This Could Be Good

Hotline Miami

Redial

As it aspires to broaden its emotional range, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number rebels against the more-is-better sequel mentality.

By Matt Gerardi • June 19, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number wasn’t on the show floor at E3. Instead, the game’s publisher set up shop in an Airstream-style RV parked across the street. It was an appropriately jarring set-up for the sequel to a jarring game. Waiting inside the trailer was Dennis Wedin, one of the two creators that make up Hotline developer Dennaton Games. (He’s the “Denn” half.) As Wedin explained the aspirations that he and his partner, Jonatan “Cactus” Söderström, have for their sequel to one of last year’s surprise hits, the counter-cultural presentation started to make even more sense.

Hotline Miami

The original Hotline Miami is a far cry from your typical indie darling, especially when compared to some of its 2012 breakout brethren, like the gentle Journey and Fez. Hotline is a fast-paced, gory puzzle game that casts you as a masked killer who’s plagued by mysterious assassination-demanding phone calls. Its trippy, lo-fi style is purposely abrasive, and it invites rage with its extreme violence and infuriating difficulty. It’s ugly, both inside and out, and it wants you to feel the same way. But that’s all part of the game’s appeal.

With Wrong Number, Dennaton appears to be rebelling against itself and its fans. The first point Wedin made was that the duo is trying to evoke more emotional states than just MURDER MURDER KILL KILL. This will be the last Hotline Miami game, Wedin said, and Dennaton wants to use it to explore sadness and the ways we cope with things coming to an end.

Wrong Number is set in a world where the events of the first Hotline are real and have become legendary. Players will take on multiple characters. Two characters were on display in the demo I played (poorly, much to the delight of Wedin and his associates). The first was called The Butcher. He’s literally a character in a slasher flick, one that’s based on the events of the first game. (You might remember the creepy live-action trailer for the first Hotline. Wedin said you can think of that video as the trailer for the movie being filmed within Wrong Number, hence the “Based on a true story” disclaimer.) My short stint as The Butcher concluded when I took down a man who was abusing a young woman. I then had to attack the woman, which prompted a scene of the pig-masked Butcher throwing her to the ground, straddling her, and pulling down his pants. A director yelled “cut,” and the horrible scene ended. Wedin was coy about the reality of this scene. Is this a legit movie? Or is the crew all in The Butcher’s head, and you’re really perpetrating these terrible acts? It certainly wasn’t clear from my short time with the game.

Hotline Miami

The second character was a member of a group called The Fans. They’re a cadre of young vigilantes who were inspired to clean up crime by the actions of the main character in the first Hotline. They’ve all got their animal masks—the calling card of the original game—and you’re there for what seems like the group’s first outing. This is where the Wrong Number demo departed from the tone of the original. There’s a moment of trepidation among the ranks of The Fans. One member in particular is nervous about his impending murder spree. “We’re really going to do this,” he says in disbelief. It’s the first time that a Hotline character has shown a shred of humanity. It was refreshing.

The core of Hotline hasn’t changed. You still bust into buildings and murder your way through them. You still have to walk through your mess in near silence, drinking in the bloody mayhem you’ve wrought. The music is still fantastic. (One track in the demo wowed me with an onslaught of Sega Genesis-style slap bass.) But, according to Wedin, Dennaton has more noble ambitions for the sequel than just adding some new levels and weapons. He casts Wrong Number as a more emotional work that will focus on fractured storytelling. It’s a rebellion against the expectations of hardcore fans–fans who, Wedin was quick to note, inspired the bloodthirsty copycat clan mentioned earlier. “We’re very proud of what we created,” he said, “but doing the same thing one more time just isn’t creative.”

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19 Responses to “Redial”

  1. Great, now I’m going to have Method Man & Redman stuck in my head all day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z-EGRbtxlw

    • Enkidum says:

      Well, there’s definitely worse things to have stuck in your head.

      Same sample from The Coup, just because: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v-rIWUAQuI

    • Oxperiment says:

       I believe Gerardi should correct his copy above to reflect that better. It should say “MURDA MURDA MURDA KILL KILL KILL”

  2. Girard says:

    I am pleased and unsurprised that these guys are making the effort to actually be creative in their sequel. I am also pleased and unsurprised at how very excited I was to read that header image (and how much more excited I am now).

