by Sorin Annuar
reviewed on PC
Antithesis of a shooter
Superhot is a creature at once original and derivative. It owes its core mechanic to previous FPS games, yet does something so refreshing that you’ll wonder why nobody has thought of it before.
Coming about from a 7-day game jam that the developers took part in - and subsequently crowd funded - Superhot is simple in execution, but masterfully presented. What on paper sounds like the antithesis of what a shooter should be: a fast-paced, relentless killing spree, is filtered down to its core components and into a tense crawl through time, where a single frame of animation in excruciatingly slow motion can mean the difference between life and death.
Like bullet time
The game introduces its concepts and rules at a gradual pace. Without spoiling anything, the mechanic of time not moving when you stay still is just the tip of the iceberg. Before the end of the game you will be the action choreographer in your own movie set pieces, of which every level is a reference to. This is probably the closest to Neo’s bullet time ability from The Matrix that you’ll experience, more so than the official Matrix games.
The game describes itself as a shooter, but it feels more like a puzzle FPS. A puzzle game with so many permutations in its solutions that part of the joy of replaying is to see if you can make the scenes cooler. As dull as it sounds, effective time management is the key to progression. Every action, even turning on the spot, makes time in the game move at a different pace. Grabbing a gun that an enemy you’ve just punched just dropped could be extremely risky if someone is already firing at you.
Each type of gun has its own characteristics and cooldown, as do melee weapons. Enemies will pick up weapons if disarmed or if a comrade drops theirs in death. The game’s pace is ironically closer to that of a survival horror game in places: you creep ever so slowly, turning around corners expecting enemies to appear out of nowhere. For a game that barely moves, it is surprisingly tense in places. One hit will kill, a rule that applies to both you and your enemies.
The actual levels are wrapped in a narrative presented via a stylised DOS directory style interface, which is cleverer than it initially seems. What starts as a gimmick in storytelling soon turns into something much bigger and much more ‘meta’ than you would expect. This is well executed the first time around, though being able to just play the levels and skipping the narrative sections doesn’t appear to be an option. This conceit allows the levels themselves to just exist, without needing to really explain why one minute you’re in an office about to be attacked, throwing briefcases at enemies and the next you’re running along the top of a train about to get killed by an oncoming tunnel entrance. Enemies make no sound apart from the gunfire their weapons emit, so you are constantly vigilant, taking in your surroundings every few steps to make sure there isn’t one that is inches away from your face and about to one-hit kill you.
Visually the game has a strong, stark aesthetic which it consistently sticks with throughout the short play time – enemies are always red crystalline humanoid figures, and everything else is a weathered white – walls and cars have the same texture, making the game world feel like it’s been frozen in time. Music is practically non-existent for most of the game, but it does make the sound design stand out all the more for it; there is an audible click when guns are ready to fire again, enemies perish accompanied by a distinctive sound of glass shattering, and katanas make a satisfying metallic twang when they’ve been thrown through someone and embedded themselves in the floor or wall.
Up there with Portal
Superhot can be completed in one sitting, but you will be talking about this game and telling your friends about it for a while after. There are challenge modes unlocked once you’ve completed the main game and the game actively encourages you to upload your replays to its dedicated site, killstagram.com. As a shooter, it’s an oddity, a gimmick that may not appeal to people who want to shoot things. As a puzzle game, it’s up there with Portal. Whatever Superhot Team work on next will definitely be worth keeping an eye out for, especially if it’s anything as exhilarating as this game.
Original and refreshing
A bit short