E3 Impressions – Hotline Miami 2: Wrong NumberFiled inside: News
If ever there were a game I feel as though might epitomize what the media envisions when blaming video games for violence in the real world, Hotline Miami would probably be it.
If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, it’s a wonderful little indie title out for many systems that basically puts you in the shoes of a (possibly deranged) killer working for an unusual organization in the 80’s. You’re dispatched to various locations where you ultra-violently murder the absolute bajeezus out of a bunch of armed thugs.
The game was immensely well-received by critics and the gaming audience at large, being lauded for its aesthetic, pumping soundtrack, and compelling mix of twitchy and responsive gameplay.
The series isn’t done yet, as a trailer for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number dropped a few months ago, and the game recently cropped up at E3.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is already billed as the final entry in the series, which takes one of the endings of the original and considers it canonical.
If you’re concerned about spoilers for the Hotline Miami, skip the next two paragraphs.
The first game’s story was really about the unreliable narrator introduced with Jacket, the game’s protagonist. After having some odd dreams or visions of people in masks in his apartment, he receives an unusual phone voice messages instructing him to pick up a package and retrieve a briefcase from a metro station. Eventually, he receives more and more of these calls, and though his perception of the world begins to crumble, it is eventually revealed that he has been going around systematically eliminating the Russian mob, culminating eventually in the killing of its leader.
The game also allows you to take on the role of Biker after finishing Jacket’s stories, giving you another timeline of events, casting the original in doubt. Jacket encounters and kills Biker partway through the game, the game rewinds for Biker’s story, where you are eventually confronted by Jacket, but Biker is victorious in this instance. The source of the phone calls is revealed to be two janitors working at the mob headquarters. If the player had successfully collected a batch of hidden letters in each stage, you find that the janitors have been working for a separate organization that seeks to destabilize the Russo-American Coalition by eliminating the Russian mob.
In Hotline Miami 2, the idea that there are multiple ways for the story to be interpreted remains true. Jacket’s interpretation of events in the first game is considered to be the “real” ending, and he continues to act in a similar fashion, receiving calls and killing lots of folks.
That being said, he’s being viewed in a number of ways, and different characters and factions are seen reacting to that. In most places, he is being referred to now as the “Pig Butcher”, a brutal serial killer. His actions have started a movement of fans, however, who seek to emulate his arguably “noble” actions in fighting against the mob. However, they are unable to directly follow in his footsteps, as a direct result of his…efficiency, so they locate random thugs and kill them in similar fashions, hoping to start receiving the same calls Jacket does. The last is a detective, who so far doesn’t seem to be able to use the same abilities as the other characters (he does not wear a mask). It is thus far unclear as to his motivations, but it seems likely that he’s tracking Jacket in some fashion.
It’s nice to see that the creators still wanted there to be a sort of message in Hotline Miami 2, just as it felt like there was more to the first game. In some ways, the game is supposed to break its own fourth wall by virtue of its own existence—the “fans” in Hotline Miami 2 are not only representative of a fervor dredged up by the actions of Jacket, but allegorically represent the fans of the first game, to the point where their gameplay is modeled after the first game: receiving phone calls, collecting masks, and all that. It’s really a very clever way to write the game, and invests players much more deeply in what would otherwise be a game that would usually leave the story and message behind.
From an overall gameplay perspective, though, it looks like the core concepts have all returned. Hotline Miami 2 is a top-down action game in which you have to clear a stage of all opposition with whatever weapons you can get your hands on in the process (or, you know, your hands, if nothing else is available).
While you are certainly a force to be reckoned with, every enemy is dangerous. There is no health bar in Hotline Miami, if you get hit, you die, and you have to start the level over completely. What results is a true ballet of violence, you dance through the space with care and finesse, finding optimum routes and methods for eliminating any resistance. Patrols are semi-randomized at times, and enemies may or may not react to things like loud gunfire, so it’s never quite the same.
As before, you don an animal mask before every mission, and the mask will impart special abilities to you. In the first game, these were generally mild boosts and perks, nothing that severely altered gameplay overall, but in Hotline Miami 2, this no longer seems to be the case. In a small preview that appears to be from the perspective of the Fans (masks in the first game were named, but in this case it looks like these might be the names of the people wearing the masks), one was able to pick from four masks (characters?), each with a much more drastic ability.
Corey (a zebra) is “agile and flexible”, which allows him to perform a dodge roll action to avoid danger more easily. Tony (a tiger) mirrors its name and function in the first game: your fists can kill, but you can’t use any weapons. Alex and Ash (represented by a swan) introduce a whole new mechanic where you control two characters at once, wielding a chainsaw and a gun, respectively. It looks like you control their movement as one character, and the other just moves behind you with the gun. Sure, you can react to a larger variety of threats this way, but if one of the pair dies, you have to restart, and with two characters you’re twice the size. Mark (a bear) is the last, and starts with two machine guns and can spread his arms to shoot left and right simultaneously, with the caveat that you can’t ditch the guns until you’re out of bullets.
After each mission, you’re awarded a series of points and awards for your performance, and the UI has been updated to provide a little more information for those that really want to push their point totals to the max, now providing a better combo indicator when kills are strung together quickly.
The first game’s aesthetic was probably one of it’s biggest selling points, and this remains generally intact in Hotline Miami 2. The same pseudo-retro super-neon look returns, loose camera and all. The game’s bright colors and feel are a real treat in motion. When coupled with the easy to pick up and very responsive controls, you have a game that, unless you’re fairly weak of stomach, is easy to get into and compelling to play.
Since it’s the last game in the series, it might be easy to be bummed out that there won’t be more to play, but we’re covered there, too. At E3, a level editor was announced for the game that will let players create an infinite amount of content for the game, making their own room layouts, filling them with set dressing, and populating it with enemies of varying behaviors. It looks simple enough to use not to be intimidating, but robust enough to ensure that every level made is unique.
The developers over at Dennaton games really made something unique and special in Hotline Miami, and it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. The game is coming to you on a variety of platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita. No release date is nailed down of yet, but it’s aimed for the third quarter of this year, so keep an eye out for it soon. Bloody trailer to follow.