Why Hotline Miami 2's Religious Experience of a Soundtrack Got Me Back Into Gaming

By Caro Rayner on at

I have a confession to make: I’m a geek who hasn’t played a game since before dial-up modems. Unlike other geeks, however, this admission does not shame me in the slightest. I’ve always been more of a music and machine buff than into shooting at things.

That said, I do remember playing games in the days of Space Quest, Maniac Mansion and Alley Cat. I remember scratching my head at the US-centric history questions you had to answer before being let into that most salacious of Sierra games, Leisure Suit Larry – only to be disappointed that the eventual sex scene was a throbbing “CENSORED” tab. I remember having to jump over, shoot at or otherwise avoid those weird little radioactive octopi in the side-scrolling version of Duke Nukem. But my interest in staring at command-prompt screens eventually gave way to sex, rock n roll, mosh pits and [really] bad poetry.

I guess you could say I’m a lapsed gamer. It’s been a while since I’ve been to church.

And how is one who’s lost their faith lured back to church? Hearing the magnificent music booming through those sacred walls. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t that bastion of amazing game soundtracks, EA’s FIFA, that flung open the cathedral doors for me, it was Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number.

Wandering into a room the other day where a friend was playing Dennaton’s latest offering was like having my brain massaged by 400 million seraphim. The game’s menu track alone was a religious experience; "Untitled" whispered soft promises of tranquil places and fantasy plotlines, an experience at least as serene and delicate as the track itself.

This was, of course, before I saw the retro pastel-shaded graphics shunting their way across the screen. Then "Detection" clicked and smacked through membranous speakers as I watched my friend choose from a variety of disturbing animal masks. As he started the first level, a twitchy affair filled with pointillist gore, “Blizzard” had me bobbing my head like a low rider cruising through the projects. I was rapt. I had to play.

Hotline Miami 2 became just something to stare at while listening to its exquisite soundtrack. I kept thinking of completing a level as skipping through a compilation to get to the next song. Hot retro electronica glitched its way through my brain as I got repeatedly splatted by baddies.

But actually paying attention to the plot of Hotline Miami 2, I was to find something that jarred with my religious rapture at its expertly curated music. This was no hot trip to heaven. This was a grimy slide straight to the other place. The game hurls myriad ugly scenes at you: snuff movies, bloody curb stomps and the rape [yes, rape] of a defenceless female character. Exploring the Options menu, I found there’s actually an option to cut out the sexual violence sequences. Since when is this optional? The game’s protagonists all wear animal masks, made more disturbing by the characters’ extreme animalistic behaviour. All this speaks to me of an awareness by the developers of Hotline Miami 2 that what they were making was on the sicker side of wish fulfilment. And none of this is mitigated by the fact that the sexual violence and gory murder is perpetrated by pixel people.

To be perfectly honest, I fairly suck at this game. My reflexes are rusty and the twitch is just too much. So the only reason to keep hammering away at it for me was the soundtrack. At least, until it’s available for retail download.

As nostalgic as Hotline Miami 2 was for a child of the era of arcade games and 386s, I eventually had to stop playing. But I can’t get that soundtrack out of my head. My initial feeling that no game could live up to such a genius compilation of synthy, glitchy awesomeness was correct.

Fortunately, a very kind uploader has posted the full Hotline Miami 2 OST on YouTube as a playlist, so there’s no need to put myself through the misanthropy of the game itself. Thank you, G-Man.

Gone are the days of films introducing me to new and interesting artists; not with the current trend towards sparkly, twee McMusic churned out by the latest beard-sporting “indie” band punted on Pitchfork. From now on, video games are where I’ll find my succour. Here is where I will be looking for the next big thing. Here, in this cathedral, is where I will rekindle my faith.

So I guess Hotline Miami 2 is not the one for me. But perhaps the next game will be…