Game That Tune

Hotline Miami

Vice Vice Baby

Hotline Miami’s soundtrack is so smooth, you could almost forget about the mass homicide.

By Derrick Sanskrit • July 11, 2013

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

Hotline Miami is a filthy game—a beautiful, serene oasis of depraved muck and mire, with a degree of explicit violence and mind-bending psychotropics that would cause Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch to look at each other and agree “well, that might be a bit too much.” It invites players to soak in the perversion of it all and find a sense of calm within the blood-soaked carnage. Of course, it certainly helps that the soundtrack is as grimy and sparse as the world it underscores.

Hotline Miami’s music is just as smooth as its visuals are hard-edged. M.O.O.N.’s “Hydrogen,” one of the most popular tracks from the soundtrack, is the perfect example. A single bass note lazily tromps along—left and right—around the player’s head as if to say, “Same shit, different day.” The percussion is gentle, yet mechanical. It’s unrelenting and methodical, but it never gets up in your face. It’s just getting the job done, albeit with a healthy dose of swagger. This working-day-walkabout is all you get for the first minute, and then the synth comes in. Oh, that synth. Like the bass, it’s just the one tone, gradually being processed through agonizing analog filters like a Korg MS-10. The dials are twisted and wrung like blood from your driving gloves as the synth’s voice is distressed and sunburnt in Miami’s neon heat. It’s harsh, yet warm—disturbing, yet comforting. Underneath that mask, no one can see you smiling as you tap along with the beat.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

47 Responses to “Vice Vice Baby”

  1. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Yes! Great choice, for both game and tune. I think I have the soundtrack for this game kicking around from one of the Game Music Bundles, but I have yet to put it on my MP3 player.

    If I recall, Hotline Miami did one of the things I like about restart-intensive games: they don’t restart the soundtrack when you start the level over. The music in the game is great, but I doubt I’d be so fond of it if I only ever heard the first fifteen seconds of any given track.

    • lokimotive says:

      That’s a really good point. I think continuing the song after you die minimizes the punishment of dying; it sort of acknowledges the inevitability of it: “Yes you died, but things are just going to keep going around here.” It’s actually an incredibly important design decision of the game, and one that I guess I never even realized until you pointed out.

      It doesn’t hurt that Hotline Miami has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s obvious that the designers were familiar with these tracks and sort of wrapped them all up in the aesthetic of the game: the right way to do licensed tracks. I had actually heard a smattering of the tracks before the game, particularly Sun Araw’s contributions, but the game uses them so well that I almost completely forgot that I had heard it before. The title screen’s slow trippy drive past palm trees is so in tune with Horse Steppin’ it’s hard for me to extract it from that imagery. But ‘Hydrogen’ is really the best example. To me it IS Hotline Miami, this repetitious paranoia, comforting and unnerving. 

    • PaganPoet says:

      One of my biggest pet peeves about old JRPGs with random encounters is dungeon music that restarts after every battle. You never get to hear the full track in game that way.

    • It’s a hugely important part of games with instant-restarts like that, so that your flow isn’t interrupted and you’re allowed to just keep at it without ever feeling punished simply because the game happens to be incredibly difficult. Super Meat Boy did it. Both BIT.TRIP Runners did it (though Runner2 was less successful, I frequently found the sudden shift from Ultra down to Hyper very unpleasant to my ears). It allows your full experience, failures and all, to feel like one whole experience rather than a series of failures followed by one successful experience.

    • Girard says:

      ALSO: Anyone who has the game has the soundtrack, as Cactus just has the MP3s in the game’s install directory for the game to load. Hooray for GameMaker technology!

  2. PaganPoet says:

    I’m a big fan of minimalist music in most of its forms, although I admit a lot of minimalist electronic genres can get a bit tiring. Many of my favorite pop songs of all time are very minimalist in nature (Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill, Kylie Minogue – Slow).

    I haven’t played Hotline Miami yet, but considering this groovy track and all the love it seems to get here in GS, I suppose I should check it out.

