bodies does make you consider the gratuitously violent excesses of each protagonist.
It’s not just the gore which distinguishes Hotline Miami 2 from the pack. It’s, well, it’s that every single piece of pixel art creates an overwhelmingly strange (but somehow “cool”) atmosphere. Just look at those sequences of storytelling with their disturbed disembodied heads. They nod left and right, slack-jawed with strangely blinking eyes, as they dispense dialogue. It’s totally otherworldly in a way which just fits with the world. These are not the beautiful protagonists of most other games. These are sweaty, bloody, or drugged individuals that we must deal with. Heck, sometimes all of the above!
Oftentimes games attempt to establish a timelessness for a cross generational appeal. Others go for a very realistic time setting by obsessively recreating set pieces. Hotline Miami 2 does neither to set itself post (but still near) 1989. It manages this with careful use of color, thematic imagery, and a VHS design which follows throughout the game. As someone who spent a lot of my youth playing VHS tapes, these touches were immensely appreciated. Establishing screens for time and place of scenes make time look like it would display on a VHS player. Even menus themselves have a VHS-style options menu and pause distortion effect going on. More games need to consider styling their games in appropriate ways.
Then there’s the music. It’s part of what made Hotline Miami an engaging experience and that holds true here as well. When the mood shifts between stages you get songs appropriate. Pumping, active tracks increase tension in the already tense game. Of course, these songs also help set the timeframe and mood which is being delineated by the storyline and graphics. It’s always a plus when music is so good that you want to listen to it outside of the game. While I feel the music is most important and relevant within the experience of Hotline Miami 2 itself, there’s no doubt that I’ll grab the album and listen to it long after playing.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is disturbed, just as the original was, and possibly even more so. Whether you love it or hate it it’s impossible to deny its near perfect blend of visuals and music with the storyline presented. All you need is to hear one track or watch one stage to know exactly what kind of game this is.