PAX Prime Preview: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: If it Ain't Broke...

PAX Prime Preview: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number: If it Ain't Broke...

Dennis Wedin, one half of developer Dennaton games, sports neon leopard-print high tops, skinny jeans, and a t-shirt that loudly projects a curse word in bold font. His plastic water bottle barely conceals the cheap beer he has smuggled onto the PAX show floor. Wedin is Hotline Miami personified. Words can't spill out of his mouth fast enough as he describes to me the inspirations behind his game. In a nutshell, Wedin saw a hole in the spectrum of action games that needed filling. He filled it, and could not be more happy that his game found an adoring fanbase, some of whom came to PAX Prime dressed up as Hotline Miami characters. The enthusiasm Wedin has for his game is infectious, and it drips from every blood-soaked inch of Wrong Number.

Those who played the original Hotline Miami will slip into Wrong Number like a new pair of their favorite sneakers. The AI has been slightly optimized but, otherwise, the ultra-punishing, ultra-violent run-and-gun tactics of the first game have not changed. Even so, those who feel they have mastered Hotline Miami shouldn't feel like nothing has changed in Wrong Number.

Players unlock "hard mode" on any stage in which they earn at least a C+. In hard mode, there are fewer weapons to pick up, and enemies patrol more aggressively. A renewed focus on narrative context introduces new gameplay constraints, forcing players to switch up their preferred mass murder tactics.

Wedin feels that, above all, a lack of story context for the action was Hotline Miami's weak point, something he hopes Wrong Number improves. Wedin gleefully describes the story as, "Pulp Fiction-style," with events happening before, after, and during the events of the original Hotline Miami. There was a lot of exposition in the levels I played, setting up the two main characters: "the Pig Butcher," and "the Fans."

The Pig Butcher is the star of a 90's slasher flick inspired by the events of the original Hotline Miami. His level slowly eases players into Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number's frenetic action, and the envelope-pushing violence and sexual content. The Pig Butcher will always wear his pig mask, and the "you are filming a movie" conceit will introduce a variety of gameplay restrictions.

The Fans are copycats of the serial-murdering main character of the first game, roaming the street killing thugs hoping that the mysterious voicemails that guided Hotline Miami's killer will reappear. Wedin told me that "the fans" also represent Hotline Miami's fans, who want an exact clone of the first game. Their level played a bit more like you'd expect Hotline Miami 2to: start outside a building, don a mask, and mow down floor after floor of gangsters.

The stronger narrative component doesn't detract from the mystery and subtle storytelling devices present in Hotline Miami, though. Wedin said that Hotline Miami 2 will introduce as many "question marks" as it does periods. Wrong Number will also be the last game in the Hotline Miami series, so Wedin hopes that the story will explore how players cope with the universe and its many characters coming to an end.

Overall, I left my Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number appointment knowing I am going to love this game to pieces. It keeps everything I loved about the original game, while expanding upon those ideas in interesting ways that affect both the gameplay and the narrative. The neon colors of the first game are darker and more gritty. Rooms are more cluttered with interesting environmental story details. The "gore" knob is up to 11. And man, that soundtrack, still unbelievably good.

Dennis Wedin can't say yet for sure when Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number will release, but claimed that an early 2014 release is likely, with a small chance of releasing late this year.