Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is, at first glance, nearly indistinguishable from the blood-drenched and narcotic-fueled original. Don’t let that fool you though, underneath the familiar pixel-art are significant changes. The most immediately noticeable change is that Jacket, the first game’s protagonist, is nowhere to be seen. The media representatives at the game’s booth couldn’t answer whether or not he’d appear at all, but he wasn’t in the demo displayed on the show floor.
Instead, the demo showcased two of Wrong Number’s distinct playable segments. In the first, you were able to choose one of “The Five” to control. This group of vigilantes were inspired by the perverse ‘justice’ Jacket enacted on the Russian mafia in the first game and have struck out on their own pursuits.
The scenarios are much the same as the first game. You burst into a room and try and kill everyone as fast as you can, stringing together combos and working towards a higher score and faster completion time. This time though, each controllable character wears their own mask, similar to the ones that granted Jacket different abilities. Each character only gets one to choose from, but the differences are vastly more noticeable than the minor differences between Jacket’s masks.
Corey wears a zebra mask and is faster and more agile than his allies, able to roll away from enemies. He’s also capable of switching between whatever weapons dead enemies drop. I was a big fan of the first Hotline Miami, and Corey made me feel right at home. It was a welcome return to the attention-demanding, speedy killfests of the original.
Mark dons a bear mask and wields two sub-machine guns. Clicking the right mouse button in the demo makes Mark hold each gun on his opposite sides before firing them both Matrix-style. Taking advantage of this ability was extremely satisfying. At several points I was able to take out enemies on opposite sides of a room that had stonewalled me when controlling Corey.
Tony, the tiger, allows instant punch kills, in contrast to simply knocking enemies out when using other characters, but bans weapon pickups. Tony is the most direct link to Jacket, the mask is the same animal with the same name, but this time is torn and bloodied. The one-hit death system is still in play, and having to come so close to your enemies when they can end you just as easily makes every encounter a dangerous thrill.
The most unique members of the group were Alex and Ash, a two-person team that are controlled at the same time. Both wearing numbered swan masks, the character with the chainsaw for quick melee kills is controlled and moved around directly, while the other is essentially attached by an invisible chain, dependent on the other’s movement, and fires any guns you might find. I had a hard time adjusting to the pair, but after I did they were by far my favorites and the most rewarding to master.
The other segment on display featured a detective character who played almost exactly the same as Jacket. The only real difference I saw was that he was greeted by friendly police officers when completing a level. I get the feeling the detective segments are going to be a departure from the original game mostly in terms of the character’s story.
Speaking of departure, Wrong Number keeps the same strange sequences in between combat levels that were part of what made the original so unique. This time however, there wasn’t the same air of a drug-addled haze or confusion, though the trippy and pulse-pounding soundtrack was still there. I didn’t find myself asking if everything was actually happening like last time. Honestly, I’m glad they went with something different instead of relying on the same approach and not trying anything new.
The publisher representatives for Wrong Number said there were more unique segments in stow for the Q3 release date. One of them will be the movie-set scenario that was previously demoed. The reps were silent on what other perspectives there might be, but Wrong Number is definitely shaping up to be a more varied experience than the first game, while keeping the same intense action and thrills.