E3 2013: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Preview

Developer: Dennaton Games / Publisher: Devolver Digital / Platform: PC / Release Date: Late 2013

If you’re anything like me, you loved the absolute hell out of Hotline Miami but you’re also be wondering why Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number needs to exist. After all, the first game made clear and powerful statements about the role of violence in media.

“We try to keep all theories open, we don’t want to say that it’s like this or like that,” Dennaton Graphic Artist and Designer Dennis Wedin said. “But of course it’s a commentary on justifying violence in games. You’re always the hero and you save the princess or a president or a country. It’s just a front for people to kill. We wanted to make a game that didn’t have a front, that there is no reason more than you loving violence.”

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With that statement made, how can the guys at Dennaton justify making a sequel? After all, sequels generally mean more of the same with a dash of new content. Wouldn’t that undercut the message of the first game entirely?

As it turns out, the answer to following up a game with tons of meta commentary is even more meta.

“The main word that we’re building around is ‘expectations,’” Wedin said.

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When players come to a sequel, they come with certain expectations. Hotline Miami 2 will subvert that in a brilliant way.

The first major faction you’ll play in Hotline 2 are called “The Fans.” Following the events of the first game, some became infatuated with the vigilantism and violence of the first game’s protagonist. With the Russian mobs wiped out in the first game, the Janitors are no longer sending out calls. As such, The Fans have to get their kicks roving around in vans, beating up thugs while wearing animal masks.

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That’s all well and good until… it’s not. Fed up by the inactivity of their gang, they decide to go full out and storm an apartment building and killing everyone inside. By the end of my demo, The Fans pinned and brutally beat a man who very politely (and bizarrely) asked why he was being killed.

Maybe he was drugged at the time? The dialogue in Hotline is always a little off-kilter.

Anyway, after the victim meekly asks to go home, the player character bashes his head in. The resulting textured squelch and cascade of red, pixelated viscera somehow beat the disturbing violence of the original Hotline.

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On paper, this looks like an intelligent but predictable sequel to Hotline 1. You play a crazy person that storms a building and kills a bunch of dudes, married to an unsettling story that has a novel hook in the Hotline universe. Pretty standard… until you read between the lines a bit.

“[The Fans] symbolize players that want the sequel to be exactly like the first one, like nothing should change,” Wedin said. “You collect masks, you get a phone call, you walk back to the car after everyone is dead. It will be in there, in their part, but we don’t want to make the same game one more time.”

Just as the first game provided commentary on masking the desire to kill, the second is already making statements about sequels and how we, as gamers, approach them. Bear in mind this is just one faction in a game with many, each of which have their own stories, motivations, themes, and perspectives.

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But for all the discussion of theme and commentary, there’s still a 2 on the end of this game, meaning that it has to bring some new content to the table. More weapon types, enemies, playable characters, and even some nifty new mechanics will debut in Hotline 2 like the ability to jump through windows to decide your own entry point to a given building. I also liked that enemies now have a smaller hearing radius, meaning you can’t fire one shot and have the whole building swarm into a choke point.

Fortunately, in addition to new content, Dennaton has also chosen not to meddle too deeply with Hotline’s core gameplay.

“For the AI, we know a lot of people have been complaining that they are stupid and don’t see bodies or react to stuff like that,” Wedin said. “It shouldn’t be seen as one of those games. It’s more of a puzzle game. If you break too much of the AI patterns because they see something, you break the puzzle.”

While some have criticized Hotline for forcing the player into being cheap or exploitative, Wedin doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

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“There’s always ways to break the game,” Wedin said. “It works though, it’s still hard.”

Just a week ago I’d have said that there’s no reason Hotline Miami 2 needs to exist. After talking with Dennis Wedin, I’m now convinced it’s one of the few games coming in 2013 that every gamer should play.

“We had the idea during the first game, what we wanted to do with a sequel. We had this backstory making the universe rich, mostly for us. We’re putting all that into this, that’s why it’s the final one,” Wedin said. “This is what we want to say with this franchise.”

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