SUPERHOT Review (PC)
SUPERHOT is a title that tells you very little about what you’re getting into. The description just barely gleans it. It’s a first-person shooter where time moves only when you move. The art style exposes only minimalistic qualities. None of it seems like pieces that could come together to form a coherent and full game, so it was hard to expect much going in. However, as the game played out, inviting us in and expanding, SUPERHOT quickly became something more than a funny name and a quirky mechanic. SUPERHOT is actually an impressive and interesting puzzle where the solution just happens to be shooting strange red enemies.
The game comes out of the mind of Piotr Iwanicki and the SUPERHOT Team and embraces a certain meta that remains prevalent throughout the game. Players essentially play what is supposed to be themselves sitting in front of a virtual computer as they are speaking to a friend via a chatroom about the SUPERHOT game. Their friend sends them files for the game and that sets the player along the way. After finishing a few levels, the player is soon locked out of the game and there begins a certain vibe that someone or something is watching the player every time they enter the game world as they continue to find ways to play. The tongue-in-cheek idea of a player playing a player in a game within a game might be a bit used, but it’s enough to trigger the events properly and unfold what comes to be a rather interesting and almost disturbing experience.
Each time you enter a level, it transfers you into the body of someone in a virtual situation. As noted, time moves when you move, but there are varying rules to that mechanic. For one, in the regular game, time is actually always moving at least at a very, very slow pace. Looking around doesn’t constitute movement, so you can do so freely as you plan your actions. Firing or throwing a weapon make time jump a bit before slowing again. Also, falling and jumping constitute movement. Other than that, you control time in direct correlation to actual spatial movement of your body. Reading about the mechanic on paper is one thing, but seeing it in action is quite well-done and extremely fun to play with.
In each level your job is to survive and kill all the red guys. You do this via various weapons that can be found in the environment or even plucked off your enemies. There are handguns, shotguns, and rifles each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Handguns fire one bullet at a time and take a bit to reload where rifles must fire several bullets and make time move during the firing process. Shotguns easily feel the most powerful as they take as long as handguns to reload, but their spread can easily kill several enemies at once even at range with the right pattern. Other than that there are melee weapons like baseball bats and swords that can one-shot kill most enemies and a myriad of throwable items like phones, bottles, briefcases and little dog statues to name a few. In late levels you also receive the HOTSWITCH ability, which allows you to jump out of your body and into the body of an enemy, killing your original body. It’s suitable for getting out of very tight predicaments at the cost of a long cooldown time.
Every single weapon in the game can be thrown, and this is important because hitting an enemy with anything that doesn’t instantly kill them will cause whatever weapon they happen to be holding to fly from their hands, and can then be plucked out of the air by you for your continuing rampage. All of the mechanics together turn each level into a sort of puzzle where you have so much freedom to see what you can get away with. Each level is restarted fairly simply upon death or even a quick button press, so death is little more than a minor irritation. It was fun experimenting with time and bullet trajectory and perhaps the biggest treat of all comes at the end of a level. After the last red guy is dead, the words “Super” and “Hot” are said over and over as they appear on the screen, but more importantly, you see your entire level run in real-time. It’s really interesting to watch everything you meticulously calculated in small moves play out with the quick finesse and brutality of a Jason Bourne action sequence.
The core game doesn’t last incredibly long, albeit taking some dark and surprising turns regarding control and player obsession that we won’t spoil here. Even after the relatively short campaign of the game is over, it opens up several different modes to play. Challenges allow you to play with different caveats such giving each gun only one bullet or making the katana the only means of killing enemies. There’s also Endless Mode, which presents a number of challenges where you must survive as long and kill as much as possible. There’s also a way to upload replays of your levels to a website out of game, so you can share your sleekest killstreaks with friends, but it wasn’t available for use at the time of this review.
SUPERHOT has an extremely minimalist quality about its art and sound design. There is no music and the world has no color beyond the red guys, although environments like alleyways and bars do exist in a few of the levels. The aesthetic is that you’re in a machine recreating environments and situations in the real world, so everything feels extremely sterile in design. It suits the game’s story, but is also somewhat tiresome to look at the whitewashed world in the game for long periods of time and we couldn’t help but think how cool the system in this game would be if it were applied to a setting which contained slightly more substance.
SUPERHOT presents a fun sort of arcade/puzzle game that has plenty of materials to last well beyond its core experience. SUPERHOT came to us with a quirky title and mechanic and once you’re in, expands upon those things proficiently to be something well worth exploring. That said, the shortness of story and the lack color or music leave this game feeling a bit cold and devoid of life beyond a very well put together gameplay system.
This review was completed using a download of SUPERHOT provided by the publisher for PC.