The first ending, before the epilogue, was pretty much covered in the plot analysis in the last part, so let’s disregard that and move onto the first epilogue ending. This is an interesting case for a few reasons: First, it is the only point in the game where the player is given a choice as to how a dialogue plays out. What does this imply? Well, first, it reinforces that Biker acts where Jacket reacts, that he takes an active role in uncovering the story which, no matter what path the game took, Jacket never would. Other than that, I don’t actually have a lot to say about this ending that hasn’t already been said. Many have hypothesized that the janitors are avatars of the game developers, who then go on to question the game itself. While this interpretation is supported by the dialogue, it also supports the more literal ‘hidden’ ending that you get after collecting the puzzle pieces, which is actually quite elegant.
So let’s talk about the hidden second ending.
I didn’t like it. It felt like a total let-down, after this crazy inexplicable meta plot, to have the actual explanation be something so prosaic, and set up by such a needlessly fourth-wall breaking premise as the password. I disliked it to the point where I denied that it was the ‘real’ ending, whatever that means, and declared the other ending the real one.
It’s grown on me.
The problem is, most of the people who enjoy the storyline of Hotline Miami loved the ambiguity, the strangeness, the uncertainty. Under those circumstances, what kind of ending could satisfy them? The human tendency is to stop interpreting and solving when a story is concluded, to take whatever is said last as the definitive ending even if everything up until that point has been of questionable veracity. An ending is a closing off, a conclusion.
Or is it?
Think back to playing the game. Think back to the questions, the mysteries, that drove you forwards as you played. Now: How many of those did the ending actually answer?
The ending answers one question, possibly the least interesting question posed by the game, that of the titular Hotline Miami. This ending accomplishes two things: First, it gives you an intriguing hint that the world the game takes place in is not our world, and second it tells you nothing that you’ve actually been asking.
This frustrated some people. Oddly, many of these people wished that the ending had been more open-ended, all without realizing that relative to the main plot of the game the ending was, in fact, completely open ended. We still know nothing about Jacket, whether he lived or died, how much of the experience we played through was real.
And, most elegantly of all, the developers have set up a world which they can easily use to tell more stories, all without ever actually settling the question of what really happened to Jacket.
We will never know.