SUPERHOT is a game built around a simple hook: “time moves only when you move.” That’s enough to get most people interested. It worked for me. Sure, you might want to throw in the fact that it’s a shooter, or that it has a really simplistic and gorgeous art style. But the hook is really all you need. I hazard to call it a gimmick. That’s selling Superhot really short.
So how does this hook work? Well, if you want to find out first hand, the prototype is still available. But the game is actually pretty straight forward. If you’re standing perfectly still, so is everything else. Turning does speed up the clock ever so slightly, but for the most part, time only moves when you move. So the game becomes a dance of dodging bullets and killing enemies.
It’s trickier than it sounds. I don’t even think I’m very good at Superhot. In fact, I know I’m not. See. When you’re standing still, so is everything else, but that only lasts as long as you’re not moving, so the immediate inclination is to shoot at a stationary enemy. Nope. They’re only stationary because you’re stationary. In realtime, they’re still moving, and the second you move, so will they. You have to lead your shots; even if you’re not completely sure which direction enemies are headed, or at which speed. It’s taken me the length of the campaign and many endless runs to begin to get this through my thick skull.
The levels are also designed small, more of an arena, and it’s common for enemies to spawn in front of you as well as behind. Toward the end of the game –when things begin to get really hectic – this can become frustrating. But again, I’m bad at the game. Turning costs very little time, if we’re thinking of it like a resource. It’s pretty easy to swivel around and keep your eyes on anything that might’ve creeped up. But half the time I died it’s because I neglected to do that.
It helps that enemy spawns are mostly static. Superhot really is part shooter and part puzzle game. A lot of it comes to do twitch reflexes and reaction time, but another large part is memorizing enemy patterns and planning out moves. And not forgetting to first start by shooting that guy who spawns in behind you with a shotgun like I did more times than I’d like to admit. Told you, bad.
But after enough time, you’ll get into the rhythm of it. Most of the time, it’s not even worth it to spend time reloading your weapon. There are better things you can be doing with that time, like throwing the weapon at the nearest enemy. And hitting one with a thrown object, be it a gun or a billiard ball you just picked up, will knock the weapon out of their hands. Most enemy encounters go something like that. Kill an enemy, use the weapon to knock another weapon out of a nearby enemy’s hand, grab it out of midair, and then use it to shoot another enemy. Rinse and repeat. Dispatching enemies in the fastest manner possible really is the key to success in Superhot.
Pulling off a really badass maneuver is ever so satisfying. Superhot knows this, too. The developers even went as far as to set up a Killstagram, a place for players to upload replays of their sexy moves. Unfortunately, watching the game playout in realtime is far less badass than executing it yourself. The game doesn’t feel as fast, and the animations don’t quite hold up at full speed. But it’s still fairly cool to see moves you took fifteen seconds lining up play out in mere moments.
One might say – the game even instructs you to do so – that Superhot is one of the most innovate shooters in years. That’s high praise, but it’s also not exactly surprising. Shooters of late have been built around tried and true formulae. Superhot just happens to think outside the box. Really far outside the box.
I won’t go into story spoilers, but you know how every now and then you run into a game that has a narrative really only suited for video games. Superhot is one of those games. The main menu is inspired by a DOS prompt and superhot.exe is only one of the files accessible therein. I spent thirty minutes after first booting up the game rooting around, opening various files, playing various ASCII games, before even opening up Superhot proper.
The game itself is only one small piece of a bigger puzzle, one that will unravel as you venture through the two-ish hour campaign. Even calling it a story is slightly misleading. There really is no story inside superhot.exe. It’s a random string of levels strewn together. The story is more focused on the exe file itself. While most games these days seem to be trying to emulate movies and books as closely as possible, Superhot goes in a completely opposite direction. That’s all I’ll say in fear of spoiling more than I should.
A two-hour campaign in a package such as this might seem a little slim, yes, but Superhot doesn’t end with the campaign. After beating it, a slew of challenges and an endless mode unlock. The game even teases, instructing you to “train for the upcoming.” What might be upcoming, who knows. But there’s definitely more mileage to be had out of Superhot’s hook. It’s that fresh. Even now I have the urge to hop in and go for another few endless runs.
Superhot lives up to the original hype provided by the prototype over two years ago. It hasn’t evolved much since then, but it’s definitely been refined, and if the hook itself isn’t enough to keep you playing till the very end, what the team has done with the narrative will only serve to drive you forever forward.
Superhot is in control now.