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Hotline Miami

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Hotline Miami
Cover art by Niklas Åkerblad, featuring Jacket, the Girlfriend, the Biker, and the three masked personas
Developer(s)Dennaton Games
Publisher(s)Devolver Digital
Programmer(s)Jonatan Söderström
Artist(s)Dennis Wedin
  • Jonatan Söderström
  • Dennis Wedin
23 October 2012
  • Windows
    • WW: 23 October 2012
  • OS X
    • WW: 18 March 2013
  • PS3, PS Vita
    • NA: 25 June 2013
    • EU: 26 June 2013
  • Linux
    • WW: 9 September 2013
  • PlayStation 4
    • NA: 19 August 2014
    • EU: 20 August 2014
  • Android
    • WW: 30 March 2015
  • Hotline Miami Collection
  • Nintendo Switch
    • WW: 19 August 2019
  • Xbox One
    • WW: 7 April 2020
  • Stadia
    • WW: 22 September 2020
  • PS5, Xbox Series X/S
    • WW: 23 October 2023
Genre(s)Top-down shooter

Hotline Miami is a 2012 top-down shooter game developed by Dennaton Games and published by Devolver Digital. In the game, players take on the role of an unnamed silent protagonist—dubbed "Jacket"—while committing massacres against the local Russian mafia. In each level of the game, the player is tasked with defeating every single enemy through any means possible, ranging from firearms and melee weapons, to more specific methods such as knocking enemies out with doors and finishing moves. Before beginning each level, the player can choose from a variety of different masks, which offer unique abilities. The game is set in Miami in 1989, and primarily tells its story through cryptic dream cutscenes where mysterious masked figures berate Jacket for his actions and foreshadow upcoming events.

Hotline Miami was developed as the first commercial release of developers Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin, who both faced financial difficulties following past development ventures. Using a scrapped prototype developed by Söderström years prior as a basis, the team developed Hotline Miami throughout the course of nine months. The game was released in October 2012 for Windows, with the game being ported to OS X and Linux the next year in March and September respectively. Console versions that added additional content, partially developed by Abstraction Games, were released for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita that year in June as well. A version for PlayStation 4 followed in August 2014.

Hotline Miami received generally positive reviews from critics upon release, with praise focused on its atmosphere, soundtrack, and gameplay. The game's themes and storytelling were also a point of discussion, with critics commenting on the games take on an "anti-violence" message by using exaggerated brutality to make the player feel guilt. A sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, was released in March 2015. Hotline Miami was re-released alongside its sequel as part of the localized Hotline Miami: Collected Edition in Japan that same year. Another compilation, the Hotline Miami Collection, released on Nintendo Switch in August 2019, and was later ported to Xbox One, Stadia, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S in the following years.

Since release, Hotline Miami has been considered to be one of the greatest video games of all time, as well as one of the most influential indie games. Its success inspired many to begin developing games themselves, contributing to a rise in indie game releases during the 2010s. Many of the games created during this period had elements influenced from Hotline Miami, ranging from gameplay to its soundtrack and narrative. It has considered the "breakout title" of its publisher Devolver Digital, and many of its published games have been inspired by Hotline Miami.


The protagonist Jacket on the level Hot and Heavy, shooting a machine gun at Russian Mafia breaking down the door.
A screenshot of the player engaging in a standoff with the Russian Mafia. The points are visible on the top right of the image.

Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter game set in Miami during the 1980s.[1] The game is divided into several chapters,[2] which is further divided up into floors.[3] At the beginning of each chapter, the player character "Jacket"[a] receives a message his answering machine, instructing him to travel to a different part of Miami and eliminate all enemies there. The player is able to defeat their opponents through a variety of melee and ranged attacks, ranging from knives and crowbars to guns.[1] Additional methods available to the player include knocking out enemies with a door, using them as a human shield as defense, or kicking them against the wall. If the enemy is not immediately killed in an attack, the player can perform a finishing move.[3][6]

Before each chapter begins, the player can choose from a variety of animal masks,[4] which grant different abilities depending on the mask chosen. These attributes include the players gunshots being silenced or finishing moves being sped up.[3] Both the player and enemies can be felled from a single attack. To compensate, the player is able to quickly restart the current stage after death, allowing the player to rethink their strategy.[7] Additional types of enemies appear throughout the game, such as dogs.[7] Additionally, enemy AI is inconsistent, with reactions to attacks ranging from responding immediately to attacks or sounds to doing absolutely nothing.[2]

The player is awarded points with each enemy they kill, with the amount of points awarded being determined by the method of execution or the amount of enemies killed in a short duration of time.[6] At the end of each chapter, the players total score is tallied up and the player is given a final rating based on their performance. High scores will unlock new masks and weapons for the player to use.[8][3]



