Among the numerous video games from the last few years (especially the indies) drawing heavily from a saturated neon-filtered 80's aesthetic, particularly with the influx of synthwave-inflected soundtracks, one of the earliest games seemingly spearheading this trend, Hotline Miami, still stands among the tallest.
I feel that this game has a certain edge over much of its bretheren. It may still be steeped in the most garish, outlandish recollection of what the 80's were, and it does have the (fucking awesome) soundtrack embodying the same thing, but it’s not purely pleasant. The Hotline Miami games, from the narrative and gameplay down to its visuals, is a seedy and often directly antagonistic affair, its pleasures mixed in with a nightmarish bent.
Their curated soundtracks, in turn, are such standouts because of how they match that vibe to a tee. How many other 80's synthwave-inflected games have the audacity to inflict an insomnia-invoking Sun Araw track on their players as a recurring motif? Even some of the less punishing songs still sound at least a little demented, like there’s still something not quite right. Listening to it is to constantly feel on edge, never afforded the chance to take a real breather.
Well, that’s true for the most part. There is one song, however, that bucks those tendencies, and stands out precisely for being such an exception. It also happens to be one of my favorite songs from the original game.
Those glassy Mannheim Steamroller synths lay atop deep bass notes so tightly, that the end result is pure nocturnal chill. This is late nighttime driving music for when there is practically no one else on the road. Is it therefore any surprise that “Miami” was used as a video game level-complete theme? Hopefully not, considering Jasper Byrne’s video game composer bona-fides.
It is an especially perfect fit for the role it plays in Hotline Miami, because it’s the one single thing in the whole damn game that completely lets up on the antagonizing and allows for a moment of relaxation. The calm—short-lived though it may be—is a welcome and necessary change of pace from the carnage and disorientation that characterizes the rest of the experience.
RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime.