‘Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’ carries puzzle-action play into an expanded universe

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You answer the ringing telephone and hear a clipped voice delivering your instructions in hushed tones: just an address, coupled with the unspoken command to slaughter everyone that you find there. It doesn’t need to be repeated; you’ve done this before. This simple setup served as the basic framework for Hotline Miami, 2012’s perfectly executed action-puzzle title from Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin, the two-man team behind Dennaton Games. It’s been tweaked slightly in the upcoming sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, but not in a way that disrupts fan expectations.

Hotline-Miami-2-LogoMake no mistake: Hotline Miami 2 is best summed up as “more Hotline Miami,” and there isn’t anything wrong with that. “The main thing is how to present the story and how we can take the Hotline Miami universe further instead of just adding a puzzle feature or bullet-time or leveling up or RPG elements– that’s not going to be in this,” Wedin tells Digital Trends in Dennaton’s blessedly quiet, climate-controlled Airstream trailer parked directly across from the E3 2013 circus at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Music from the sequel’s soundtrack burbles along in the background while an early demo of Wrong Number waits patiently on a nearby laptop screen.

“[Adding more gameplay features] is not our way to taking our franchise further, because we know that the gameplay style works as is, and it’s how it should be both for us and for the players,” Wedin continues. “We are really trying, in the same way as the first game, to not force the story onto people. If you just want a cool arcade game, you will have a cool arcade game, and you don’t have to care about dialogue and picking through a bunch of cutscenes or stuff like that. A lot of the story will simply be in the environment and the details.”

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So what is different then? “The main word for [Wrong Number] is expectations,” Wedin says. “There is going to be a lot of playable characters in this game and they all have different motivations and expectations. We also wanted to see if we could work with some other emotions than just feeling disturbed and feeling awesome. We wanted to give a touch of sadness to it. This is the grand finale for Hotline Miami. It is going to wrap everything up. There’s a bit of sadness to that as well. All things end, and how do you cope with that feeling? It’s going to be the same for the characters within the game. We’ll see the end of their dreams or their path.”

“If you loved the first game, you’re going to love this game.”

Dennaton’s playable E3 2013 demo introduces two of the new characters in Hotline Miami 2, though perhaps “factions” is a better term. The first is the Pig Butcher, who features into the live-action trailer from the first game. We now learn that the earlier trailer was in fact an in-universe trailer for a movie based on the events of Hotline Miami, a ’90s slasher horror in the vein of Friday the 13th. The Pig Butcher sequence here functions as a brief control tutorial, and we quickly learn that it’s all fake, unfolding on the set of the in-production movie.

The second, and meatier, portion of the demos focuses on an entirely new group, the Fans. “It’s a bunch of wannabe guys that wanted to be part of the first masked vigilante movement that happened in the first game, but they kind of missed it,” Wedin explains. “Since [Hotline Miami‘s] Jacket killed pretty much the whole Russian mob there’s no reason for the janitors to keep calling people and ordering them to do stuff. But [the Fans] are still wearing the masks and driving around in their van, beating up thugs that they can find and hopefully getting enough attention from the media to be a part of the… whole thing.”

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There’s an immediate connection to be drawn between Wrong Number‘s Fans and real world fans of the game, both in terms of their expectations for a sequel and the general course of rising popularity that an indie darling like Hotline Miami tends to follow. Wedin agrees. “In a way, they kind of symbolize people who want Hotline Miami 2 to be exactly like Hotline Miami 1. You know, collecting masks and getting phone calls. Nothing should change.”

“When we were working on the first game, we had all this back story that we made up.”

“It’s still gonna be, of course, like Hotline Miami. The gameplay is intact. We have added more enemies, more weapons, more cool work, but it plays like Hotline Miami. If you loved the first game, you’re going to love this game.” These words ring true quickly enough as we play through the demo. The beating heart of the game that was released back in October 2012 is still at the core of Wrong Number. The top-down perspective, the retro graphics, the fast and brutal play, the simmering psychedelic soundtrack… all of the pieces are there, and they all still fit together perfectly.

The difference is in the exposition. It’s clear even in our brief look at the game. It feels less scattered, less mysterious. You’re still not entirely sure what’s going on, but the pacing is more straightforward, especially when coupled with all of the context that fans of the first game will bring along when they play. “We wanted to try to tell a different story for the characters,” Wedin explains. “Why do they go into a house and slaughter people? Because not all of the characters get these phone calls or has this motivation to be part of the phone calls. We will reveal more characters as we get closer to the release date.”

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Work on Wrong Number started in early 2013. It was slow at first, with one or two days spent building the game every week. The crunch for a late-2013 release on PC, Mac, and Linux – with console version(s) to hopefully follow at a later date – started in May, with effort being put in on re-writing the AI while still keeping the spirit of Hotline Miami intact. Wedin confirms that there was always a plan to revisit the Hotline universe, though it happened sooner than either he or Söderström expected.

“When we were working on the first game, we had all this back story that we made up. Just me and Jonatan talking… about expanding the universe,” he explains. “We had all these cool ideas and we knew that we wanted to make a sequel, and actually started working on another game after Hotline Miami, but we couldn’t stop talking about Hotline Miami 2 and what a fucking awesome game it would be. So we just decided that we have to make this game because otherwise we can’t let it go. This [other game] was going to be a great game also, but for now it’s all about Hotline Miami. We were pretty much in that mindset, so we figured we would just keep on rolling and make [the sequel] great.”

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