If Hotline Miami is like the electric throbbing nighttime cruise that opens Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, then Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number will be the melancholy, silhouetted knife fight montage that closes it. The first game from eccentric Swedish developer Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin at Dennaton Games was an exploration of neon rage whereas Wrong Number will be fuelled by an extra layer of sadness.
"We want to work with other emotions than just being disturbed or feeling awesome," says Dennaton Game's Dennis Wedin as he shows me the sequel in a nondescript trailer parked across from the Los Angeles Convention Center for E3. "We want to add a bit of sadness to the game, because this is the finale - this is the end for Hotline Miami."
"We want to work with that emotion: that all things end. How do you cope with that? It's also [the end] for the characters within the game. They will meet the end. Either of their lives, or their dreams, or their mission. We want to tell different stories about how you cope with that feeling."
Where the first game followed the exploits of The Jacket and The Biker, the sequel will revolve around an expanded cast. There's The Butcher, a man in a hog mask who's actually an actor starring in a movie based on the events from the first Hotline Miami. Although, like that game, the lines of reality will be blurred and it will be unclear which parts of his story are real and which are part of the movie (which is brilliantly titled "Midnight Animal").
In the other corner, there are The Fans. Like the Sons of Batman or any 14 year old who saw Fight Club when it first came out, The Fans idolize the hero[es] of the first Hotline Miami and miss the point of the story completely. "They are these wannabe guys who kind of want to be part of what happened in the first game - like this sole vigilante wearing masks. But they missed it," explains Wedin. "[Now] they're still wearing masks and driving around in their van and fighting thugs on their own and trying to get enough media attention so that maybe, someday, they will get that call and be part of it all."
"They symbolise the players who want Hotline Miami 2 to be exactly like Hotline Miami One with unlocking masks, and getting phone calls and stuff like that. Which will still be in there, but we also don't want to make the same game one more time. We want to tell a different story with a different approach." As such the Fan-based levels will be more like throwbacks to the first Hotline Miami with each stage ending with a trip back to the car, while other missions will vary their structure up more.
Another change is that you'll no longer be able to wear any mask for any level. Instead, different stages will be catered towards different factions, so a level based around The Fans will only allow you to pick from four characters. This might sound limiting, but it encourages players to try out more characters, rather than sticking with the same abilities throughout.
On that note, the overpowered Tiger Mask - capable of killing anyone with a one-hit melee punch - has been nerfed so that he can no longer pick up weapons. Elsewhere, the new Zebra character can jump through windows, opening up new navigational possibilities in certain stages.
Otherwise, not much of the core gameplay will have changed. There will be new weapons and enemies - like larger foes that are only vulnerable to gunfire or differently dressed henchmen catered to each storyline - but the the usual wait-and-strike-and-massacre-everyone-in-three-seconds mechanics will remain largely the same. "The gameplay is pretty much exactly from the first one," says Wedin. "We're super proud of how the game was running and most people seemed to enjoy it a lot, so there's no need for us to try to change it. But we're going to add more weapons and enemies and gore."
There is one exciting new addition: Hard Mode. Each stage will have a more challenging version of it unlocked by achieving a C+ or above, ala Super Meat Boy. "We'll strip away certain tool that help you - like lock-on. You'll pretty much be on your own," says Wedin. "We want to give them [hardcore players] more to work with - to be awesome at."
Hotline Miami: Wrong Number sounds like exactly the kind of sequel I'd want. The first game was so short and sweet that I went back for seconds the day after I completed it, so a sequel that follows the same template sounds palatable, while the more varied characters and somber tone should give it a distinctly different flavour, ala Kill Bill vol. 1 to Kill Bill vol. 2. It will be sad to see Hotline Miami go, but at least we'll get to go out guns blazin', crowbars flyin', and boots stompin'. And who knows, maybe we'll get to drive off into that garish glittering sunset after all.