The most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.
Developer: SUPERHOT Team
Publisher: SUPERHOT Team
Released: February 25, 2016
Copy provided by Steam
The original demo version of Superhot gained huge amounts of attention, and with good reason. A first-person shooter where time only moves when you do, it presented a concept so deliciously simple, it’s a wonder nobody had thought of it before.
Superhot‘s final form is no less clever, taking the premise and running with it to provide a series of ingenius and challenging levels, as well as endless arena modes and the ability to save and edit replays of one’s own performance.
Each level’s overall goal is fairly simple – eliminate the red guys, whose featureless and polygonal forms relentlessly pursue the player with fists, guns, and melee weaponry. It takes only one hit to put you down, but they can’t do a damn thing until you do.
When you’re stood still, the world is almost motionless. Enemies are very nearly frozen and bullets hang in mid-air, moving at an almost imperceptible pace. The faster you move, the faster everything else moves. This allows the player to perform ridiculous maneuvers, punching enemies and snatching their guns before they hit the ground, dodging incoming ammunition, and tossing katanas directly into unwitting faces.
Progression through a level is, naturally, incremental. You can take as much time as you want to assess the situation, but each move could be your last as you’re surrounded by aggressors and a single misstep could see you catch a fatal bullet.
While you can rush through a stage (and I have no doubt highly practiced players can eventually play this like a regular FPS), the idea is to take it slow, be wary of the environment, and manipulate time to avoid the incoming fire while performing tricks no other FPS allows for.
Superhot feels like an interactive version of the fight scenes from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, with players in the role of a protagonist who can outthink their enemies so swiftly the fight is won before it’s even started.
The game’s minimalist aesthetic and clear color coding helps make the game readable, with environments in white, enemies in red, and interactive objects a stark black. Bullets are black with red streaks, identifying them clearly for avoidance.
All black objects may be thrown to make opponents drop their weapons or just delay them, and whatever they were holding can be grabbed and turned against them so fluidly that it’s never not satisfying to pull off. Eventually, players will unlock the “Hotswitch,” allowing them to swap bodies with opponents and further opening up the potential for tricky moves.
Upon completion of a level, a replay shows the action without any of the time delays, showing off just how cool you looked dodging gunfire and flipping shotguns on people. While the game’s pitch-shifted announcer declares “SUPER! HOT!” over the footage, it’s hard not to feel like the smoothest dude in Swaggertown every time you get through a stage.
Superhot is presented from a hub that resembles an old computer monitor, like a less visually assuming version of Her Story. The initial campaign lays the metaplot on thick, following in the popular footsteps of such games as Calendula and Pony Island. As new levels unlock, players engage in story-driven chat sequences with online NPCs, as well as receive threatening notes from mysterious forces.
It’s a cute story, and its conclusion is entertaining in a cheesy way, but it also feels somewhat detracting in a game that needed no narrative and feels intruded upon when exposition rears up. The breaking of the fourth-wall is starting to become an old trick before it’s even really had much time to develop. While it’s not quite Superhot‘s fault, it’s a case of bad timing with so many games dabbling in it right now.
This campaign, however, is just the beginning. There have been complaints that the standard two-hour story makes for a short game, but such criticism ignores the fact there’s much more to do beyond what is essentially the tip of an iceberg. There is a whole host of unlockable endless arenas, challenge stages, and time trials, while the very menu itself hides all manner of secrets and weirdness.
Using Killstagram, Superhot‘s own social network, players can share their edited replays, placing movies of their performances online for an audience of hundreds of thousands. It’ll be interesting to see if this feature has longevity or will expand in any way, but right now it’s a fun little extra and a great way to show off one’s finest moments.
Superhot could have featured more detailed characters and environments, but I’m not sure I’d have preferred that. It’s easy to say the game looks threadbare in its current form, but I love how clear everything is.
The lack of detail works to produce a definitive clarity, making a game that’s impossible not to visually understand – a crucial element for a game that can be rather tough and requires complete spatial awareness. Besides which, there’s just something glorious about watching a head shatter like glass when it’s shot.
Quite frankly, I think Superhot is absolutely bloody fantastic, and one of the best examples of how a single idea can be iterated upon to create dozens of clever scenarios. It tries a bit too hard to be clever with its writing, but the core of the game is almost perfect in its purity, with all manner of twists and stunts to be discovered through experimentation.
You’ll see talk online about how Superhot is “the most innovative first-person shooter I’ve played in years.” It’s a phrase people who’ve played the game keep using, and there’s a memetic reason for that -one I won’t spoil. I will, however, have to say that I’m on board with the sentiment of the phrase despite any potential ironic usage. Because it is simply true.
Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.