Wot I Think: Hotline Miami 2 – Wrong Number

Live. Die. Repeat.

Live. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Die. Repeat.

Hotline Miami 2 [official site] is wonderful.

As I struggled through the final levels of Hotline Miami 2, death ceased to be a state of being. Whether a dog was tearing at my throat or a bullet was puncturing — I’d click to restart, to be reincarnated, without hesitating or even acknowledging my apparent failure. Death becomes part of the sequence rather than an endpoint, just another beat in the game’s flow, and no matter how difficult the challenge, I didn’t ever walk away mid-level. Everytime I took a break, I was between scenes.

Pausing to regroup and recuperate during a scene wouldn’t help. There is a time for analysis of layouts but it comes at the climax, when every body has its own garish halo of blood, rather than in the gap between one life and the next. And that’s because those gaps are vanishingly small. The most important action in Hotline Miami isn’t the slash of a knife or the squeezing of a trigger, it’s the reset button. The game trains and strains muscle memory as each level coalesces into a ryhthmic sequence of motion and violence.

As an extended and elaborate expression of the first game’s methods, this is as perfect a sequel as we could have hoped for. It’s a smooth, tight experience and there isn’t a bullshit bossfight in sight. The basic rules are the same – top-down ultraviolence in tight corridors and exposed chambers. Enemies patrol, armed with either melee weapons or guns, and as soon as the player disturbs them, they hunt.

By the end of the first level, you remember that line of sight doesn’t matter. Not really. Enemies detect within a radius and while they can’t see through walls, they do have eyes in the back of their heads. By the fourth or fifth level, you’ll know the exact radius that they detect within and trailing behind them, just outside that radius will be second nature.

You’ll instinctively map out the location of windows, dogs and enemies with guns. The sequel uses windows to create dangerous uncanny angles and killing floors much more readily than its predecessor did, and it uses its three basic enemy types in all manner of cunning combinations. The large bruisers are the most horrifying. Only bullets stop them and even then a weaker weapon won’t drop them immediately – they close in, leaving red trails, and can still kill you before they choke on their own blood.

By the seventh or eighth level, you’ll have a perfect understanding of the rules, and that’s when Hotline Miami 2 starts to erase them. You’ll control a character who can’t use weapons at all but can kill with his fists and another who refuses to kill, leaving enemies squirming in agony or dry-heaving after a blow to the guts. If he picks up a gun he dismantles it, wasting precious time. He’s Batman, without the body armour and years of training. He’s fucked. You are him.

My favourite characters work together. They’re the Ice Climbers of the hideously violent underworld. One has a chainsaw and the other has a pistol, and attempting to line up shots as he trails behind requires slight adjustments that lead to a hundred deaths. Close in for a finishing move with the chainsaw and the shooter can defend his pal while he’s spilling guts and spinning steel against bones.

There’s always something new to learn. On one level, I killed four enemies within the first two seconds. That alerted a group of three to my left and I took them out before heading south to lure out two gun-toting maniacs. Nine dead with less than fifteen seconds gone. And then a dog eats me.

Fifteen seconds later, the dog is chewing on my jugular again. Fifteen seconds later, same. And again. And again.

I pace myself, hesitating so that everyone is perfectly placed, leading bad (?) guys into rooms rather than killing them in the corridors. I throw my gun at just the right angle as soon as I restart, knocking an enemy back against the wall. I take his head off and go to work.

Twenty seconds later, the dog eats me.

The thirtieth, fortieth or one hundredth time that the dog kills me, I realise that it is meant to be. The dog will always kill me. I’ve become locked into a timeloop, trapped in the precision of enemy placement and level design. The only way to break out is to change the sequence, to remix the track that I’m punching into the machine again and again. Adjustment is almost impossible though. No matter how many times I die, it seems I’m incapable of wrenching myself off the path I’ve chosen in order to take a detour from the short, sharp road to the grave.