In April 1989, Jacket receives a message on his answering machine and a package is delivered to his door containing a rooster mask. Alongside the package, there are strict instructions advising Jacket to retrieve a briefcase from the Russian mafia at a metro station using violence. Jacket continues to receive messages on his answering machine instructing him to conduct more massacres. After each massacre, Jacket visits a store or a restaurant where a man known as Beard[b] meets him and gives away free items such as pizza, films, and alcoholic beverages. During an assault on the estate of a film producer, Jacket rescues a girl and takes her to his apartment, nursing her back to good health and developing a romantic relationship with her. After this assault, Jacket is visited by three masked personas who question him for his actions, with these encounters continuing throughout the game. In another assault on a phone company, Jacket finds everybody dead except another operative known as the Biker, who is attempting to access a computer, and the two fight to the death.[c]

As Jacket continues his massacres, his perception of reality becomes increasingly more surreal. Talking corpses begin appearing at Beard's places of work, and eventually Beard himself abruptly dies, replaced by a bald man named Richter that offers Jacket nothing. After coming home one night, Jacket discovers his girlfriend murdered and a rat-masked man on his couch, who shoots him and places him into a coma. In one final encounter with the masked persona Richard, he tells Jacket that he will "never see the full picture". It is afterwards revealed that Jacket was reliving the events of the past two months while comatose after being shot by Richter. After waking up, Jacket overhears that his attacker has been put in police custody, and escapes the hospital in search of him. He storms Miami police headquarters, killing everyone inside and finds his attacker to be Richter, who had also been receiving messages on his answering machine. After interrogating him, Jacket spares his life and steals the file on the police investigations of the killings before heading to a nightclub that the calls were tracked to. He finds the address to be that of the Russian Mafia headquarters, kills all of the guards, and confronts both leaders of the syndicate. After Jacket kills his personal bodyguard and injures his hands, one of the leaders "spares him the pleasure" and commits suicide. When Jacket confronts the other, he contemplates the things he did and allows Jacket to kill him without resistance. Afterwards, a victorious Jacket walks out onto the balcony and lights a cigarette, taking a photo out of his pocket and throwing it out.

After the completion of the Jacket levels, the player unlocks a series of levels where the player character is the Biker. Similarly to Jacket, the Biker has been receiving messages on his answering machine, and is dedicated to identify their source. After the encounter with Jacket depicted earlier and various interrogations, he finds the source of the messages to be 50 Blessings, a group operated by two janitors that attempts to undermine the Russo-American Coalition, which they view as "anti-American", by ordering their operatives to commit numerous anti-Russian massacres. The game features two endings, with the full ending requiring the player to find puzzle pieces scattered throughout the game to crack 50 Blessings' password. If the player manages to crack the password, the Biker uncovers their secrets and political agenda. Without the password, the Biker is mocked and fails to discover the truth. In both endings, the player has the option to either kill or spare the janitors. Afterwards, the Biker departs from Miami.[10][11]

Themes and analysis[edit]

Hotline Miami advocates an anti-violence message through making the player feel guilt for their in-game massacres.[12] The game utilizes upbeat music and a score system to drive the player to commit the massacres, though the violence in each killing is emphasized through gruesome executions that have over exaggerated gore. Examples of these executions include disfiguring enemies with boiling water, shooting dogs with shotguns, and bashing enemy heads in with baseball bats. As the game is fast paced, the player may enter a state where they're focused exclusively on their inputs and become desensitized to the actions they are committing, assuming they were not already desensitized.[10][12] According to Pitchfork's Nina Corcoran, the game's upbeat soundtrack contributes to this by ratcheting the players anxiety and increasing player focus, while also desensitizing them.[13] At the end of each level, the upbeat music is replaced with ambience as the player exits the building as the motionless, gory remains of enemies flood the floor.[10]

Throughout the game, the aforementioned masked personas that appear in Jacket's dreams attempt to make the player question themselves over their actions. Each of the masked personas serve a specific purpose in these encounters; the yellow-tinted Richard is often inquisitive, the blue-tinted Don Juan is often passive and friendly, while the red-tinted Rasmus is extremely aggressive. Don Juan interrogates the player through messages such as "knowing oneself means acknowledging one’s actions", while Richard does so with more direct messages such as "do you like hurting other people?"[11] Additionally, the masked figures never reveal any details about the identity of Jacket, and repeatedly make that point clear despite the rest of the game continuing teasing the player.[14] The masked figures also foreshadow upcoming events in the game's narrative. For example, after the player kills Biker, Richard warns Jacket that he will be "all alone soon." Shortly after, Jacket and his girlfriend are shot by Richter, and Jacket wakes up from a coma months later.[10][11] Contrarily to the masked personas, the group of janitors that operate 50 Blessings attempt to justify the massacres the player commits, with one stating that "they were all scum anyway, weren’t they?"[11]

