Revealed – Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

By Nathan Grayson on June 19th, 2013 at 11:00 am.

Yes, it’s happening. 

Hotline Miami 2 is indeed very real, and the neon-slathered sequel made quite the appearance at E3 last week. Or rather, um, outside it. In a parking lot. Inside a trailer. It was an oddball setup even by E3 standards, but it got the job done. A brand new sparse, acoustic theme song drifted through the wheeled bullet’s chrome-y confines, mirroring the first’s but with a hint of somber resignation. Dennaton’s Dennis Wedin quickly explained why: Wrong Number is the second Hotline Miami, but also the last. It’s been a wild, psychadelic, gore-and-teeth-spattered ride for Cactus and himself, but all things must come to an end.

But seriously, Hotline Miami 2? As in, with a number on the end? A sequel? From a pioneering member of the movement to create veritable shotgun blasts of rapid-fire experimental games? It’s certainly a surprising announcement, to say the least. But this isn’t a matter of striking while the iron’s hot, cashing in, or what have you. One thing, claimed Wedin, is driving this sequel: unfinished business. 

Everything ends. How do you cope with that?

“I think we felt that during the development of the first game, we came up with a lot of cool backstory and ideas for the universe, but we didn’t use them,” he told RPS. “So we always felt like we wanted to do one more game, because there were a lot of cool characters and ideas we didn’t get to explore. I know Cactus has made a lot of [smaller, experimental] games, but we just had a feeling of doing something awesome and really creative for ourselves. So we decided to keep doing it.”

Simple as that. Simple as a baseball bat to the back of the head or a single bullet to the brain. Simple as death. Except that, no matter how quickly death comes, it’s never actually all that simple. We spend our whole lives dying, and everything just gets more and more complicated all the while.

Hotline Miami was different. It was elegant and lightning quick. Straight to the point. Gracefully grotesque. But it also fit the aforementioned bill perfectly. Just when you thought everything was going your way – BAM – you were sleeping peacefully in a gravy of your own fluids, complete with bite-sized brain giblets. There was always another guy. Always another room. Always something new, different, and deadly to account for.

So how do you make a sequel without piling too much complication atop that perfectly sizzling platter of simplicity? That, in its own way, is the central conflict of both Hotline Miami 2′s creation and in-game story. Lounging comfortably in his trailer demonstro-lair, Wedin explained:

“There’s a lot of people having expectations about what the sequel should or shouldn’t be, but we also wanted to include that in the game. So there’s gonna be a bunch of playable characters in this one, and they all have different motivations and expectations about what their part of the game will be or should be.”

Ultimately, that’s the heart and soul of Hotline Miami 2′s existence: character. Or rather, characters. It’s not that gameplay is secondary. Instead, Cactus and Wedin are – like pretty much everybody else – just really happy with how the original turned out. Especially in the case of something so finely honed, why fix what isn’t broken?

“The main change is, ‘How can we tell a different story with this structure?’ The gameplay is pretty much intact from the first one. We’re super proud of how the first game worked, and people seemed to like it a lot. There’s really no reason to change it that much, so we’re gonna add more weapons and enemy types. More gore, of course. More of everything. The scoring system and combos and leaderboards are gonna be in there.”

With that, Wedin fired up a demo to walk us through Hotline Miami’s second lease on death-dealing. First taking control of the Pig Butcher (who you might recognize from this live-action trailer), he explained that the story will be told from multiple perspectives and timelines – some major and some minor, both before and after the original Hotline Miami. Sir Butcher M Pig Esq, for instance, will be slinging his slop on a slasher movie set in 1991.

I watched as he hacked through countless throngs of thugs – some instantly bleeding out, others tucking their entrails between their legs and crawl-fleeing away – but then he finished the level and something strange happened: everyone got up. “Cut!” called the director. It was just a film shoot. A shoot. Hah. Clever. “Make it look like you really hit them!” the director continued before dismissing all his actors for the day. Apparently that bit will in part be molded into Hotline Miami 2′s tutorial, because “the first game’s sucked”.