It should be agony but it’s bliss. Partly that’s down to the glorious soundtrack that throbs beneath every level. Equal parts danceable, dreamy and disconcerting, it may not be the equal of the original game’s dusty mixtape, but that’s only because we know the mould this time around. There are still surprises, most notably a couple of tracks that sound like drum ‘n’ bass scratched into the grooves of a recurring nightmare, but the music is a now-familiar blend of an imagined past and an aggressive present.

There’s beauty in the locations as well. More so than in the first game, which didn’t contain as much variety or fine detail. Scenes without violence are still rare, and brief, but they provide the opportunity to stare into the squalor of the characters’ lives – it’s an odd thing to notice, but Hotline Miami 2 contains the most convincing snapshots of lived-in, messy homes that I’ve ever seen in a game. Dirty dishes, grime, piles of crumpled clothes. And there are jumps to cramped drug dens, a gothic gangster’s paradise, wartorn rainforests and blood-drenched prisons.

The dialogue doesn’t live up to the locations. I learn more about these people by walking in their shoes than by reading their words. Skipping back and forth, the story takes in copycat killers, a true crime writer, a frazzled and baked military squad, and a detective on the verge of his final nervous breakdown. At times it feels like a puzzle but, rightly or wrongly, I enjoyed the pieces as pieces rather than parts of a whole.

Better to inhale this one than to chew on it, I think.

The story begins with that scene. It’s possible to skip it by choosing to remove scenes of sexual violence (I didn’t choose to skip that content and didn’t see anything else that would qualify) and I’m not convinced that the rest of the story does enough to inform or build on its opening. It’s there to provide more than shock value – if it is a misstep it’s not an entirely thoughtless one – but the game’s occasional moments of lucid reflection on the portrayal and processing of violence are lost in the happy haze of six or seven delirious hours.

By the time the credits roll, hallucinations and regret seep out of the screen. It’s a gorgeous ending but it reaches for a closure for its characters that I’m not convinced the story earns.

Perhaps that’s because the game becomes less convincing when it attempts to make connections. Hotline Miami’s Miami is fractured, neon diamonds on a windshield, and every location floats in a paranoid hallucinogenic haze that vibrates whenever blood spills. Cars – and occasionally trains and buses – pass through the kaleidoscopic fog, but there are no streets or highways, just tangled structures full of furious men. The closest I came to understanding those men was during a sequence with the soldiers, where the repetitive actions of combat are made equivalent to those loops of muscle memory that the game spools out of the player.

It’s unwise to dwell on the ending for too long because the game doesn’t stop just because the story has. There’s a level editor, unlockable characters, weapons and styles, and the intense challenge of repeating levels to gain an A grade. I only achieved one on my first playthrough and I felt like I was probably the best person who had ever played a game. I have no doubt I’ll still be playing when summer finally arrives, striving for perfection.

Dennaton have said this is the final Hotline Miami game and it’s heartening to see that it’s the design that has been squeezed dry rather than the style or setting. Throughout the game, every weird quirk and rule that drives the action falls under scrutiny, and when you walk away, you’ll have a better understanding of the intricate work that goes into the split-second timing and inch-perfect positioning.

Each level is an exquisite machine designed to reveal and betray the game’s cruelties and compromises. With rare exceptions, they succeed handsomely and with style to spare.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is out today.

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72 Comments

  1. shaydeeadi says:

    Struggling to resist picking this up when I get home, I loved the first game and this looks as good / if not better.

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    Wowbagger says:

    I’m still waiting for it to unlock on steam, gimme the hyper violence, thumping beats and weirdness!

  3. kevinspell says:

    Well, I’m sold.

  4. Banks says:

    I’m liking what I hear and now I know what I’ll be playing this weekend.

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    SputnikSweetheart says:

    I’m waiting on this and Cities: Skylines to unlock on Steam. Just got to decide whether I want to build or destroy first!

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Build a city in Cities: Skyline and then use the level editor in Hotline Miami to recreate that city and murder it.

      Duh.

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    Hodge says:

    Dang, I didn’t realise this was due for release. Glad I haven’t made plans for the weekend.

