Top-down murder-sim Hotline Miami left behind a legacy of synth-fueled tracks, stylish gore and addictive gameplay, and Dennaton Games is well aware of the expectations is has to live up to, creator Dennis Wedin said during an E3 demo and interview.
The follow-up to 2012's ultra-violent title, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is molded around just that: expectations. It's the expectations of fans on what the game should or should not be, Wedin said. Or, the expectations and motivations and dreams that in-game characters have about their part in the game. According to Wedin, many of the characters for Hotline Miami 2 were already well underway during the creation of the first game. Dennaton Games began work on another franchise, but felt compelled to return to the strange universe they created one last time.
"This is the end," Wedin said. "This is the grand finale for Hotline Miami. Everything will end with this game. We also tried to give that tone to the game as well. This is the theme for the whole game. It has that sadness. All good things end."
Hotline Miami 2 picks up several years after the events of the first game. It will play similarly to the first, as shown to us during a live demo, but tries to "tell the story in a different way," Wedin said. The game features several playable characters and at least two factions, more of which will be revealed as Wrong Number nears its release. The first faction is a group of people making a slasher film about the events of Hotline Miami.
"The trailer for the first game is actually the trailer for the in-game movie," Wedin said. "That's why [the trailer] states ‘based on true events,' because it is within the universe."
"It's all flashy and cool, and then you realize that you're killing people for points."
Small touches keep the movie feel ongoing — levels within the game are labeled as new scenes. Wedin said that the movie theme was not only a "cool idea," but a way to represent how many players viewed the first game.
"It's a way of portraying the story for the first game in somebody else's eyes," Wedin said. "Some people saw the first game as a horror movie — [Jacket] was mentally ill, he was a psychopath. We wanted to, in a way, let someone else do his own version of it. The director gives enough twists to it and made it into this slasher B movie that some people saw it as."
The game's tutorial level, which was played through during our demo, begins with this faction. The player goes on one of the game's signature killing sprees, just before the "douchebag director" jumps out to lecture the film's actors.
The second faction we were introduced to is known as "the Fans." The Fans are "wannabe guys" who missed out on the vigilante movement in the first game, Wedin said. Because of Jacket's actions in Hotline Miami, the phone calls no longer come. Still, the Fans don animal masks and drive around beating up thugs in an effort to grab the attention of the media.
"They kind of symbolize people that want Hotline Miami 2 to be exactly like Hotline Miami 1," Wedin said. "They have the masks and the phonecalls. It's pretty much the same. We tried ... to give the characters different motivations to why they kill. They're hardcore fans who take it too far."
The Fans have all the game's masks, and players will unlock more members of that crew as they progress. The faction's leader even claims to have one of the masks from the first game, which is why it's bloody and torn up, Wedin said.
Like the first game, Hotline Miami 2 will have a heavy emphasis on music. Wedin said that Dennaton's goal is to keep the soundtrack vibe the same as the first, and some musicians, like Jasper Byrne, will return on the game's soundtrack. Wrong Number will also feature a new horde mode for additional difficulty, and players can expect much more detail and background story to each level, Wedin said. In one stage, for example, the bar downstairs acts as a front for a drug operation.
"People who just want to play a fun game don't have to take part in the story if they don't want to, but people who love stories and details can find a lot of that just by watching," Wedin said. "Since it's a sequel, we added more gore, more graphics and weapons and stuff like that. We're really trying to give each stage a personality and more backstory instead of just random apartments."
Dennaton hopes to create an experience that leaves a mark on its players, Wedin said — like the first Hotline, Dennaton wants players to really think about what they've done afterwards.
"You get combos and points and it's all flashy and cool, and then you realize that you're killing people for points," Wedin said. "We wanted to keep that balance. It's fun, but all of the sudden it's not fun."
Just before the demo wrapped up, we watched as one of the game's new protagonists encountered a disoriented man. Perhaps it was drugs or derangement, but the man did not heed the player as a threat until the first blow landed. He asks why the player keeps hitting him. The man just wanted to go home, he says. The player responds in turn by splitting his skull open in a spray of neon red.
"That emotion of 'you really like hurting people' is still there," Wedin said. "Even more. The Fans, they're really taking it too far."
Correction: We incorrectly identified our guide through the Hotline Miami 2 demo in the original version of this post. We apologize for the misattribution.