    • PaganPoet says:

      On second listen, this track kind of reminds me of “212” by Azealia Banks. Minus the foul-mouthed rap, of course.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Hotline Miami is cool as hell if you can tolerate the huge (awesome) violence. It’s a pretty lurid game, so I recommend it more to people who are into that kind of stuff. The soundtrack can stand on it’s own if you don’t really dig the game, but I’d recommend at least trying to play it a couple times first. 

      • Roswulf says:

        You also need to have reasonably decent reflexes. If you suck enough, it’s a joyless slog.

    • GaryX says:

      I listened to the soundtrack for months before actually playing the game (loved the game). Also check out “Miami” & “Knock Knock” (dat dirty bass).

      • caspiancomic says:

         Knock Knock is my favourite track in the game. It actually sounds kind of frightening to me without the context of the game.

      • Chum Joely says:

        I love “Hydrogen”, “Paris”, and “Knock Knock”, but for some reason, “Crystals” is the one that sticks with me. But they all have that quality of being hypnotic or trance-like, but with a bludgeoning beat.

    • Girard says:

      Oh, sweet heavens, YES, PLAY THIS GAME. It’s $2.50 on Steam, gawdangit!!

  3. SO much good stuff on this soundtrack.  I love in particular both of the Pertubator tracks:

  4. Knarf Black says:

    I first played Hotline Miami on the PC shoved inside of my crude MAME cabinet. It was practically impossible to refrain from dancing or shuffling my feet to the music.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      That is baller as fuck.

    • Girard says:

      Does your MAME cabinet have a trackball for the mouselook? That would be HOTTTTT.

      • Knarf Black says:

        It does (not gonna lie, it’s an X-arcade setup that I’ve thinly justified with the cab’s post-apocalyptic red & black theme) but Hotline Miami’s controls are too complex to translate. A controller is my preferred method anyway; I lose track of the cursor and get eaten by dogs when I play with a mouse.

        • Girard says:

          I am amazed that folks can get the requisite accuracy with dual joysticks. Though I imagine it’s super fun to play Hotline Miami Robotron-style.

  5. ItsTheShadsy says:

    Such a great soundtrack. “Paris” and “Miami” are definitely my favorite tracks of the bunch. Perfect blend of 80s style with the game’s darker, weirder edge.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

       The menu music Horses Steppin doesn’t fit aesthetically as much with the neon 80s vibe but it’s still my favorite just because it sounds so damn crazy.  It reproduces that fuzzy feeling you get waking up from a dream when you don’t know what’s real for about 5 seconds.

  6. BarbleBapkins says:

    Hotline Miami’s soundtrack is just about perfect. It is definitely part of the ever growing group of videogame soundtracks that I’ll find myself still listening to ages after I’ve finished the game.

    Luckily, if you have it on Steam, if you right click Hotline Miami on the game list and select “Properties”, go to the “Local Files” tab and then click on the “Browse Local Files” button, you will find the entire soundtrack in .ogg files that you can copy and move to your music playing apparatus of choice.

    • GaryX says:

      What other songs fit that mold for you guys?

      While people didn’t love the game completely, I thought the soundtrack for Max Payne 3 was goddamn great.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Bastion and Frozen Synapse had awesome soundtracks that I made sure to actually download them. I also looooove to listen to the Donkey Kong Country 2 and Yoshi’s Island soundtracks. I got those through shadier means, but they are still in my music library all the same. 

        OH! Katamari Damacy! 

        I know there are some more but I can’t think of them. I really like the Rhythm Heaven soundtrack, but have never really listened to that one outside of the game.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Donkey Kong Country 2 – Stickerbrush Symphony


        • GaryX says:

          I love all the Donkey Kong Country OST. Probably my favorite thing from those games.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Bastion absolutely. I got the soundtrack with the game in HiBV, and still listen to it all the time. Actually, I listen to loads of game music even after being done with their games (or even independently of their games entirely.) Journey, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Persona 3, The World Ends With You…

          Also recently I’ve been jamming to this, particularly tracks 3, 4, and 7 on the top row. Not surprisingly a killer soundtrack.