  7. RARARA says:

    I’m as excited for the new OST as I’m for the game itself.

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    cpt_freakout says:

    Most excellent! Can’t wait to get my hands dirty!

  9. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Brilliant. This was an insta-buy for the level editor alone, great to hear the characters mix things up a bit. Can’t wait to get home and play it now

  10. klo3 says:

    Live. Die. Repeat.

    Live. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Die. Repeat.

    Sounds like Dark Souls. Only exception, I guess, is that Dark Souls is beyond wonderful.

    • sicbanana says:

      …or like Edge of Tomorrow. :)

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        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Seriously, did they just decide to change the name to Live Die Repeat for the video release?

        • aldo_14 says:

          Pretty much. I mean, they didn’t officially change the name, but they make the tag line really, really big and the actual name really tiny.

          Was actually a really good film, that, despite being a box office disaster.

  11. Faldrath says:

    Huh, you can’t buy the soundtrack? That’s disappointing. Hotline Miami really isn’t a game for me, but I loved the soundtrack of the first one.

    • Monkeh says:

      Seems to me like you can?

      link to store.steampowered.com

      • Faldrath says:

        Oh, thanks. I swear this wasn’t at the steam page when I looked at it earlier!

        • Faldrath says:

          But needing to buy the game to get the soundtrack is quite annoying. Hopefully they’ll sell it standalone on bandcamp or soundcloud or something.

          • Monkeh says:

            And I hadn’t noticed you need the game to buy/play the soundtrack.. which seems utterly ridiculous. :\

      • Farsi Murdle says:

        Looks like even the soundtrack is banned in Australia.

    • deadly.by.design says:

      Just buy it on Bandcamp.

      link to spacerecordings.bandcamp.com

      I’m assuming those 5 songs are only a part of the total score, but it’s a start for those not wanting to buy it on Steam.

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        Andy_Panthro says:

        The PC Gamer review suggests “almost 50” tracks, but I suppose much like the previous game they are all from other artists and can be found elsewhere.

      • shaydeeadi says:

        If you already own the game on Steam I think it would work out cheaper to buy the pack off of Steam over buying each artists EP on Bandcamp. Going on my looking around this evening anyway. The version on Steam gives you FLAC and MP3 too which is pretty tasty.

        On an unrelated note I had no idea that Jasper Byrne was the Drum & Bass producer Sonic until today. I’ve got tons of his music on vinyl from a decade or so ago and never made the connection between them. Man of many talents.

    • Emeraude says:

      How many tracks specifically made for the fame in there though ? I don’t remember that many.
      It’s not as if you couldn’t buy most of the soundtrack before the game was even released. Most of the music was already published and available.

  12. Monkeh says:

    Like there was any doubt fans of the first game weren’t going to like this sequel! :)

    I’m getting it on Vita though, since I mostly enjoyed playing the first one on that platform.

  13. sansenoy says:

    STILL NO STEAM CLOUD. Great job guys, you can set up all the playstation crossbuysavesync bullshit, but the most basic steam function is still in the wind

  14. DrScuttles says:

    Tonight I, uh just HAD TO KILL A LOT OF PEOPLE.

    Read PC Gamer’s review which did make me question some of the character based mechanics. Perhaps its most damning indictment was calling it Only God Forgives to the original’s Drive. But then I just want, no, I just need more Hotline Miami inside me. Inside me right now. All hot pink and neon blue.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      Is it just coincidence that Hotline Miami and Drive are so fucking similar? Aesthetics, taciturn nature, violence, masks, an unknown protagonist, an electroy soundtrack. Both masterpieces!

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        HothMonster says:

        No, they stated that Drive was a huge inspiration for the game. Jacket is clearly a homage to the main character of drive.

    • Kolba says:

      In what sense though? I loved Only God Forgives, more than Drive.

  15. mpk says:

    The screenshots put me straight off. It’s not the retro aesthetic, not by a long shot, but the blood and gore.

