SUPER HOT SUPER HOT SUPER HOT
As a product of the 1980’s, I think I’ve played most of what the first-person shooter genre has had to offer over the years. I’m old enough to fondly remember when Wolfenstein 3D set the PC gaming world on fire in 1992, and have plenty of fond memories turning Nazis into mincemeat with my trusty Gatling gun on my friend Adam’s Tandy as a kid, marveling at just how immersive video games had become. A few short years later, I discovered DOOM, and, as a kid who grew up without a PC in my house, nagged my parents endlessly for a Sega 32X for Christmas back in ’94 just so I could experience id’s demonic FPS from the comfort of my own home.
While the genre has since lost a bit of its magic for me, I still manage to get my mitts on most of the shooters that make their way to consoles and PC. I’ve had my fill of the usual suspects, Call of Duty and Halo, and spent more hours in the sprawling wilds of Far Cry than I can count, but they don’t tend to do a whole lot that surprises me these days. That is, until I fired up SUPERHOT.
Developed by the aptly named SUPERHOT Team, the game puts players in control of a faceless (and textureless) denizen of the internet who’s just been given the crack to a currently in-development shooter through an in-chat file transfer. After booting up SUPERHOT.exe via one hell of a nostalgic interface, players are greeted with a stark, white world populated by very angry red people looking to pump you full of lead. While most shooters would toss you a gun and send you on your merry way to litter the arena with mountains of corpses with reckless abandon, SUPERHOT takes a decidedly different and much more interesting approach, where timing is everything and rushing into a fight assuredly means instant humiliation.
The main crux of SUPERHOT’s gameplay revolves around time and how players choose to manipulate it. As you perform actions such as taking steps, picking up weapons or objects in the environment, or swing your fist at an enemy, time moves accordingly. However, when you stop, the world around you comes to a complete standstill – flying bullets included. This unique approach to combat means you’ll constantly be checking your surroundings, as with every step bullets can inch ever closer to your supple noggin, enemies advance to get the drop on you and your own shots creep through the air, either going wide or connecting with your target’s crystalline cranium, shattering it in a million glowing crimson shards.
If you think that makes the game seem more like a puzzler than your average shooter, you’d be exactly right. Each stage is a small arena, often with a very loosely defined solution. That’s not to say there’s no room for free thinking – the game’s time-pausing mechanic affords players plenty of interesting strategies – but you’ll often find enemies and weapons placed at very precise points in a stage for good reason. Whether it’s a bottle you can lob at an attacker to disarm them, to a conveniently-placed cat sculpture you can smash into the textureless mug of your hapless victim, there’s almost always something in reach to help even the odds when needed.
Throughout the course of the game’s story, each stage offers its own unique challenges. One of my favorites begins within the claustrophobic confines of an elevator, where three armed goons are in the process of leveling their guns at your head. To escape the imminent shower of hot lead, I had to punch and stun the enemy nearest to me, staggering him. After he was hit, I could snatch his gun as it remained suspended in time and use it to pump a round into the next attacker. Lastly, with a bullet slowly inching towards my face, I hurled my pistol into the oncoming projectile in mid-flight, which shattered my gun but also stopped the bullet, allowing me to get the drop on the final enemy before his next round was chambered. Another stage began atop a speeding train, forcing me to rush to the edge of a train car and dive onto the couplings to avoid splattering into the wall, all wile recovering a weapon that had been hurled through the air by a baddie who wasn’t as fortunate as I was in his attempts to escape the oncoming wall. The poor guy.
Sounds crazy, right? The thing is, moments like this happen constantly in SUPERHOT, and it’s tremendously exhilarating making your way through a stage completely unscathed, offering the kind of sadistic rush of adrenaline you’d find in some surreal, stop-motion version Hotline Miami of Hotline Miami – which is very high praise coming from me.
Things get even more interesting late in the game when you obtain the ability to hot-swap with enemy characters. This technique allows you to target an enemy and instant jump into their body, which oftentimes serves as an invaluable tool for getting an angle on your enemies, or taking major threats out of the picture with the press of a button. Watching a wall of buckshot advance towards you then jumping into the body of your shotgun-toting assailant an instant before certain death feels incredible. While hot-swapping eventually becomes a necessity, it takes a lot of time to cool down, which prevents players from abusing the ability too much.
SUPERHOT’s story mode is somewhat brief, clocking it at just a few hours long. However, it does some clever, fourth-wall breaking tricks that work to immerse the player in the experience which I won’t outline here because they’re just so fun to experience for yourself. Despite the main story’s modest length, completing SUPERHOT ‘S campaign unlocks the Challenge and Endless Modes, which easily overshadow the main story in terms of challenge, testing the mettle of even the most seasoned players.
Challenge Mode has players advance through the game’s 25 stages with variety of modifiers spicing things up. These challenges include wrapping up the game by only using a katana, limiting each gun to one bullet, and a variety of speed run challenges. Hell, there’s even a challenge that tasks players with progressing through the game with just their fists, even removing the option of throwing items in the environment. Endless Mode is similarly challenging, as it tasks players with killing a pre-determined number of enemies in the shortest time possible. Think that sounds easy? Well, it’s far from it, as enemies flood into the arena from every angle, forcing the player to constantly pay attention to every angle in-between actions, because the enemies om SUPERHOT are crack shots, and it only takes one bullet to send you back to the beginning of a challenge.
In terms of presentation, SUPERHOT may not be much to look at in still screens, but the game’s suitably Lawnmower Man-inspired visuals do a great job of channeling that early ’90s VR vibe that the game embraces. The fierce contrast between each area’s sterile, white corridors and the glowing red adversaries who occupy them creates an appealing aesthetic, which is further accented by the stylish muzzle flashes, trailing bullets and shattered limbs and bodies that dance across the screen during a firefight. The audio takes a similarly minimalist approach, with largely subdued sounds apart from the sharp report of gunfire, shattering glass and the omnipresent digitized voice chanting “SUPER HOT” during each stage’s replay. Sometimes, less is more, and SUPERHOT’s unique approach to its presentation gives it plenty of distinct personality.
When all is said and done, SUPERHOT stands as one of the most unique and innovative shooters I’ve had the pleasure of playing in quite some time. The game’s blend of cerebral shooting mechanics and stylized presentation combine to form an experience that is nothing short of hypnotic. While I wish the story mode was a bit longer, the wealth of challenging modes that unlock after clearing the main campaign more than make up for the main story’s brevity. Those looking for the next Halo or Call of Duty may be put off by SUPERHOT’s measured and methodical approach to gunplay, but players looking for an FPS that’s unlike anything else on the market will find that SUPERHOT offers one of the most sublimely surreal shooters out there.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One ; Publisher: SUPERHOT Team ; Developer: SUPERHOT Team ; Players: 1; Released: February 25, 2016 (PC); Genre: FPS ; MSRP: $14.00
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher, SUPERHOT Team.