        • Matt Kodner says:

          @PaganPoet:disqus in high school I got a reputation for dancing around to Rattle Battle like a damn fool. I love that soundtrack to death. 

      • BarbleBapkins says:

        Definitely Bastion for me as well. And as far as fairly recent indie games go, the Machinarium and VVVVVV soundtracks are both wonderful, too.

        Megaman as a series obviously has some great songs, but there only a few I really ever want to listen to outside of the games, like Flame Man’s theme from Megaman 6.

      • Chum Joely says:

        I bought the soundtrack to Sword and Sworcery EP after we played it for our Gameological Revue game a while back. It’s definitely not as thoroughgoingly awesome as Hotline Miami‘s– part of the reason is maybe that Hotline‘s music stands alone as full tracks, while S&S‘s sounds more like pure videogame music– but there are a number of tracks on there that I listen to pretty frequently (Ode to a Room, Bones McCoy, Death to Everyone, Unknowable Geometry and even Dark Flute).

      • Matt Gerardi says:

        All great picks in here, but come on. No one has mentioned Fez? It’s definitely the one game soundtrack that I’ve listened to most (outside of the game). Even those remix albums are great!

        Hotline is probably a distant second, followed by either Bastion or Rayman Origins. (IT’S JUST SO ZANY.)

        • GaryX says:

          Ah, yeah Fez is good. It’s real ambient heavy, but I love some of those tracks.

        • I was going to say I can’t imagine listening to the Rayman Origins soundtrack on its own with any real frequency, but I totally caught myself whistling one of the Lum tunes while washing dishes last night (no joke).

    • Girard says:

      The only game soundtrack I listen to regularly is Hotline Miami’s, for sure. I’ll occasionally listen to great old MegaMan tunes, though, and the only ‘game soundtrack’ I ever actually bought on purpose was a CD of the (awesome) Rockman Dash soundtrack, which is awesome and which I still listen to from time to time.

  7. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    YESSSS! It was only a matter of time, but still, YES!

    M.O.O.N.’s tracks were my favorite from HM, and this one is probably my favorite out of those. SO GOOD.

    Also, apparently he is James Murphy’s nephew. Neat!

  8. GaryX says:

    There was a great bit on Ryan Davis memorial Bombcast where they talked about this game basically being like someone made a love letter to him. If that doesn’t make him an awesome guy, I don’t know what does.

    (Also, apparently he was a really chronic AV Clubber. Wonder if he came over this way.)

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Oh, have you never seen them interact with ZODIACMOTHERFUCKER online? I assume that’s how they found him.  I think those men got worse between Gamespot and Giant Bomb, but I can’t deny how funny and odd it was when they’d read his stuff during the Bombcast or trade barbs back and forth over Twitter.

      Ryan seemed cool enough to have at least investigated the site, but, honestly, they’re probably on opposite ends of the spectrum.

      Edit: HA! A fitting tribute.

      • GaryX says:

        I knew about his interactions with ZMF on Twitter but wasn’t sure if it was just there. One of the best things Giantbomb ever did was have ZMF make a best of the year list (twice!) over which the community collectively lost its shit. 

  9. Roswulf says:

     As a public service announcement, the Steam Summer Sale just began and Hotline Miami for $2.50 is one of the initial round of deals.

  10. Chum Joely says:

    After you’ve played this game for a while (my Steam profile tells me that I’ve played it for 51 hours, but I think almost half of that comes from accidentally leaving it on pause overnight a few times), another great use for it is to put it on your portable player of choice and listen to it in public places. Now the local supermarket can also be the scene of (imagined?) murder and mayhem too!

  11. NakedSnake says:

    I clicked on this article just to see what the gif would be, but I stayed for the music. I forgot about how awesome this track was and how well it synched up with the manic destruction you could wreck when the kill-engine was firing on all cylinders.

  12. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    Oh man, I don’t know if I’ve been indoctrinated into some sort of Clockwork Orange conditioning mechanism but the moment that music started up I had an undeniable urge to kick down a door and start swinging a lead pipe.