    Wrap this up to look like Frozen Synapse, and I’d be more interested. But I’ve had my fill of explicit ultraviolence, and I’m just generally sick and tired of games where the sole aim is murderdeathkill.

    Why can’t we just get along? WHY CANT WE JUST TALK TO THE FUCKING MONSTERS?

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Not that there’s anything wrong with not enjoying ultraviolence – seriously, I really do mean that – but HM definitely wouldn’t be the same without it. And I say that as someone who thinks the first game, while good, was very over-rated.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Not played it, but I thought it was a deliberate thematic choice to have nauseating levels of violence?

    • P.Funk says:

      I dunno, to me Hotline Miami earns its gore the way a classic Swartzeneggar film earns its cheesy one liners.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Hotline Miami isn’t just a bang-bang-shoot-the-bad-guys game with a layer of morbid gore FX draped over it to excite the kiddies. This is a game about violence, and it really has something to say about it. I must have played hundreds of games where killing is your primary form of interaction, but Hotline Miami is the only one I’ve ever seen that makes the act of single-handedly murdering two dozen armed men feel simultaneously like a superhuman feat and a nauseating atrocity, which is pretty much how I imagine it would actually be.

      If that’s not what you’re in the mood for right now, then fair enough. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Hotline Miami can be separated from its ultraviolence and leave anything of value behind.

      • airmikee says:

        I haven’t played the game, but from what I’ve seen it tries to portray a story set within Miami during the 1980’s, back when cocaine was taking hold of the city and it became one of the most violent places on the planet.

        Hotline Miami is simply a video game version of Scarface (with Al Pacino), which is a fictionalized version of Blow (with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz), which is a slightly exaggerated version of the reality of George Jung and the Cocaine Cowboys work with the Medellin Cartel. The ‘Godmother of Cocaine’ in Miami was killed a few years ago, after being convicted, released, and then deported back to her home town, Medellin. Assassinated as she was leaving the butcher shop, two shots to the head in broad daylight by a gunman on a motorcycle that sped away before anyone knew what happened, a method of killing she was credited with inventing.

        I think the level of gore and violence within these games that are set in a fictional 1980’s Miami is a direct result of the level of gore and violence found within the real 1980’s Miami.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          You haven’t played the game, but you feel qualified to give a detailed synopsis of the themes and plotline and compare it to other media to try and divine where it got it’s inspirations from…

          • airmikee says:

            Because I need to play the game in order to see what it’s about in video, pics, and reviews? Can you point out any point of the game where my description is inaccurate?

          • bjohndooh says:

            Both games take place in an alternate history where the Cold War never cooled and Russia attacked San Francisco with a nuke.

            I mean, there’s gangs and violence but the drug trade itself is pretty much a footnote in the story.

          • airmikee says:

            link to eurogamer.net

            “So why Miami? Have either of you been to Miami before?

            Söderström: I haven’t.

            Wedin: Nope.

            Söderström: I think Wedin has an answer to this.

            Wedin: I think it has to do with a documentary called Cocaine Cowboys. It’s about drug trading in Miami and – was it the early 90s?

            Söderström: No, it was the late 70s to mid 80s, or something like that.

            Wedin: So Jonatan saw the documentary and got very inspired to use that as a setting for the game because of all the violence and stuff like that. So I think that’s why it’s in Miami.

            Söderström: We had some inspiration from Miami Vice when we designed some of the characters in the game as well.”

          • El Mariachi says:

            Believe me, you have only a superficial notion of what the game is “about.” If you were to actually play through it you’d be as surprised as I was. If it doesn’t look like your cup of tea that’s fine, but making pronouncements about it being “simply a video game version of Scarface” is foolish.

            Most of the time you’d be right — you could safely dismiss Postal or Carmageddon as nothing more than gratuitous ultraviolence based on trailers and reviews, but in this case you’re well wide of the mark.

  16. wondermoth says:

    HMMMMMMMMM.

