E3 2013: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number’s Twisted Bloody Heart

Devolver Digital’s E3 presence wasn’t, technically, part of E3.  Renting a lot across the street, they had a pair of silver Airstream trailers set up showing off their upcoming titles, one of which was the highly-anticipated Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Denis Wedin was there to explain all the changes and upgrades in the sequel to one of the most disturbingly violent games of 2012.

From a gameplay perspective, this is basically more of the same.  You go into a building, kill everything that moves using whatever is lying about, and get a strange chunk of story before and after to frame the action.  Your character is as vulnerable as the enemy, dead in a single hit, so careful planning helped along with an instant restart when killed is necessary.  Any house or building you enter is going to be a gore-filled mess when done, although it may take several attempts to survive long enough to see it.  The sequel comes with a couple of gameplay tweaks, though.  The masks are now assigned to individual characters, and not everyone is going to be available for every mission.  Additionally, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, with the one on display being the Tiger mask.  In the first Hotline Miami, this gave jacket the ability to kill enemies with a punch, rather than just knocking them down.  Now Tiger Mask is limited to only punches, completely changing the way he’s played.  The other major addition is new enemies, such as the big guys who are immune to melee attacks.  Honestly, though, Hotline Miami didn’t need a lot of gameplay tweaks to justify more of it.

HLM2 Screen 5

The big important sequel bits are all to be found in the story.  It’s several years since the events of Hotline Miami and a small cult has built up around jacket’s actions.  Multiple characters interact and become playable as the story progresses, but their motivations remain their own.  You as the player are an observer, along for the ride, and if a character acts odd it’s internally consistent even if the game doesn’t spell out why.  The overall theme of the story focuses on the idea of “endings”, seeing as it’s the last (and only other) game in the series, but endings can mean different things to different people.  The story is trying to not just be about disturbing violence, although obviously there’s plenty of that on display.  The post-gameplay story section in the demo level showed the cult members beating to death a seemingly harmless druggie, and despite having just slaughtered about a dozen other guys, this one wasn’t actually trying to kill anyone at the moment, or even capable of it.  After having a great time watching several minutes of brutal beatings on the house’s patrolling henchmen, it was a cold wake-up call that the events in Hotline Miami are actually pretty horrifying.

There were a few other random notes from the meeting as well.  Hotline Miami’s soundtrack was fantastic, easily one of the best of 2012, and Hotline Miami 2 sounded like it was turning this into a tradition.  The original idea for Wrong Number was to be an expansion pack, but when hashing out the structure it ended up being two levels bigger than the game it was supposed to expand, so it became a sequel.  In response to player requests, Hotline Miami 2 will have a Hard mode unlocked on a level-by-level basis, awarded based on attaining a good rank.  The PS3 and Vita ports of the first game are cross-buy, with one purchase getting both versions.  Finally, as for a release date, they’re aiming for late 2013, but that’s not set in stone.  It would be nice, though.

HLM2 Screen 1

Hotline Miami was an odd one, unexpectedly launching Cactus and Dennis Wedin from their punk freeware game roots (they made a game called Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, and Wedin has a giant awesome tattoo of the logo on his arm) into the indie gaming spotlight.  Its bizarre neon underworld was as stylish as it was dangerously violent, feeling very ’80s despite the modern-day soundtrack.  It was a crazy, unique arcade game that darkened the soul of everyone who played, but in a good way.  Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number will deepen the gameplay and story tone a bit, but its twisted bloody heart will always be about the fast-paced, brutal art of murder.