The chemistry of Payday 2

Payday 2 is a co-op first person shooter available on Steam; you can team up with other players to perform missions such as bank heists, jewelry store robberies, rigging an election, and breaking a former teammate out of jail.  It is my husband’s current time-waster of choice, hence I know much more about this game than I would actually ever want to.

Cover art for Payday2 showing main characters Chains, Dallas, Hoxton, and Wolf
Cover art for PAYDAY 2 showing main characters Chains, Dallas, Houston, and Wolf (l-r)

One of the tasks that you can do on several missions is manufacture meth, and that is the last time I’m going to use that phrase for fear of getting really inappropriate search result hits.

In the game, there are 3 ingredients for the drug: muriatic acid, caustic soda (you have to pronounce in cow-stick soda, too), and hydrogen chloride.  These all sounds really nice and chemical-y, don’t they?  Let’s look at them one by one.

  • Muriatic acid: an older term for hydrochloric acid, also written as HCl.  I have a chemistry minor, but leaned towards the biochem side, so “muriatic acid” sounded vaguely familiar to me, but not enough that I knew what it was offhand.  HCl is strong acid, so in solution it is almost completely dissociated into H+ and Cl- ions.
Bain is giving the players instructions on what to add next.  Glad he sounds so confident…
  • Caustic soda: another name for sodium hydroxide, NaOH.  “Soda” comes from “sodium,” nothing to do with Pepsi.  NaOH is a strong base which almost completely dissociates in water into Na+ and OH- ions.
Screeshots courtesy of my husband…this is not the kind of game I play.
The ingredients in the players’ inventories (bottom left and right) look like little periodic table symbols, but it’s confusing because “Cs” is actually a real element (cesium).

In the game, players have follow a recipe diagram on the wall or to listen to instructions from Bain (though sometimes he’s wrong…) to add the ingredients in the correct order, otherwise the lab blows up.

In reality, all gen chem students know that an acid plus a base makes water and a salt (meaning an ionic compound).  In this case, it makes the most widely known salt, sodium chloride or NaCl, table salt.

HCl(aq) + NaOH(aq) → H2O + NaCl(aq)

If the acid and base solutions are added in equal amounts, you will make pH neutral salty water, as demonstrated in this video:

If you add more acid than base, the resulting solution will obviously be acidic, and vice versa.

Now, if you have some hydrochloric acid and toss in some solid NaOH, you will get a different experience.

This is because the dissolution of NaOH is highly exothermic, meaning it releases heat. Neutralization is also an exothermic reaction.  The heat given off makes everything boil, kind of like a mini-explosion.

In short, strong acids and bases such as muriatic acid and caustic soda can be fairly safe or quite dangerous depending on the circumstances, but they certainly aren’t going to produce any drugs no matter how they are mixed.

5 thoughts on “The chemistry of Payday 2

  1. bookshelfbattle April 18, 2015 / 9:07 am

    I played the first one. I love a good first person shooter but didn’t think it was that good and stopped playing after a few tries, feeling like I’d been robbed (no pun intended).

    Hate to sound like a wilting daisy but I mean yeah, they probably shouldn’t be putting out a recipe for meth out there.


    • Mei-Mei April 18, 2015 / 7:19 pm

      Lol, it seems to me that most FPS are more fun when you’re playing with other people that you actually know. This game is super buggy, too. Definitely not for everyone (like me).
      What cracks me up is that they did it so the ingredients sound all chemical-y, and then the result is…salt water. Love it.


      • Someone August 7, 2017 / 1:33 am

        Have you even seen the “hacking” in Payday?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.