    I got as far as level 3 before I turned it off, bored, and went back to Cities Skylines. I haven’t seen anything so far that wasn’t done substantially better in the original. Are we *sure* this isn’t just a poorly reheated sequel with some half-arsed controversy thrown in to generate hype? I hope not, as I’ve just dropped £12 on the bloody thing, but the only emotion it’s aroused in me so far is “I could have had more fun trying to get A ratings on HM1, and the music was better”.

    Really hope this improves, and fast.

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    liquidsoap89 says:

    Bit of a different take on this game than that PC Gamer review.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Right now they are the lowest scored review on Metacritic so they may be an outlier. Reading the review though their basic sentiment seemed to be “This is terrible, it’s just like the first but different.”

      This is in stark contrast to Adam’s review here of, “This is great, it’s just like the first but different.”

      At least they can all agree on one thing, rape in games is pointless and stupid.

      • guygodbois00 says:

        As far as Adam’s reviews go: great read but utterly different opinion than mine.Roughly 90% of the time.

      • Vesuvius says:

        They make one point that really resonated with me, which is that the original did encourage more thinking on your feet and improvisation which the second limits through character selection. In the original the characters could all do basic things and just had perks, whereas they now have MAJOR drawbacks which do more than just add challenge. PC Gamer mentioned a situation in which they couldn’t pick up a gun to kill a boss who was only vulnerable to bullets. There are other levels where you have to cross a large empty room with enemies on the far side- clearly designed for you to shoot- but you may not be using a character with any access to guns.

        Things like that both limit your creativity but also may make you hit an unnecessary wall until you change characters. That’s a valid criticism.

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          HothMonster says:

          You can’t pick a character that can not complete a level. Most levels pick your character for you, a few give you some small options. There are a couple levels where your choice might make the level harder or easier but none that would make it impossible, and most it makes one part easier and another harder so it is really moot and comes down to which style you would prefer to play.

          Personally I liked the way some characters have restrictive styles. It forces you out of your comfort zone and allows them to design the level with those handicaps in mind. However it often makes things hard and I can understand why that would be frustrating to some people saying “If I could pick up that gun this would be soooo easy!” but they can’t. I enjoy the challenge though.

          It may be telling that the PC gamer guy says it took him 11 hours to beat the game. I did it in 5.5 and most people are saying between 4 and 10. So he probably hated the game so much because he was really bad at it.

          • KenTWOu says:

            He didn’t like the game because it wasn’t difficult, it was frustrating. And he explained why. And I like the way he explained it.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        But ultraviolent murder is very constructive. Rape is a real thing that happens in the world, and I’m sure it’s a very traumatic experience for the victims, just like murder and violence. I don’t understand why sexual violence gets special treatment where we should all just cover our eyes and ears and say it’s “too terrible” to portray in adult media.

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    I enjoyed the first game (especially the art style and music), but by the end I was tired of the endless deaths and constant repeating of sections. If this is just more of the same, I think I’ll have to pass. Not sure I could take it!

    • Xzi says:

      I hate to come off as rude, but the best solution is to just get better at the game. Takes a lot fewer tries per level that way.

  20. Monggerel says:

    Check the OST on Youtube if nothing else.
    It is definitely One of the All-Time Top 5 Overly Narrow Superlatives.
    (that’s an endorsement. It’s good. Go.)

  21. Bob Barker says:

    The irony of calling a 5 second long recursively-fictional implied rape scene “thoughtless” in a game where you murder thousands by the time the game is over in horrific and gruesome manners including torture.

    • Adam Smith says:

      That’s precisely what I didn’t do.

      • MrUnimport says:

        You wrote “If it is a misstep, it’s not an entirely thoughtless one”, which according to the calculator on my laptop works out to “a little bit thoughtless”.

        • Adam Smith says:

          And a lot of the murders are entirely thoughtless. The gap between a little bit and entirely is very important there.

          • Bob Barker says:

            That hand wringing…

            If it’s minor by comparison to the *main gameplay concept* then why do you mention it? Who are you placating exactly?

