While fellow staff writer Sean has shared his review thoughts on this game, I wanted to share my own. Consider this an alternate take.
It's been interesting watching this new generation of gaming culture take a step back and return to some of its earlier tropes and gameplay mechanics from earlier days. Shooters have started revisiting the World War II setting again, more and more independent titles are pushing the limits of attempting to emulate the feel of retro gaming, and now SUPERHOT is taking us back to the days where Slow Motion Bullet Time was implemented in everything. Playing through SUPERHOT I kind of can’t help but feel like I’m back in time about 16 or so years ago.
Though it’s not only the mechanics that make SUPERHOT feel a lot older than it actually is. The story and overall structure of how the game plays out is portrayed in this very ‘1990s esq’ hacker styled fever dream that feels like a total homage to the movie The Matrix. You start the game off staring at a very 90s looking computer while talking to a friend on AOL chat messenger. Your friend gives a vague mention of this strange new game file he’s gotten a hold of, and among downloading it you’re suddenly brought into the world of SUPERHOT. While neither a particularly developed or original premise, the game’s plot is merely a means to get you to new and interesting level designs rather than tell an overall story. The story does progress but never gets too deep and ultimately just feels like it’s there to tie the gameplay together. Among downloading yourself into SUPERHOT, the game immediately shows off the gameplay we’ve all been waiting for and admittedly it’s a lot of fun.
Time only moves when you yourself are moving. Enemies freeze where they stand, bullets move at a snails pace, and melee weapons come down like condensation inching its way down from a cold drink. And while a game made up entirely of slow-motion action may sound easy, it’s much different than other shooter that uses this mechanic. Unlike the MaxPayne or F.E.A.R. games that allow the player to move twice as fast as their enemies in midst of combat, SUPERHOT really does focus on matching the speed of everything equally. Your weapons recoil as fast as the enemies’, your bullets move the same speed, and if all else fails and you want to play the game at regular speed, holding down on the keyboard and moving any direction will speed the game up to a normal feeling shooter.
That being said don’t go into this game expecting to play a total shooter. If sped up most of these levels last anywhere from five to fifteen seconds long. Instead think of this game like a puzzle with FPS elements. While there are guns, bullets, and enemies to kill it’s the way you maneuver around all these components that really make the gameplay enjoyable. It’s very similar to other difficult situational level based games such as Hotline Miami or Super Meat Boy. And like these games it’s when the game finally clicks together and you master the art of working your way around it all that the game becomes totally enjoyable. Throwing items into enemies in order to grab their own weapon, dodging past bullets that whiz inches away from your face, and watching the beautiful style of the enemies explode into red fractals all creates a type of fun I’ve never experienced before.
While I do love all these aspects of the game I can’t completely say the game is without it’s flaws. I still don’t feel like SUPERHOT is a first person shooter, but that being said the option to not include crouching feels incredibly bizarre. I was constantly looking bullets scare in the eye thinking if only there were a way I could just lower myself a few feet down I’d be able to dodge this. This isn’t really a problem within the first couple of levels but once guns like the shotgun come into play and you have to dodge several bullets at a time, strafing no longer feels like it should be your only option. The game’s hit box detection is another notable issue. It sometimes feels as if the player is just a giant box rather then having the hit detection of a sizable person. Maybe I’m just not use to taking into account arm and leg damage in other shooters but their’s nothing more disappointing than having a bullet look as if it’s going to whiz by your head only for it to collide a couple inches away from the character’s vision and still kill you.
Also similarly to Hotline Miami it’s worth mentioning the irritating gameplay mechanic SUPERHOT unfortunately borrowed from it: cinematic storytelling within it’s difficult gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, storytelling that can be done while the player is still playing the game is excellent but legitimately not being sure whether or not I was suppose to die for the sake of the story feels awkward. Catching or not catching Shield Knight in Shovel Knight works because, while it ultimately doesn’t matter either way, at least the game continues to return to this set piece concept. But this idea that, “We’re up’ing the ante for the stories sake, here’s a difficult situation you’ve never seen before and will never see again” just feels unfocused and never ends up being fun.
Out of SUPERHOT’s 26 some levels, the last 10 are notably difficult and definitely push you to implement everything you’ve used previously. You will struggle time and time again to be in the right place at the right time as enemies, who a little unfairly are placed right in front of you, shoot you at point blank range and you have to master the art of working around it all. It gets a bit frustrating but feels like the appropriate ramp after everything you’ve been working towards previously. If you are able to see past all this though and you enjoy slow motion action, smart and challenging gameplay, or even just the visual style alone it’s definitely worth taking a look at. At $25 dollars it’s a bit expensive for it’s mere 2 - 4 hours of play time but extra collectibles and challenges to face after the game ends give the game a few more things to do after the story is over. Just remember, don’t go into this game thinking it’s a total shooter, SUPERHOT is more Braid than Call of Duty.