Hotline Miami 2- Thoughts on Hard Mode

First off, before I say anything, let me confirm that I still enjoy Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Most of the difficulty arises in the process of trying to push the gameplay to its limits, and in the game’s defense, they come up with some interesting twists on the existing mechanics, such as enemies that are-gun proof, and limited use melee weapons.

The main game is difficult, but there’s only a couple sections that fall into true “fake difficulty” territory. For example, the guy with the gun at the end of the corridor on the second floor of “Moving Up.” Because, unless you’re doing a replay, you’re probably playing the just-unlocked Tony, who has no way to deal with him except charging in and hoping that he’s in the alcove and doesn’t see you coming. You’ve got about a 50/50 shot of him being in the right place and that is the last thing you want at the end of a floor.

Hard Mode, meanwhile, has markedly more of these sort of moments. I won’t list them all, but I will describe some highlights. Surviving most of these moments doesn’t come down to how good you are at the game. They come down to whether the randomly placed enemies were in just the right spot, or the AI working just so. You’re already dying hundreds of times in the course of finishing a typical stage, the last thing you need to do is tack on another 30 because Joe McJerkface was standing in the wrong spot when you entered the room.

1-Death Wish- Cory’s section. You’ve got 2 guys in an L shaped area, easy. Problem being, as you step forward to deal with the guy with the knife, there’s about a 95% chance of the shotgunner seeing you through the newly installed interior window and blasting you in the face. “So,” you might think “Let’s just clear that room first.” You can’t. One, neither enemy spawns closer enough to the door for you to take out before they blast you. Two, there’s nothing but interior windows separating it from the next two rooms, so even if you take those 2 guys out, the guys further away will blast you before you get a chance to pick up their weapons and return fire.

2-First Blood- First floor. This stage is brutal on Normal. As you walk in, you immediately need to take out the gunner just inside the door. Then, several enemies charge you. You may think “Hey, that gun will be handy right now,” right? Wrong. There’s too many to shoot. Even using the best possible tactics in this situation, it’s your fists against several guys with pipes and bats, and I found that, about 50% of the time, I didn’t survive the first five seconds.

That is on Normal. Hard mode adds an enemy you must shoot to kill. Because of the ammo stipulations on Hard Mode, you have one shot. Depending on the random enemy placement, the big guy may have reinforcements. These mooks come from both directions, giving you no room to escape, and the cramped start of the stage leaves you no room to kite them. Thus, you waste your shot on them, and the big guy kills you because you have no way to fight him after that. It’s sheer dumb luck whether the big guy comes after you alone (leaving you with an easy shot), or with friends (which leaves you screwed).

3-Taking Over- Second floor. First of all, this level is impossible to use the Dirty Hands (fists only) technique on if you come up the stairs on the right side. About halfway through the floor, there’s a corridor with gunners at the end. There’s no rooms to duck into to evade their fire, so all you can do is restart the stage and come up the other set of stairs next time. That’s not fair. Even on the left side, it’s still a crapshoot.

As you step off the stairs into the hallway, one of two things will happen: 1- A single gunner spots you, whom you can easily kite. 2- Both enemies see you, in which case you die. The enemies come just far enough apart that you can’t take them both out with one punch, and the corner of the stairs doesn’t stop the guy from the top area from seeing you and shooting you before you can close the distance.

Surviving that, the remaining enemy in the room directly ‘north’ of you will open fire if you step in front of the window… but then sometimes not try to pursue you. Again, if you’re playing with fists only, you can’t kill any gunners that you can’t trick into attacking you at close range.

Gunner behavior in general is iffy. Sometimes they’ll politely follow you around the corner so you can smash them in the face. Other times, they’ll stop right before the corner, and their near-instantaneous reaction time will let them kill you if you try to pop out and get their attention again. Again, certain characters (The Writer, Tony, The Son if you’re using Dirty Hands) rely on these tactics to survive. They should always work or, as I’ve been reiterating over the course of this review, sections of the game become a matter of luck rather than skill.

It’s time to wrap this up, complete with a fitting track from the game itself:

It’s disappointing. The developers of this game did a pretty good job, overall. But Hard Mode, much like the second game as a whole, tries too hard to push things to the limit and forgets the stuff that made the first game such a success. On the plus side, I feel I’ve gained a better understanding of the devs, and their decision to make this the last game in the series. They pulled out all the stops on this, and there’s really nowhere left for the premise to go. And you know what? There’s a certain satisfaction in that. Rather than try to stretch the premise for countless games until the fanbase withered and died, the developers packed as many ideas as they could into the sequel and called it the end. I can respect that. I wish them luck with whatever they work on next. I’m looking forward to it.

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