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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number - We are all perfectly tuned projectiles

by Zach Wilson on 12/04/15 01:12:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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By: Dennaton/Devolver
Platform: PS4
Released: Mar 10 2015
Minutes Played: 807

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number derives its meaning from the fact that projectiles take a specific time to travel from the gun that fired to them along their trajectory to their target.

In Hotline Miami the player works to construct a cognitive map of an encounter made up of a series of actions arrived at via trial and error. You create a plan made of actions that will result in success or failure that happen in a fractions of seconds and you traverse this self-generated action graph over and over again, trying different permutations of the same movements and actions against what seems to be a mostly but not entirely deterministic system. Nowhere is this more apparent than the level called Ambush, which takes place in Hawaii. You're given the ability to switch between a one hit kill melee weapon and an assault rifle, and can’t pick up enemy weapons; instead to continue shooting you must locate caches of ammo or continue using only your knife. All of the enemies are either fast moving melee types or hair trigger Assault Rifle guys whose response time is so fast and bullet speed is so high that being seen at all results in instant death. This results in a perfect test of the player’s mastery of the core philosophy of the game.

The enemies don’t have AI as such. They are a collection of carefully collected or omitted systems that you exploit to achieve your goal. Technically this is true of all AI but usually it’s a function of scope and time rather than explicit design. Hotline Miami 2 is a game where enemies don’t notice deaths from a silenced weapon that occur immediately in front of them and that’s an essential element of how you play the game. It’s a game where the player holds his gun out at arm’s length and as a result enemies can get inside of your minimum fire range for a melee kill. It does not bother to tell you what the capabilities of an enemy are — you must find this out for yourself. It’s a game where the weapon your bring with you from the last section into this section has a profound impact on how you play this section. This point is so important that were I in charge of writing the instruction manual for the game, it would be one line long in 48 point Impact and say “bring a better gun with more ammo”. Hotline Miami 2’s violence is so outrageously, cartoonishly detailed and rich that if it came out in arcades in 1986, the outcry would have been so great there would literally not be video games today. Hotline Miami 2 is a game where if you forget that you can throw your weapon to knock a guy down, you die. It’s a game where if you forget what windows are (and you will), you die. In Hotline Miami 2, kill trades are not a bug they are a feature and frequently happen between an enemy with a knife and an enemy with an assault rifle. Verisimilitude is not Hotline Miami’s stock in trade and that is what makes it great.

A key technique in Wrong Number is to trigger the awareness of an enemy and cause them to move at your last known position, at which time you can either kill them with a gun or a melee weapon. You are turning an enemy into a projectile that you control because you have come to and understanding of the state machines that drives them. You will find yourself hiding behind doors, popping out to grab the attention of an enemy and popping back in, praying that you don't get stuck on the geometry. There is nothing more satisfying than lining up a row of enemy-knifebullets like a conga line of soon-to-be bloodspatters.

Levels are designed in such a way that the player’s top-down viewpoint is more relevant than the viewpoint of the character the player is controlling. You have to be very certain that you want to enter a long hallway you as the player, not the character you are controlling can’t see the end of; at the other end of that hallway could be your death. The game provides you with the ability to hold a button and look about half again as far as your top down view allows for; sometimes you forget that this is possible and you die.

There are many kinds of tension in HM2 — There is the tension created by the pumping, repetitive music. The tension created by the interaction between you and an individual enemy regardless of whether or not he has seen you. And there’s a greater tension when you've finally cracked the exact pattern of actions you have to take in a level to be successful, which you repeatedly try but can't pull off because you lack either the patience or skill to execute it perfectly.

Hotline Miami 2 seems to be a game concerned with the nature of insanity; and not the insanity alluded to by the cheap tricks of a haunted house like this year’s PT, but the real insanity of a mind polluted by a brutal world of drugs and violence and media. The insanity brought on by the post traumatic stress syndrome of fighting a pointless war against communists in the Hawaiian jungle. Insanity that manifests itself as a character named Richard wearing a rooster mask that is probably an hallucination and definitely a representation of each character’s doubts and fears.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, Hotline Miami 2 believes that sanity is repetition with slight variation until you no longer die. The military, both of the game and the real world trains you to do the same thing over and over again until you’re not a killer; you're just a not-so-smart projectile fired from the verbal gun of an insane commander or a voice on the other end of a phone. In an insane world the only control you have is how good of a projectile you are.


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