Next, we leaped to another core character group called The Fans, and that’s where things got really, truly interesting. Remember that whole “How do you actually make a sequel to Hotline Miami” conundrum I mentioned earlier? Well, it gave birth to The Fans. Or maybe the fans (non-capitalized) gave birth to it.

“The Fans are a bunch of wannabes who wanted to be part of this whole mass vigilante movement in the first game, but they kinda missed it,” explained Wedin, smiling slyly. “And since Jacket pretty much killed all of the Russian mob, there’s no reason for the Janitors to keep calling people. But these guys keep wearing masks and driving around in their van and finding fucks and beating them up. They’re trying to get enough media attention that one day someone will give them that call and they can be part of what happened in the first game.”

“They kind of symbolize those people who want Hotline Miami 2 to be exactly like Hotline Miami 1. Unlocking masks, getting phone calls, stuff like that. More masks. More stages. So some of that’s gonna be in there, but we don’t really want to make the same game again. We’re gonna try to approach the characters and their motivations in different ways. We’re gonna work with that more.”

In the original Hotline Miami, you switched between power-imbuing animal masks at the start of every level, but in the sequel only The Fans have masks. Like Wedin said, they’re clinging to what came before – both from a narrative and mechanical perspective. Digging another layer into the game’s fiction, it’s hard to not also read them as a commentary on the role widespread media coverage of shootings and the like plays in creating new killers. They want to be on TV. They want the guts and the glory. They want it because it’s there, right in front of them, 24 hours a day.

Fittingly, we first met The Fans as they were casually throwing a Hotline-Miami-themed party, worshiping their old idol and planning something new. Tiger was the obvious leader, his mask rancid with blood that he claimed came straight from the events of Hotline Miami 1. Was he telling the truth? At this point, who knows. For now, though, say whatever you will about him, but he certainly knows how to get the job done.

The Fans’ van pulled up outside an especially dingy drug den, and they immediately got to work. Tiger’s power is rapid-fire flurries of one-hit death punches, but as a trade-off he can’t carry guns at all. Granted, it didn’t seem to matter too much as the demo driver pulverized every thug in sight until the place looked like it had been smeared with scrumptious strawberry jam and/or tragedy. At this point, Wedin mentioned that the goal is for every character – Fan or not – to have unique abilities that lend them far more varied playstyles than the first game’s. For instance, another member of The Fans, Zebra, can enter levels by crashing through any window he pleases, turning locations’ tactical blueprints entirely on their heads.

It was only after they’d made a seedy apartment look like the world’s first active blood volcano, however, that The Fans did something truly nauseating. The entire four-member group dragged a hopelessly, helplessly drugged up man off a couch and began beating him. Then, briefly, they stopped. Left eye basically dangling from a sinewy thread, the man sputtered equal parts shock and surprise. “Am I bleeding?” he asked. “Am I in the hospital?” And then, wordlessly, The Fans went right back to tearing at his flesh like hungry vultures on carrion.

More complex or not, this story is still very Hotline Miami – told far more through actions than words or, say, dialog options – and The Fans’ big moment proved it. In fact, despite the increased focus on narrative, there still won’t be any choices at all. Sometimes, Wedin and Cactus believe, it’s just as much about what you can’t do as what you can.

“You felt really cool, but then this happens,” Wedin pointed out. “A lot of people might want to make The Fans walk away from beating up that guy, but it’s not for you to decide. The Fans have their own agenda, and we don’t want the player to color them too much. There’s gonna be other characters whose actions you might agree more with, you might feel more for.”

And he was right. The whole scene did feel really, really awesome. A new musical track – just a small piece of an expansive new soundtrack that features both returning stars like Jasper Byrne and, naturally, contributions from fans – made the whole scene dance with a driving mix of high-energy synth and ultra-groovy funk. I didn’t know those things could go together, but it totally worked. Meanwhile, each kill was greeted with such thunderous cracks and wet, squishy slaps that I could practically smell the blood. I wanted to be playing. I ached for it. But then that last scene replaced all my fight with a very strong desire for flight.

