Hotline Miami 2 Is Everything a Sequel Shouldn’t Be (and That’s Good)

If you play a lot of video games, you're probably used to cliffhangers, unresolved plot lines and an endless parade of origin stories. So it's all the more refreshing that the makers of Hotline Miami are drawing the line at one sequel.

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Devolver Digital

If you play a lot of video games, you’re probably used to cliffhangers, unresolved plot lines and an endless parade of origin stories.

So it’s all the more refreshing that the makers of Hotline Miami are drawing the line at one sequel. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, due out later this year for PC, Mac and Linux, will be the last game in the series. There will be no Hotline Miami 3, Hotline Miami: Origins or Hotline Miami: Retribution.

“This one includes all the ideas we had,” Dennis Wedin, one half of the two-man team at Dennaton Games, said during last week’s E3 Expo. His tone had a certain matter-of-factness to it, as if it was perfectly natural for a successful game not to continue in perpetuity.

The original Hotline Miami, released in 2012, was a critical darling and a huge commercial hit for such a small-scale game, with 130,000 copies sold in its first seven weeks. The old-school action would have been enjoyable enough on its own, as it tested players’ ability to aim a gun, swing a bat and dodge incoming attacks almost instantaneously. But what really sold Hotline Miami was its atmosphere–a surreal take on ’80s Miami seen through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, with a hypnotic, synthesized soundtrack. Beneath the veneer of entertainment, these psychological elements hinted at something deeper, and eventually Hotline Miami forced players to take an unsettling look at their own violent urges.

Instead of showing the game inside the Los Angeles Convention Center, publisher Devolver Digital was holding demos in a small trailer across the street. I crammed in next to a few other writers, with Wedin sitting across from us while Nigel Lowrie, Devolver’s vice president of marketing, struggled through a live demo.

Hotline Miami 2 certainly looks as difficult as its predecessor. The top-down, wobbly perspective remains intact, and Lowrie was dying a lot as he tried to clear room after room of bald-headed foes. In a painfully classic Hotline Miami moment, Lowrie violently dispatched every enemy except one, who came bursting through a nearby door. Lowrie miscalculated his angle of attack, and a split-second later his masked avatar was lying in a pool of blood, destined to start the level over again.


Devolver Digital

In a way, Hotline Miami 2 will follow the typical sequel trajectory–more levels, new weapons and more playable characters with new abilities. Wedin noted that enemies will be split into factions, each with different fighting styles and weapons. The style of music, from returning artists like Jasper Byrne and Perturbator as well as newcomers, will change for each level depending on the faction you’re fighting.

As with the first game, there’s a commentary lying beneath the surface, and Wedin said it’s all about expectations. Characters in the game have expectations for the future, and Hotline Miami’s fans have expectations for the sequel.

In fact, the game’s fans have a plot line of their own in Wrong Number. In the game, they’re painted as zealots, obsessed with the phone hotlines that ordered the original game’s protagonist to carry out gruesome contract killings. Eventually, these in-game fans take their obsession too far, and decide to become killers themselves. At the end of the demo, we see them indulge in some truly stomach-churning violence.

Wedin said he and his partner at Dennaton, Jonatan Soderstrom, want to invoke more emotions than just disgust from the player. Most of all, they want players to feel sadness.

“Because this is the end of Hotline Miami,” he said, “we want to do a comment on how all things will end eventually.”

Across the street in the convention center, where the crowds flocked to Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts, the message would be lost.