SUPERHOT seems simple in concept; shoot at enemies while time moves only when you move. What wraps it all together tells a different story.
Developer: SUPERHOT Team
Publisher: SUPERHOT Team
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Dates: February 25 (PC), March 2016 (Xbox One)
Difficult is the task to dive deep into the world of SUPERHOT without giving away too much of the plot. On the surface level, the game looks to be a neat gameplay concept fully realized over a miniature exhibitions. Once you start to breach the surface, however, everything turns on its head. Meta-narrative kicks in; the game becomes a game-within-a-game. You become drawn to, and obsessed with, the core concept. Like a radio hit, the gameplay digs into you like an earworm. Nothing becomes more blissful than repeating the term “Super. Hot. Super. Hot.” ad nauseam.
The basic concept of SUPERHOT is so simple that its initial Steam Greenlight trailer pretty much sums up the entire gameplay concept. Time moves only when you do, so when enemies shoot at you with bullets, you have to dodge them while taking shots back. How the game stack the deck against you is what keeps things interesting, with levels testing every bit of your thinking skills to the 4th dimension: time. Moving the camera moves time forward slowly, with further milliseconds of game time falling off in real time seconds. Split-second decisions will need to be made to set up reactions to how enemies will attack you in the future.
While the inherent structure of a first-person shooter exists within SUPERHOT, navigating between bullet streams becomes a puzzle in itself. You need to plan your moves ahead of time, knowing which objects to grab and which weapons to force out of opponents’ hands as you dispatch your foes with grace. Their numbers help balance the scales of power, with reinforcements morphing in through waypoints around each map. Furthermore, the difficulty ramps up by forcing you to act within a soft time limit before you become overwhelmed and shot, forcing a level restart.
…You are offered a stylish presentation that makes your character look like Neo taking on dozens of Agent Smiths, which just feels so rewarding after a particularly difficult run.
The art style of SUPERHOT reflects the minimalism of Mirror’s Edge, contrasting red and white polygonal figures and objects to present a 90’s arcade aesthetic. I find it to be a brilliant choice, as it gives the developers a chance to focus more on interesting map design without having to worry about texture quality. Each scenario presents a different challenge, with simple environmental objects like cars, desks, trains and pillars that act as shields. Instead of repeating the same ideas over and over, you’re forced to adapt to what you’re provided with, forcing the player to stay quick on their toes.
As you progress through SUPERHOT, opponent weaponry becomes a serious problem. Starting off with simple pistols, enemies advance upon you with automatic rifles, wide-burst shotguns, and even katana blades. Getting your hands on them is key and, at the same time, brings variety to the proceedings. Because of the differences in reloading speeds, often you will even have to throw weapons at enemies, exploding on contact with a voxel-based visualization. As it all comes together in a real-time replay, you are offered a stylish presentation that makes your character look like Neo taking on dozens of Agent Smiths, which just feels so rewarding after a particularly difficult run.
Without giving anything away; don’t be surprised if you are left asking, “What the hell was that?”
While sound design remains a key component in most video games as a means of invoking a certain emotional state, SUPERHOT uses it as a gameplay element. Sound moves at the speed of time, as well, meaning you need to listen to the sounds of enemies warping in behind you, or attempts to pepper your body with bullets. They made the smart move in removing music altogether, instead focusing on making combat as fair, balanced and engaging in tandem with key sound effects.
The sterile aesthetics feed into the story of SUPERHOT, which reveals a more complex tale than one would think. Framing the narrative around an office mate passing you an illegal crack of a corporate simulation game, the unnamed protagonist runs through each of the 25 different scenarios after some back-and-forth chat on what appears to be an early 90’s computer. Things go quickly off the rails once the program warns you not to continue, but due to the addictive gameplay, our protagonist can’t help but press on. Without giving anything away; don’t be surprised if you are left asking, “What the hell was that?”
I would have liked to see the narrative aspects punched up just a bit, as the main campaign of SUPERHOT comes in at less than two hours. Those concerned with the lack of content should fear not, as it follows the Papers, Please method of adding post-campaign bonus gameplay modes that will more than whet your appetite. A series of Challenge Modes offers up the same 25 maps with unique hooks, including the basics of speedrun and time-based challenges to skill-based challenges like Katana’s Only and Hardcore Mode, to absolute insanity like No Restarts Mode. Furthermore, an Endless Mode complete with a variety of maps tests your ability to take on a near-infinite number of oncoming AI.
SUPERHOT feeds into the competitive nature of humanity, especially with its variety of bonuses. Thankfully, baked into the full release is the ability to upload your real-time map runs (or edited clips) onto the “Killstagram” website. Gameplay running in real time looks stylish, and the portal offers a multitude of ways to share your clips on social media sites in an instant.
SUPERHOT does the unthinkable by bringing an excellent slow motion experience to a genre that focuses on quickening the tempo.
People bemoaned Sony and Microsoft when they revealed their consoles carried multimedia streaming functions, but games like this are the reason they are important tools for independent developers. SUPERHOT operates on an advanced level far beyond the normal capabilities of the FPS genre because none other strives for a unique flow. Combat is like a dance; you need to learn the choreography to perfect it. At the same time, different players will tailor the moves to their style, with a level design that provides a multitude of options to come out on top.
Going into this review, I had wondered what the full release version would bring that adds depth beyond bullets, guys in red and an unbelievably addictive “Super. Hot.” exclamation. While certainly subverting my expectations with a story that plays more like 1984 than Hackers, I couldn’t help but want a richer focus on blending the two aspects together. For the most part, they are split like church and state, having the player creep towards their dystopian fun mostly separated itself from each gameplay mission (with a few late-game exceptions). Weaving the two together throughout would help balance things out.
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Ultimately, one can’t help but count their blessings. SUPERHOT does the unthinkable by bringing an excellent slow motion experience to a genre that focuses on quickening the tempo. By slowing things down, the SUPERHOT Team created the thinking man’s shooter, emphasizing slow-time strategy over going in guns-a-blazing. Adding support for virtual reality down the line, players will certainly feel immersed in a world that will test the limits of their mental cognition in conjunction with a deft, calculated reaction.
“It was the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.”
That’s how the creators want me to praise the game, for reasons I wish not to share due to spoiler concerns. As simple as it is to turn their suggestion down, I have to agree with them. The game takes on the dynamics of the first-person shooter and flips it on its head, infusing puzzle elements by manipulating time to your benefit. A short, but intriguing campaign is balanced with a fair number of repeatable challenge modes, providing dozens of hours of replayability. With levels designed to expand the mind and make you think outside the box, SUPERHOT is a welcomed change to the by-the-numbers FPS genre.
A full retail copy of the “Trial version,” acting as the full release version, was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.