“It’s like, ‘The Zebra’s so cool or the Tiger’s just punching him,’ but then they do something you don’t agree with, and that changes the whole way you look at them,” Wedin continued. “But you’re still helping them. You’re helping them get into the room and beat the shit out of this fucked up guy. In a way you’re part of it.”

On that note, the demo drew to a chilling close. It was quite a moment, and it definitely left me hungry (read: dangerously close to retching violently in a corner) for more. That said, I am a bit concerned. For all of Dennaton’s unflinching dedication to a bold “Fuck you” attitude, Hotline Miami 2 seems eerily similar to the first. Disclaimer: I loved the original. I’ll be perfectly content if Hotline Miami 2 is just more of the same.

But Wedin was making some big promises – for instance, increased focus on environmental diversity/storytelling and events that evoke emotions beyond feeling awesome or disgusted – and I didn’t really see those things in the demo. I mean, I guess environments looked to have been crafted with a bit more of an eye for detail, but I’ll need to see more to really appreciate it. Honestly, I’d be even more skeptical of this one’s chances if it weren’t Dennaton at the helm. I mean, highly linear stories with overt references to videogame fans and things of that nature? In anyone else’s hands, that would be a recipe for overly-meta, “wink-wink nudge-nudge” disaster. Cactus and Wedin, however, have most certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. And, to be frank, what I saw did look really great. Just more like Hotline Miami 1.5 than 2.

I suppose Hotline Miami 2 will live and die by the finer details of its execution: story, new characters, powers, level design, weapons, etc. It’s a sequel of the truest sort, born from a desire to replicate the original – just, you know, better in every conceivable way. But Wedin was adamant that it’s also about closure, about letting Hotline Miami die a natural death instead of going in the potential-squandering prime of its youth. And if that’s truly the case, then I think we’re in for something really, really special when it releases late this year. Because that’s the kind of mentality that breeds a story well worth telling.

“We want a bit of sadness,” Wedin offered, “especially since this one is the grand finale for the series. The final Hotline Miami. So [one of our themes] is gonna be stuff ending. Everything ends. How do you cope with stuff just ending, both for the player and the characters in the game. They’re gonna meet the end of the line or the end of their mission. How do they cope with that?”

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67 Comments »

  1. lowprices says:

    Ah, Hotline Miami. #3627 on the big long list of Games I Bought In A Steam Sale And Then Never Finished. Got to a boss fight against a guy with a knife and couldn’t beat him. Took a break and then got distracted by other games. One day…

    • Terragot says:

      Probably the best place to stop. I think there’s a stealth mission and some weird meta ending that’s been done to death which follow.

      • sabrage says:

        Nothing wrong with HLM’s stealth, but the sniper level was a fucker.

    • Captainwinters says:

      Damn! Landed on the same spot just a few days ago, left a sour taste and haven’t touched it since.

    • Dude (Darloc) says:

      Give it a go again, he is not that hard to beat if you do not engage him until he opens up, do not want to give to much away but he is not the most difficult boss.
      I don’t know where you get that there is a stealth mission in this game…

      • zain3000 says:

        I believe he’s referring to the one where you have to escape from the hospital without being seen by the guards.

        • Syra says:

          The stealth mission that’s so hard and annoying I completed it within 3 minutes the first time I got to it? That one?

          Variety is a terrible thing.

          • iucounu says:

            I love H:M, but found that level annoying and no fun – it took me a lot longer than 3 minutes to beat.

          • sinister agent says:

            I completed it on my first go too.

            On my second, however, it took fucking aeons.

    • nearly says:

      I took a break after beating a level and it turned out when I came back that it was the infamous level that doesn’t work on Windows 8 because of Game Maker issues. That was a lovely discovery on the forums, though one of the devs popped in to say that levels could be skipped by editing a file. I don’t know what happened to me that was so special (maybe quitting before the level?), but I can’t even open the game properly now, and if I could, people pointed out that the problem which causes it to crash is just as common in several other later levels.