The differing behavior of the masked figures were noted by Luca Papale and Lorenzo Fazio to possibly represent a dissociative identity disorder in Jacket.[4] Similar thoughts were written by Marco Caracciolo of the University of Groningen, who believed that the masked personas to possibly be "projections of Jacket’s disturbed psyche." He additionally wrote that the games plot is 'destined not to make any sense", citing the behavior of the masked figures as well as the contradictions between the perspectives of Jacket and the Biker.[14] Papale and Fazio considered Jacket to be an example of the first example of a "meta-avatar", a type of character with the ability to cause players to rethink their own actions and cause instability within their identity.[4] This type of character was compared to Doomguy from the DOOM series and Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series, both of which were considered to fall under "mask digital prosthesis", which refers to the overlapping of identities between a player and a game's protagonist.[4]


A 25 year old Swedish man in a grey jacket, black pants, and green hat speaking at a conference.
Designer and programmer Jonatan Söderström at the Game Developers Conference in 2010

Hotline Miami was developed by Dennaton Games, a team composed of designer and programmer Jonatan Söderström and artist Dennis Wedin.[15] Söderström had previously developed numerous freeware indie games, such as the puzzle game Tuning,[16] which won the Nuovo Award at the Independent Games Festival in 2010.[17] Around this time, he developed numerous projects that went unfinished and never got released, which he put in a group known as the "unfinished and unreleased box". Among these was a top-down shooter tilted Super Carnage, a game where the goal was to kill as many people as possible. He began development of Super Carnage in 2004 at the age of 18, but abandoned the project after facing difficulties with developing the game's AI.[18] Years later, Söderström met Wedin, a singer and keyboard player for synthpunk band Fucking Werewolf Asso. The two collaborated in making a promotional game based on the band, titled Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, as well as a separate project named Life/Death/Island. The latter became too much work for them to handle, and the project was abandoned. Following this, the two experienced financial difficulties and decided their next game would be a commercial release. Wedin began searching through Söderström's unfinished projects, and came across the Super Carnage project.[18] Seeing potential in the concept, the two began developing Hotline Miami. It was originally named Cocaine Cowboy, named after the 2006 documentary of the same name.[18][19]

The game was developed using the GameMaker engine over the course of nine months.[18] Uncertain on whether or not the game would be successful, combined with developing the game with little to no budget, the team repeatedly lost and regained motivation. In an interview with Edge Wedin described the development of the game as "fucking hard".[18] During development, Wedin faced mental health related issues following a break up, and was hospitalized for two weeks.[20] Due to being developed with an outdated version of GameMaker that had compatibility issues with newer operating systems, Dennaton faced numerous strange problems while developing the game, dealing with various bugs reported by playtesters. One of these bugs was one that would cause the game to crash if certain printers were plugged into the players computer. The team also faced difficulties with developing the game's AI, conflicted on whether to make it more "believable" or to intentionally make it varied in behavior. The team chose the latter.[18]

Before they began development on the game, the team watched numerous movies to use as inspiration for its writing. Among these were the works of David Lynch, the superhero comedy film Kick-Ass (2010), the Miami-oriented aforementioned documentary Cocaine Cowboys, and Drive (2010).[18][21] In an interview, Söderström described that Lynch's work left the largest influence overall. With Drive in particular, Söderström was a fan of the film's minimal dialogue and critique of violence, inspiring Söderström to create a game that had similar aspects. This led to the creation of Hotline Miami's masked personas and the scenes they appear in.[18] The character Beard was based on artist Niklas Åkerblad, a friend of Dennaton and the owner of the apartment the two developed the game in.[22] Other inspirations that impacted the games narrative include Gordon Freeman, the silent protagonist of the Half-Life series.[21]


The soundtrack of Hotline Miami was a focus of the developers, with Söderström describing that they found it to be a "crucial" element. Their goal was to create a soundtrack that did not sound "like game music", but rather a soundtrack from a movie.[19][13] After failing to obtain the licenses for a temporary soundtrack they put together early in the games development, the team began searching Bandcamp for tracks that were free to download; according to Söderström, the team listened to up to two thousand tracks. Some artists (such as M.O.O.N.) were found through this process, while other artists such as Scattle contacted Dennaton themselves after seeing blog posts of the games development. Tracks from M.O.O.N. were directly added to the game, while Scattle was tasked with composing unique music inspired by movies Hotline Miami was based on using Renoise.[19] Other artists Dennaton licensed music from included Coconuts and Sun Araw,[23] and artists such as Åkerblad (under the alias "El Huervo") made direct contributions themselves.[24]

