Don't answer that
"Do you like hurting other people?" That introspective line of dialogue was but one of many remarkable moments from the original Hotline Miami, last year's ultraviolent indie hit from Dennaton Games. Its neon, acid-soaked visuals and pixelated gore are the first thing that hit you--but there's more going on than meets the eye, as protagonist Jacket drags himself through hazy, half-imagined realities covered in blood, drugs, and animal masks. Expectations for the sequel are high. But the Dennaton duo has more in store than merely meeting the more-but-better quota of your typical follow-up.
"The main word we're working with is 'expectations,'" says Dennis Wedin, who does much of the art for the two-man team behind Hotline. "There's a lot of expectations from the players--what they want the game to be, or not to be." If you think you know what to expect from a Hotline Miami sequel--besides kick-ass music, of course--you might want to think again. Dennaton is ending the Hotline saga with a bang, and we're here to tell you all about it.
Expect a larger cast
It's not all about Jacket this time around (bonus Biker levels from the original notwithstanding). "We tried to include [the idea of expectations] within the game," says Wedin. "There's going to be a lot of playable characters, and they all have their own expectations and motivations and agenda for what their part of the game should be." You'll step into the murderous shoes of all new characters this time around, each with their own plot and perception of 1989 Miami.
Some of the new storylines are sequels to the events of the first game's rampage; others are prequels in the mystifying timeline. One thing's for sure, though: Players will ultimately have to decide what's real and what's imagined in the blood-soaked worlds these killers live in. "We're keeping the [same open-ended] approach to the story--you have to fill in the blanks yourself," says Wedin.
Expect the same skin-crawling brutality
Yes, the iconic animal masks are back--but they've evolved into characters all their own, rather than the multiple personas of the same deranged man. "Instead of just adding volume [for the animal masks], we tried to make them characters, and make each ability more diverse," says Wedin. That individuality starts right from the get-go with the Pig Butcher, a swine-skin wearing psychopath who acts as the killer in a campy slasher flick. The filming of his unnerving teenage slaughter scenes doubles as the game's tutorial.
"The [tutorial] in the first game was pretty shitty," laughs Wedin. "We pretty much added it because we had to. So we tried to do something more interesting with [Hotline Miami 2] by incorporating it into the story." Hotline Miami superfans might recognize the Pig Butcher--he first appeared in the earliest trailer for the original game, but was never playable until now.
Expect a new breed of animals
Then there are the Fans. This faction of masked vigilantes idolizes Jacket's rampage through the Russian mafia; their leader claims to wear the very same Tiger mask our nameless hero wore in the first game. But with no Russian mobsters left to exterminate, the Fans have resorted to living out their fandom by brutally beating low-life thugs, in the hopes of one day receiving a phone call from the mysterious Janitors. "They kinda symbolize the people that want the sequel to be exactly as the first game," says Wedin.
"You unlock masks, you get phone calls, you walk all the way back to your car after you've killed everyone." The Fans fill that niche nicely for those who just want more of the same. "That [kind of progression] is still gonna be in there," says Wedin, "but we also want to try to do something different. We don't want to make the same game again." In that regard, the Fans take distinct approaches to each massacre. For instance, Tiger still retains his fatal punching power, but can no longer pick up and wield weapons. Zebra can duck out of windows, completely changing the way you move through a level.
Expect to feel more
Hotline Miami's music is one of its defining traits: driving beats and trippy '80s synth that could elevate any gamer into a nirvana of violent bliss. Hotline Miami 2's soundtrack is as forceful and hypnotic as the first--but this time, there's more of it. Dennaton invited back many of the music artists from the first game, then added in a slew of artists that Dennaton discovered or vice versa.
You'll also get a broader range of reactions to the plot. "We tried to work with other emotions for the player, not just feeling disturbed or awesome, like the first one," says Wedin. "That's still in there, but we also tried to add a bit of sadness to the game. This is the final game; this is the end of Hotline Miami. We're trying to do a comment on [the concept] that 'All things end, eventually.' The characters in the game will all meet their end, in a way--the end of their lives, the end of their mission or agenda. [What matters is] how you cope with meeting the end of the road."
Expect more gloriously difficult gameplay
Part of what made Hotline Miami's exhilaratingly violent gameplay such a white-knuckle, kill-'em-all thrill was the ease with which you could die: one hit, and it's time to restart. HM2 doesn't alter the feverishly challenging formula. "We don't want to meddle too much with the core of the game, because people really love it and we really love it," says Wedin. That said, there will be a Hard Mode this time around, similar to Super Meat Boy's Dark World. Score a high enough grade in a stage, and you'll unlock a brutally tough version of it that strips away your lookout and lock-on abilities from you.
It all harkens back to the old-school games that shaped Wedin's gaming sensibilities--classics like Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, and Contra. "They punish you, and you feel like youre the worst gamer in the world," laughs Wedin. "But as you keep playing, you learn and you get betteryou get into a certain vibe with the game. Dying in a video game is part of the whole experienceyou don't feel angry because you died, you just feel like 'Let's do it again, and this time I might get a little further.'"
So, are you as stoked as we are to don your animal mask once again when HM2 drops later this year? If you've yet to experience the intensity of the original Hotline Miami, we highly recommend you check it out.
If you need a light-hearted break from all that pixelated head trauma, check out 10 signs you're playing too much Animal Crossing: New Leaf and E3 2013 if it had happened in 1983 instead.