      Tried the mac version but my mac isn’t really up to snuff for even these sorts of games and the main menu/logo is in Russian? Have no idea what went wrong there. Love the game, but have had horrible luck with it.

  2. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I’m not sure I could do a second one. The first left me feeling satisfied, drained, bewildered, and badly in need of a shower. Just like good sex. But do I want a sequel to Hotline Miami? Do I want a sequel to sex?

    • MuscleHorse says:

      I’d like a sequel to sex with Workshop support.

      • Dowr says:

        And dynamic fluid.

      • belgand says:

        I’d prefer better multiplayer support beyond the basic co-op mode currently in it. Team-based, class-based, and competitive modes could really add a lot to it. Although in order to make all of this work we’d really need to have much better matchmaking options. There are some right now, but most of them are pretty abysmal failures. An option to just sign on and get quickly ushered into a massive 256 player free-for-all would greatly improve things.

    • lowprices says:

      SEX 2: SEX HARDER.

      BIGGER.

      MORE BADASS.

      NEW CO-OP CAMPAIGNS.

    • RedViv says:

      But it’s the 90s sequel, Sexcape from L.A.!
      Wait.
      No.
      Sex 2: Judgement Day.
      Yeah.
      Better.

      • BooleanBob says:

        “So that’s what an Electric Boogaloo is… who’d have thought they needed so many batteries?”

    • Gap Gen says:

      I should try Sex at some point, although I have tons of games I haven’t played as it is.

      In any case, once you complete the Sex campaign, I hear you get a Marriage achievement and can play skirmish mode.

      • lowprices says:

        The marriage achievement is currently bugged. You only get it if you complete the campaign with someone of the opposite gender. They’re working on a patch, but an actual date hasn’t been announced.

        It’s not helped by some of the developers claiming it’s a design feature, rather than a bug.

      • lowprices says:

        ALTERNATE JOKE:

        Just be careful you don’t accidentally download the ‘kids’ DLC. It makes it much harder to play the main campaign.

        • darkChozo says:

          Isn’t that the one that’s ludicrously overpriced?

          • Captain Joyless says:

            It is, and what’s worse, it’s never clearly labeled up front how much it’ll cost. It’s a series of mandatory microtransactions, and if you really want to get the most out of the DLC, it’s mostly pay-to-win.

  3. Bhazor says:

    So another game whose whole thing is “you are a monster for playing a fun game”? Oh. Goody.

    • 12inchPlasticToy says:

      There’s one “for” too many in that comment.

    • beekay says:

      Did you play Hotline Miami? It was pretty clearly not saying “why are you playing this, YOU MONSTER.” Why would the sequel suddenly switch to that?

      • Bhazor says:

        “It’s like, ‘The Zebra’s so cool or the Tiger’s just punching him,’ but then they do something you don’t agree with, and that changes the whole way you look at them,” Wedin continued. “But you’re still helping them. You’re helping them get into the room and beat the shit out of this fucked up guy. In a way you’re part of it.”

        • AndreasBM says:

          Well, it was in the first game too. When you were done with a mission, and you had to walk back to the car, with all the effects and music gone, you couldn’t help but feel disgusted by your actions. And when Jacket throws up after the first mission. There has always been a theme of “man, violence is pretty awful”, but it doesn’t get in the way of all the fun.

        • wengart says:

          On the other hand is was a damn fun game. and that bit is pretty easy to ignore.

      • identifierad says:

        Do you like hurting other people?

    • DXN says:

      I think it’s got more going on than that. I liked Errant Signal’s video about it.

  4. CANCER says:

    hope it will include a level editor

  5. JackShandy says:

    All I want is co-op.

    • Harlander says:

      I don’t think you could really do co-op Hotline Miami. One of the big things is the machinegun-fast respawns when you die. Having to wait for your buddy to suck as much as you did would kill the momentum, I suspect

      • iucounu says:

        My feelings exactly. Can’t see how you’d do it.

