SUPERHOT is one of the most innovate first person shooters in years… Or at least that’s what the game told me to tell people after I beat it. So, how does SUPERHOT actually hold up?
I remember playing SUPERHOT when it was just a small prototype out of the 7DAYFPS game jam back in 2013. The core premise of SUPERHOT was quite intriguing, with time only moving forward when the player does. The short five leveled prototype left quite a lasting impression and even managed to let its developers pursue a feature length game. The question remains though, can SUPERHOT flesh out its one-trick-pony time mechanic in a full retail product?
While it does guise itself as a first person shooter, SUPERHOT values tactical thinking more than quick hand-eye coordination unlike most shooters. Each level drops you into a short chaotic set piece, where you will be guaranteed to be ambushed by a gang of red men that live with one purpose: killing you. Players then have to plan out how they are going to weave, jump, and attack multiple enemies in situations that seem impossible to conquer if the game ran in real-time. Each of the thirty levels in the game are quite short, with straight forward layouts that can be easily grasped (one of the levels is just a straight hallway named “Oldboy”, a tribute to the film’s infamous hallway fight scene) so players can easily maneuver it without getting lost. Still, the game requires you to make sure that you are acutely aware of your surroundings, especially since you can only be hit once before you die.
Knowing the location of you enemies and what you can utilize in your environment is crucial in SUPERHOT, naturally creating tense encounters. The levels progressively showcase new mechanics, ranging from basic manipulation of your time bending powers to new ways to dismember your opponents, allowing players to mess around with their new found knowledge in a closed environment. It won’t be long before you have to figure out a complex situation in which you realize you have no more bullets left in your pistol, with two enemies running towards you in front and another two on your flank coming in with a shotgun and an assault rifle. Maybe, you could stun the two enemies in front with a couple punches, turn around to throw your empty pistol at the enemy with the shotgun knocking it out of his hand, grabbing the dropped shotgun, and proceed to empty it on the last remaining three enemies.
There are multiple ways to beat each level, and this replayablility is what extends SUPERHOT’s gameplay. Heres the thing, while the level design does get more complex and the enemy numbers do increase, SUPERHOT’s difficulty has to be initiated by the player. The game gives you the tools required to beat the level in the most badass way you can think of, but it never forces this creativity onto players. You can honestly beat most of SUPERHOT’s level’s by quickly finding cover during a firefight and waiting for the right moment to pop out as enemies come swarm you. However, the game naturally nudges you to experiment with new ways to tackle situations through its instant replay feature at the end of each level. By showing you how insane your actions look in real-time, the game reinforces the idea of playing the game in a risky fashion. The more times you barely evade death, the more times you’ll see incredible spurts of action in your replay. These can then be automatically uploaded to a website the developers made called killstagram.com.
Beyond its captivating gameplay, SUPERHOT tells a bizarre narrative through text conversations in a DOS-like operating system full of ASCII art. SUPERHOT dabbles in a meta-narrative plot, making the story be of a person who receives and plays a cracked game from a friend called superhot.exe. As you continue to have IM conversations and dig through the OS’s interface, it is obvious that there is something more sinister to superhot.exe than it just being a cool game to screw around with. Through these short story conversations, the game toys around with the idea of how attached one’s life can get to a game. While I did find this thin line of narrative given interesting enough, it broke the pacing for me. Exiting out of the actual game to start a short chat conversation, and updating superhot.exe always took me out of my time-bending high. Still, the overall uncanniness of SUPERHOT’s story is consistent throughout, making it an engaging experience.
SUPERHOT is deceptively simple. There is no complicated story or HUD that you need to understand to fully appreciate the game. Instead, when the game wants to tell you something it usually flashes ginormous white text on the screen explaining whats going on in the level. Bad guys are stark red, interactive items are highlighted, and bullets are clearly visible; features like these make SUPERHOT also visually easy to read. Like its no-nonsense, sterile aesthetic, SUPERHOT is a game that has a clear cut vision. It knows that it relies heavily on its core mechanic, and gives a swift two hour campaign that focuses in on its strength without becoming dull.
The highs I experienced while playing SUPERHOT for the first time were phenomenal, and while I probably won’t replay it, the game knows there are players who want to experience more of its unique mechanics; for these players SUPERHOT gives them both a challenge mode and an endless mode to play to their hearts content. These extra modes add mutators to the normal campaign, such as using only a katana to beat levels or making your playthrough a recorded speed run of the game.
SUPERHOT is a great example of a game that knows how far it can push a gimmicky idea, without it becoming repetitive. For those who are weary that it is a game that lacks substance, there is enough here for me to call SUPERHOT one of the most compelling games I’ve played so far this year.