Marketing and release[edit]

During the development of Hotline Miami, the game development studio Vlambeer submitted a demo of the game to Devolver Digital after they expressed interest in Dennaton's work. Upon receiving the copy of the game, members of Devolver such as co-founder Graeme Struthers found the game to be enjoyable, and a deal was made to publish the game. They presented it at the Rezzed exposition in Brighton,[18] where it was praised by attendees, being the most played game at the expo and winning the Game Of The Show award; Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer described the game as the "best example of the sort of game we invented the show for."[25] For the game's promotion, Dennaton purchased a phone number in the Miami area that allowed people to leave messages that would later be used in the game's trailer.[26] Hotline Miami released on Steam on 23 October 2012.[27] Support for MacOS and Linux released on 19 March and 19 September respectively in 2013.[28][29] The game's box art was designed by Åkerblad.[22]

An update released in early November 2012 fixed numerous bugs, added support for gamepads, and made minor adjustments to graphics and gameplay. This update also added a bonus level known as "Highball", which has no relation to any other levels in the game.[30] Alongside this update, Söderström developed numerous patches for pirated versions of Hotline Miami after several users of The Pirate Bay reported issues with the game, stating that he wanted players to "experience the game the way it's meant to be experienced", regardless of whether they bought the game or pirated it.[31] The game's soundtrack was released via Steam in January 2013.[32]

Versions of Hotline Miami for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita released on 25 July 2013 in North America, and a day later in Europe. These ports were handled by Abstraction Games, and supported cross-buy, allowing players who purchased the game on one platform to receive it on the other.[33][34] These ports also added a bonus mask, leaderboards, and touchscreen support on Vita.[34] A version for PlayStation 4, also supporting cross-buy, released on 19 August 2014.[35][36] A Japan-localized compilation, featuring Hotline Miami alongside its sequel Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2015), titled Hotline Miami: Collected Edition, was released in June 2015.[37] On 19 August 2019, Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 were re-released as part of the Hotline Miami Collection for Nintendo Switch.[38] The Hotline Miami Collection was later ported to Xbox One and Stadia on 7 April and 22 September 2020 respectively,[39][40] and PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S on 23 October 2023.[41]


Critical reception[edit]

Hotline Miami released to generally positive reviews. Metacritic calculated a score of 85 based on 51 reviews for the Windows version, 87 based on 19 reviews on PlayStation 3, and 85 based on 27 reviews on PlayStation Vita.[42]

The fast-paced gameplay of Hotline Miami was praised. Several reviewers considered the game to be enjoyable despite constant death, with some attributing the enjoyment to the ability to restart quickly;[1][3][43] Polygon's Chris Plante compared playing the game to be similar to playing a sport,[6] and Graham Smith of PC Gamer wrote that the game was meant to "inspire a fever."[7] Citing the game's short length, though still enjoying the game, GameSpot's Danny O'Dwyer compared playing the game to doing cocaine, writing that "like most cocaine-fueled rampages, it's short-lived but memorable."[3] Some criticisms were made towards the games controls and length, with Ben Reeves of Game Informer writing that the controls inhibited what was otherwise "one of the most creative indie titles of the year".[1]

The game's atmosphere and art direction were very positively received. Cameron of VideoGamer.com wrote that the atmosphere does "an awfully good job of desensitizing you to the violence".[45] Smith of PC Gamer praised the game's story for not attempting to give a cliché justification for the player's violence.[7] Danny O'Dwyer of GameSpot described the game as a "wonderful barrage of the senses".[3] The atmosphere and violence was not without some criticism however, such as that from Chris Kohler of Wired, who named Hotline Miami the "most disgusting video game of all time".[47]

The soundtrack was acclaimed across various publications for working with the game's atmosphere. Reeves of Game Informer praised the music, describing it to "perfectly place you inside the mind of a serial killer".[1] Giancarlo Saldana of GamesRadar+ and Onyett of IGN described the music as "very effective" and "meshing perfectly" respectively.[2][8]


Before release, the game was the recipient of both Eurogamer's and Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Game of the Show award at their inaugural EGX Rezzed expo.[48][49] After release, the game received the "Best PC Sound" accolade by IGN from its "Best of 2012" awards.[50] It was also nominated for "Best PC Action Game",[51] "Best PC Story",[52] "Best PC Game",[53] "Best Overall Action Game",[54] "Best Overall Music",[55] and "Best Overall Game".[56] PC Gamer awarded the game with "The Best Music of the Year 2012".[57] At the 2012 Machinima's Inside Gaming Awards, the game received the "Most Original Game" award.[58][59]