        • Phendron says:

          Resets when either one of you die might work, though it could be aggravating in exactly the opposite way.

          • Rich Tea says:

            Just keep friendly fire on. Should ramp up the tension to a requisite level.

      • JackShandy says:

        I see your point. Tentative idea: You respawn instantly, along with all the people you killed. All the people Player 2 killed, and Player 2, are still on the map just as they were when you died.

  6. Muzman says:

    Coming back quickly on a game like this is a good idea I think, before the mood fades.
    Francis is probably over it but I kinda hope Gunpoint 2 would be out by christmas for the same reason. Both games are kinda awesome but could be revisited quickly to great effect. The devs have clearly hit their stride and should keep strutting.

  7. DrScuttles says:

    Hotline Miami was that rarest of beasts that compelled me to become a total achievement whore. Just a few DLC levels would have made me giddy with schoolboy excitement; a sequel, be it Hotline Miami 1.5 or 2, has me grinning like a monster.
    Also great to hear that Jasper Byrne is contributing to the soundtrack again. While all the music was fantastic, “Miami” was by far my favourite track.

  8. Kikas says:

    What baffles me is: Why didn’t they call it “Holtine Miami 3: The Wrong Number”

    • BooleanBob says:

      Or Hotline Miami One, for that matter.

      Or why not just reboot the franchise altogether, call it Hotline Miami?

  9. elderman says:

    Nothing I have seen of the first game looks remotely appealing to me. It just looks gross. I hear all the praise about the gameplay and the music, but even though I now own the game through the Humble Bundle, I don’t feel even a smidgen of desire to take a peek. Violent, bloody… why should I want that?

    • lordcooper says:

      If violence and blood put you off that much, your choice of games must be astoundingly small.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        He must be new. Violence and man-killing is A-OK as long as it’s lo-rez and retro with snappy indie music.

        We only hate the shoot-in-the-face when it’s got good production values.

      • elderman says:

        Well, yes, violence and blood do put me off, but not to the extent that I can’t enjoy games like Red Rogue, Limbo (one of my recent favourites, though it squicked me out) or Duke Nukem 3D, to name a few games I’ve played recently. I’m usually ok with abstract violence, violence suffered by my avatar, or violence against game monsters. That picture in the Hotline Miami 2 teaser that shows a woman crawling through her own blood, though… ugh! Everyone seems to describe HM1 as having particularly brutal and vivid violence. It sounds unpleasant.

        My gaming includes plenty of violence, though. At an early age, I developed a callous attitude toward the sight of plumbers jumping up and down on turtles and throwing away their shells… But if I wanted to avoid gore entirely, I bet you I could bin everything in my games folder that shows any blood or required me kill an on-screen figure and still have more games than I have time to play. There are a lot of damn games out there.

        • AndreasBM says:

          I felt the same way when I first saw the game, but then I decided to try it anyway, and it’s actually not that bad. Sure, it’s gory and violent, and some of the executions are pretty traumatizing, but it’s like that scene in Drive, where Driver stomps the elevator guy’s face in. It’s not pleasant, but it’s part of the artistic expression, and it works.

        • fish99 says:

          Limbos violence was more brutal, creepy and in some ways more shocking because it was unexpected. Hotline Miami’s is gory but it’s kinda comic book style, and once you’re into the gameplay you don’t really notice it anymore.

          Having said that the first few hours of HM the game seems so fast and difficult that you may give up before you figure out how to play it. The gameplay only clicked with me in the last 3 hours (of 7), and then in my second playthrough I could really enjoy it and appreciate how sublime it plays. It’s actually a very tactical game.

    • Zepp says:

      You’re scary. What’s wrong with you man?! Someone call 911.

    • fish99 says:

      You ever played a first or third person shooter? Last time I checked they’re mostly violent and a lot of them are bloody. You ever watched a violent film? Also you’re writing the game off without giving it a try.

      It’s worth a playthrough just for the music, even if for some reason the gameplay doesn’t grab you. IMO it was the best game of last year.