  3. aklab says:

    I am the person for whom difficulty sliders were invented, as I enjoy actiony games but I am so bad at them. But I want everyone to know that I did finally beat Hotline Miami, after achieving the right state of murdertrance. So I’m looking forward to this! 

  4. duwease says:

    I *want* to say I won’t buy this because the original was so buggy (I still can’t unlock half my achievements, wah! wah!).. but I think it says something about how interesting the game is that I can’t muster up enough indignation to not get the sequel.

  5. NakedSnake says:

    That’s great that they are ambitious. It’s important to pursue new ideas and directions when you make a sequel. That said, I hope that they don’t get too far down this “explore sadness and how we cope with things coming to and end” direction. The first one was good, really good, because it stripped a gameplay experience to its core. It was streamlined, unapologetic violence, action, and reflexes, and it worked because there were no distractions. Sometimes simplicity is better than depth (particularly if that depth is just pretentious).

    • aklab says:

      As far as I can tell it sounds like they’ll be exploring “sadness and how we cope with things coming to an end” by, y’know, more murderin’, so it should be all good. 

      • NakedSnake says:

        And as long as the plot is as spare and batshit crazy as the first one, we’ll be all good.

  6. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    Excuse me Matt, not to be that guy, but its “lo-fi” not “low-fi”, I mean, heh heh, Times New Viking would be rolling in their graves, huh, if they were actually dead and not somewhere recording an album on an old speak n spell.

    But seriously, this game will bring my adrenaline levels up like the world cup when it’s released because I love me some 16-bit murder!

  7. Fluka says:

    That really is the most perfect way to reveal Hotline Miami 2: by being invited inside a random van parked outside E3.

  8. Eric Bailey says:

    I AM SO EXCIIIIIIIITED

  9. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    I loved the first game for a few reasons, but I have some trepidation about how much humanity the developers will be able to evoke if the style of play in the sequel is more-or-less the same as it was in the original.

    There’s a popular term for this that I won’t bring up, but a trial-and-error style of play that encourages replaying the same stages for high-scores (presumably skipping any text as fast as possible) doesn’t strike me as a particularly emotional experience. The first game had style and it was certainly surreal, which are two of the reasons I loved it, but it’s a big leap to go from “vaguely dreamlike” to “emotionally compelling”.

    On the plus side, though, it sounds like they’ll be keeping a lot of the surreal tone for at least one playable character, so even if the other tone(s) fall flat I’ll probably be satisfied with the sequel.

  10. caspiancomic says:

    …an onslaught of Sega Genesis-style slap bass.

    *Article goes into soft focus, cherubs begin playing harps*

    Seriously though, I’m right hyped. I’m particularly interested to see how a game like this attempts to execute a more emotional story. I was thinking just this morning about how well Hotline Miami told its “story”, such as it is. Most stories want the audience to empathize with and understand their heroes, and so give us some way to connect with them emotionally. The “hero” of Hotline Miami though is a dead-inside psychopath who commits mass murder for basically no reason. The only “relationships” he has in his life are one possibly hallucinated friend he mooches off of, and his kidnapped prostitute girlfriend whose name we never learn and whose dalliance with the hero ends up being fatal. The character is a killing machine without empathy, so the game deliberately gives us no meaningful way to interact with or care about its characters. When the dood’s girlfriend gets killed, both the character and the player feel nothing. It’s twisted, but it’s really, really smart storytelling. I’m interested to see how a game about massacring dozens of people in the most gloriously sadistic manner possible can support a story in which we’re expected to relate to the characters and their struggles.

    Also, it’s interesting that the events of the original game are apparently inspirational to the characters of the sequel. Are we leaving the 1980s as a setting? Were the 90’s a particularly hideous period for Miami? Or is this game going to go the full Spring Breakers and be set in the appropriately trashy modern day? (Show of hands, who would happily pour a pan of boiling water into James Franco’s face?)

  11. Andy Tuttle says:

    So making a sequel is what they’ve been doing instead of fixing all the bugs in the first game. Okay.