          • joa says:

            The purpose of the such comments is not really to talk about rape in games at all — it’s just a way for the writer to signify that they are part of that sort of left-wing group – so all the other left-wing people will go ‘yeah, he’s got the right opinions’. It’s like a mutual back-patting operation, all the people who agree feel righteous about themselves. You don’t actually have to have anything worthwhile to say.

          • Bob Barker says:

            No need for political dogma, but you do have a point about the reference being throw away and not insightful or informative beyond “that thing everyone lost their mind over? I guess it’s offensive, sort of”. It reeks of placating an audience interested dramatizing and beating down on games for not conforming to their sensibilities.

            Not surprising considering a lot of the original pearl clutching came from RPS. Granted a lot of people ran with what Cara wrote and stretched the “offensiveness”. It didn’t help that the Australian government specifically cited this scene as the reason to censor it and ban the release of the game.

  22. TheWheel says:

    HM1 : no. HM2 : still no ! HM1 and 2 soundtracks : yes !

  23. Monggerel says:

    Actually this game kinda sucks now I tried it (and given up and uninstalled when a glitch made unable to move after finishing the last soldier-boy mission, which is towards the end of the thing).
    Hm.

    Well, I’m not actually surprised. The first game always felt like it barely held together, and that it only actually did so through the soundtrack. Whatever.

  24. Flit says:

    HLM2 compares to HLM quite a bit like Portal 2 compares to Portal. The original is a short collection of excellent puzzles wrapped in a tight narrative, and the sequel makes improvements across the board but also suffers from some bloat.

    Also that basketball court part is THE WORST, ARGH

  25. Charlatan says:

    It makes absolutely no sense how everyone always throws these “offenses” at the developers as if THEY represented them. These scenes are based on characters, not the developer’s freaking autobiography.

    A character can be an egotistic malevolent thing with barely any redeeming features, obviously committing horrible acts. Such exist in real life. That some such also exist in video games is only logical.

    Alas, those who are offended / hurt since a similar thing happened to them of course have every right to complain. But only those.

    • joa says:

      For true freedom of speech everything needs to be up for discussion, even up for jokes — everyone needs to be a target. If you’re offended — well, that’s natural, but it’s your problem to deal with – nobody else’s. Censorship — even the censorship of popular opinion — is never the answer.

  26. msing says:

    Im enjoying it, that being said I was a fan of the first.

    one little gripe though…
    THE DUCK CHARACTERS ARE THE WORST.
    Literally ruining the game for me.

    • Cash at Folsom says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. My coping mechanism for those two is to basically play as if the chainsaw fellow is the only character, and if ever I manage to luck into a shot with the gun-toting fellow, that’s just a bonus. It helps that only the chainsaw fellow takes damage. Actually, I find gun-toter to be more effective at just creating a loud noise to draw nearby enemies around a blind corner.

      Interesting that the pair is Adam’s favorite player character in the game. I guess it does go to show that Dennaton really swung for the fences with the mask abilities this time, and I have to say I do kind of like that. I love “lethal fists only” Tony, for instance, and I’ve talked to a lot of players that couldn’t stand him. I don’t have any problem with a wide array of characters that allow the player to find their favorites, it’s just a little annoying that there are sections where you are forced to adopt a play style that really doesn’t suit you. Although maybe that’s a natural extension of the way the Hotlines Miami force the player to expand their skill sets to proceed? I dunno.

      Oh well, off to kill and die a bunch more.

      • msing says:

        I’m using the same tactic but jesus the shooter just stops me being able to do as I please, or at least I feel like I’m unnecessarily baby-sitting in a game where there shouldn’t be.

        Tony is great, I quite enjoyed having to bait the right enemies out at the right time, finding out which rooms I can go into and have every run to me, giving me a multiplier of 8 within a few seconds.

        I wish it would save my place after each level/floor. I hate that because of a character I am forced to play, I have to milk 3 or 4 other levels I actually enjoyed.

  27. Laurentius says:

    It is very hard so I migh thit a wall at some point but I’m having a blast. I like it far more then first HM, its puzzleesque structutre is more rewarding and less frustrating.