    • Shadowcat says:

      The game certainly is incredibly violent (and given the low resolution of the character bitmaps, the violence is animated in a disturbingly realistic way at times). It’s mitigated somewhat by the unrealistic pace, though, which is extremely ‘gamey’. And then there’s the weirdness of the story and overall presentation, which adds a measure of intrigue to proceedings (and whether you accept anything at face value is pretty much left up to you). It’s also hard to say whether that would add or detract from the game for you, though.

      It is a good game, but I suspect that if you’re not inspired to try it when you already own it, then you probably wouldn’t be motivated to play it long enough to start to appreciate it for its gameplay. I was also highly dubious about the game, but I ended up giving it a punt after it was discounted, and it won me over (I played it through to completion), but then I’d purchased it intentionally…

      • elderman says:

        Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to be my cup of tea. Thanks for telling me about your experience, Shadowcat. I guess I was wondering if I was getting the wrong impression. Doesn’t sound like it.

        • sabrage says:

          You already own it. You can find out in the span of five minutes whether or not you like it. It’s the best game of 2012.

  10. Totally heterosexual says:

    Honestly, some basic adjustments and fixing + a bit more content and im down for it.

    Some kind of survival mode or a level editor might do the trick.

  11. qrter says:

    Did anyone really play this game for the story and the characters?

  12. jonahcutter says:

    Wait… WHAAAT!?! The gameplay works well and isn’t going to be significantly changed? It has a unique and beloved gameplay style that they are keeping as the core? No elements added to “increase it’s appeal”? No “updated features”?

    No “reimagining” or “reinterpretation”?

    NO FUCKING QTEs?!?!?!?!

    Pay attention IO/Eidos/Square Enix.

  13. yuri999 says:

    I never completed HM because it was too frustrating for me so I watched the ending on YT and read stuff about it. However, I will try to finish this game atleast because the multiple protagonist part leads me to believe that there will be many asshole protagonists and a single good guy protagonist who will in the final level kill them all thereby ending the series.

    Bonus points if he kills the protagonist of the first game at the very end.

  14. Commissar Choy says:

    I actually plan on playing this at RTX next month :D

  15. DickSocrates says:

    I did like the first one and will probably get the second, but I didn’t love it the way I had fully expected to (or the way other people did). The post-modern meta wink-at-the-camera ending irritated me slightly, I don’t like when the fiction I’m engaged with gets broken from within, it’s well overdone and cheapens the rest of the experience for me. It’s just like authors putting themselves into their book as a character; it’s usually smug wank.

    The hospital level was terrible and had me wondering how anyone could possibly have thought it was a good idea to include. Well done for completing it before you lost your mind.

    The bosses were annoying and the way to beat them felt inconsistent, like a fair amount of it was down to pot luck. I like the concepts for them though.

    Final issue was the way the masks were implemented didn’t make sense if you were going for the hidden items to unlock the true ending. I played the whole game through with the ‘see the hidden item’ mask and then didn’t feel much like going through the game again with the other ones. It was a good idea, but having one of the masks be crucial to getting everything sabotaged the whole system, for me at least.

    Right after the game was released, they teased DLC, but apparently this has been expanded to become Hotline Miami 2. I don’t begrudge them that at all, considering prior to Hotline Miami they were struggling to pay rent having never charged for anything they’d made before. I am looking forward to the sequel, though was slightly disappointed when I saw it looked virtually indistinguishable from the first. Thought it might be a good opportunity to shake things up, but it is only two guys so I forgive them.

  16. kdz says:

    The announcement of this and Fez 2 made me feel… disappointed, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure both will be great games: with terrific gameplay design, awesome music, great looks (less so in Hotline Miami 2), but I really would’ve liked for their developers to try something new. Make Hotline MIami 2 and Fez 2, sure, but maybe try to squeeze a different game between the original and its sequel?

  17. Shooop says:

    I’m really not sure if this is the kind of game I’d be able to enjoy – I’ve never been good at twitch games. But I’m finally starting to get the aesthetics and concepts and get intrigued.