Hotline Miami: Soundtrack Showcasing
Hotline Miami is a disturbing, violent, and gleeful romp through a stylized retro action game. Oceans of blood was spilled during my time playing it, and throughout all of it not once have I felt a single tinge of guilt, not a bit of remorse for the ridiculous amount of carnage inflicted by the character I control. Why do I not feel bad for the body count created during a mad virtual murder spree, at the discretion of a nameless voice from an answering machine recording?
If the title and overall premise of the article hasn’t clued you in, yet, the answer to that is the soundtrack.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Somewhat of a dual stick action brawler, Hotline Miami is a fast-paced murder-fest whirlwind of blood and techno, with atmosphere built using a retro aesthetic and 80s psychedelic colors. Surreal barely scratches the surface here, and The experience is one intense fever dream of player deaths and restarts, and holy hell is it not messing around.
This is a very violent game, blood and squishy noises are scattered liberally throughout the experience, and the game has an overall dark vibe. The hitman you control is ruthless, using all manner of weapons to dispatch those who are in his way. Animal masks are selected at the beginning of each level, giving the player an assortment of different buffs and abilities, used to supplement different styles of play.
You use fists and weapons procured on site to dispose of patrolling thugs in whatever style you see fit, punching and shooting your way through multiple floors until you reach whatever goal the particular level demands of you. The AI is tenacious and brutal, though don’t make the mistake that they’re intelligent. They’ll come at you with everything they have as soon as they lay eyes on you, and they have an almost uncanny pinpoint accuracy. Fortunately that’s about as far as their skill goes, which will be immediately apparent once you first see them forget you twenty seconds after you very clearly shot at them from mere feet away.
Without getting too much into a review state of mind here, I do think the game is pretty fantastic, without even talking about the music. Adding the soundtrack into it, though, turns it into a downright sublime experience.
Unlike the other games I’ve talked about so far, Hotline Miami’s soundtrack wasn’t all done by one person. Instead, musical duties are handed out to a collection of electronic artists. Though the music comes from a smattering of different people, the atmosphere and musical aesthetic is never broken and the style of the music is consistent the entire way through. Dark and grungy with a feverish intensity could describe the entire package.
Most of the stages in game are set to fast paced dance tracks, songs you could hear playing in an uncomfortably sketchy dance club that you drunkenly stumbled into on a particularly misguided Saturday night. It’s adrenaline-pumping stuff, the kind of music that feels right at home playing during the action parts of the game. If you’re anything like me, it’s not uncommon to snap out of a particular trance and realize you’ve been nodding your head for the last half an hour. That is, if you weren’t too busy cursing the screen in front of you.
The game is balls to the wall hard, and absolutely relentless. Not to sound like I’m repeating ideas from Dustforce, but the music keeps the flow going during multiple restarts and do-overs. The music is one continuous loop, unbroken when you are killed and are forced to restart. The transition is seamless, and the feeling given to the player becomes like taking a minor setback and immediately getting a surge of confidence as you resolve to try again, but only less embarrassing this time around.
Instead of leading to frustration, these restarts end up only ramping up the intensity. Each press of the restart button imbues a little more determination, and I find as time goes on my brow furrows more and more, until after a dozen or so tries I realize I’m giving the game the stink eye. Not that that’s a bad thing, because when I finally reach the end of the level, I feel a surge of relief, because I truly feel like I have at that point outsmarted the enemy. The thug placement is like a puzzle and the music urges you on to dispatch them in the most efficient way possible.
Probably the most important achievement that the music accomplishes, though, is how it masks the horrible brutality of the game. Yes the graphics are simplistic and not really detailed, but the amount of blood and entrails involved are over-the-top, and the sound effects used are enough to make me cringe.
The game can be played with the music disabled, and I recommend trying it out at least once. It's a good Call me queasy, but I’m not sure I could stomach multiple hours of that. The music makes you feel justified in what you’re doing. Grunge and general skeeze mix with the cool and smooth, making music that fits the heinous acts being committed on screen.
So, in summary: Hotline Miami is violent, like super violent, but the music takes the uncomfortable edge off, leaving a game that manages to make you feel cool for committing ridiculous murder. I’ll leave the morality of that up to you.