Hotline Miami has been considered one of the most influential, critically and financially successful indie games,[60][61][62] with its success inspiring many to begin developing video games[60] and contributing to the increase in indie game releases throughout the 2010s.[13] Many of these games took inspiration from the game's elements, often incorporating similar narrative themes or gameplay mechanics, or having similar soundtracks.[60][13] Games inspired by Hotline Miami continued to be made over a decade after its release,[62] ranging from indie games to games with larger budgets and development teams (informally known as "triple-A" games) like The Last of Us Part II (2020).[60] The game has also been attributed to the success of its publisher, Devolver Digital, being considered its "breakout title." Since the game's success, Devolver Digital has become one of the most successful indie game publishers, with many of its titles being influenced by Hotline Miami.[61]

The game's soundtrack has also been influential separately from the game itself,[63][64] being considered a primarily influence on the popularization of the synthwave music genre alongside Drive.[64] According to Pitchfork, many of the video games inspired by Hotline Miami often featured similar music in their soundtracks.[13] In the book The Business of Indie Games, Alex Josef and others estimated that the Hotline Miami soundtrack was likely one of the most successful from an indie game based on sales figures from 2013, believing around 5% of the game's players on Steam purchased the soundtrack as well.[63]

In a 2019 retrospective article from Vice's Cameron Kunzelman, he described the anti-violence messages portrayed by Hotline Miami as an "emblem of a forgotten regime" alongside titles such as Spec Ops: The Line (2012). He highlighted its release in a time where he believed violence was used to demonstrate "seriousness" in video game storytelling, with examples such as the trailer for The Last of Us (2013) where a person's head is shot off with a shotgun. Comparing that to more recent times, Kunzelman believed the video game industry and critics had become desensitized to violence in video games, and that video games were due "another shift" in how violence was treated, and that the original messages of Hotline Miami had been lost.[12]

In the years since its release, Hotline Miami has been considered one of the best video games ever made by the editorial teams of numerous different media outlets. These include the teams from GamesRadar+, Slant Magazine, HardcoreGaming101, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated, as well as being listed in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.[65] In a 2022 article published by The Ringer, Lewis Gordon described Hotline Miami as a game that "[stretched] the boundaries" of the video game industry, and likely one of the more "warmly-regarded" indie games;[61] The Verge's Aleksha McLoughli described Hotline Miami as the "gold standard" for an indie game, and believed that none of the game's in its sub-genre were able to compare to its success, including its sequel.[60] Nina Corcoran of Pitchfork had similar beliefs, writing that the game was designed by Dennaton with "one foot in the past and another in the future," and was "incredibly replayable" several years later.[13]

Sequel and franchise[edit]

A group of people cosplaying as Hotline Miami characters at New York Comic Con in 2015

Following the success of Hotline Miami, Dennaton began developing downloadable content for the game to expand upon its story, as well as add a level editor.[66] When the proposed length of the project surpassed that of the main game, the project became its own standalone title. Announced ten days after the release of Hotline Miami and released in March 2015,[67][68] Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number expanded upon the universe of the original, introducing new characters and focusing on the background and aftermath of Jacket's massacres. It also served as the conclusion of the series story.[5][69] Due to differences in gameplay and level design, Hotline Miami 2 received generally lower reviews than it's predecessor.[62] Both games were included in the Hotline Miami Collection, which first released in August 2019.[38]

In 2016, an eight-part comic book series based on the games, Hotline Miami: Wildlife, was announced and released digitally over the course of several months. A spin-off of the main Hotline Miami series, it follows a protagonist named Chris and depicts events not considered canon to the main Hotline Miami story.[70] A parody of the game, "Hotline Milwaukee", is included as part of Devolver Bootleg, a 2019 compilation of parodies of numerous Devolver Digital games.[71] The character Jacket has appeared as a playable character in other games, such as Payday 2 (2013) and Dead Cells (2019).[72][73]


  1. ^ Jacket is a fan-assigned name to an otherwise unnamed protagonist.[4] The name was adopted by Dennaton themselves afterwards.[5]
  2. ^ Similarly to Jacket, Beard goes unnamed in the game, but is referred to as such elsewhere. In Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, the character is known as The Soldier.[9]
  3. ^ Jacket and the Biker fight each other twice, with both times having a different outcome.[10] Both are seen alive in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number.


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