by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Superhot: Mind Control Delete is a strange game in a strange franchise. Nestled somewhere in-between the terms “sequel” and “expansion,” Mind Control Delete takes the Superhot series forward in some regards but backwards in others. The result is an experience not necessarily better or worse than the base game but instead a horizontal move that’s sure to please some and disappoint others depending on what they liked about Superhot in the first place.
If you haven’t played the original Superhot (and the completely separate Superhot VR, if you’ve got the gear), go and play them instead of reading this review. It is, in my opinion, the most inventive shooter of the past decade, and it’s core gameplay has remained largely unchanged in Mind Control Delete. The premise is simple: time only moves when you do. Dropped into various diverse environments packed with weapon-touting enemies, players harness their inner Neo or Jason Bourne to dodge bullets, blast baddies, and use everything in the environment as to wreak havoc.
That gameplay is unchanged in Mind Control Delete, with the exception of a few different AI behaviors, objects, and something called core abilities. Some of the changes are small. There’s a laser gun that pierces multiple enemies and shoots quickly, the beam traveling much more quickly than a bullet. There are some new melee and thrown weapons, too, which function similarly to others have in the past. The exception is the katana, which enemies will now use to deflect bullets and thrown objects. Also present is a new type of enemy. In the past, featureless, all-red enemies died with hits to any part of their bodies. Now, some enemies are made of the same while polygons the environments are, with only a limb or their torso glowing red. These enemies can be hit anywhere to instigate a weapon drop, but only hits to the red will take them out for good.
Not all changes are so small. Instead of a linear campaign, Mind Control Delete presents a sprawling set of nodes that can be unlocked and played in any branching order. Each node has a handful of levels, with death only resulting in a node restart, not the whole game (similarly to Superhot VR, only with a visual element to progression added in). Furthermore, each node acts as a mini RPG, letting players pick perks every other win or so that grant abilities like a starting weapon, more health, or faster movement speed. More abilities are added to the pool of possibilities as players clear nodes in the grid, as are stronger core abilities that persist throughout all levels in the present node. These abilities are much stronger, granting resources like extra lives or superpowers like an instant dash-to-enemy or Mjolnir-like after-throw katana retrieval. These changes don’t change the flow of combat series veterans will be used to, expertly slipping in to provide the player with opportunities to customize their kit to suit their preferred playstyle. Plus, since ability choices reset for each node, there’s no reason not to experiment and see what happens.
So this is why the game is sure to be controversial among fans- along with this deluge of tweaks and additions, the game loses its charm as a narrative “campaign.” In Superhot, each level was a hand-crafted puzzle with enemies and items placed intentionally, imploring players, upon death, to reconsider what they missed and what they could have done differently. In Mind Control Delete, the node-based gameplay means that there are way too many levels to handcraft. Instead, a number of environments like “casino,” “dojo,” or “club” are populated by random items, enemies, and player spawns. This takes some of the puzzle-like critical thinking involved with gameplay away, though there’s still plenty of strategy and thinking required. While it’s still a blast to play, it can be frustrating when a particular node deals you a bad hand that you couldn’t do much about. The game still takes skill and thought, but I couldn’t help miss those eureka moments of “ah, that’s what you wanted me to do here!”
This extends to the narrative as well. The two previous games told their stories in vague slices, but they were there, taking the player through partially abstract stories of brainwashing, violence, and a program that just might be sentient. Mind Control Delete also plays to the surreal atmosphere developed by its predecessors, but the text and brief gameplay cutaways seem to exist for their own sake more than building towards any satisfying payoff. Whether this matters to you at all is going to play a huge role in how satisfied you are with the overall experience, but, to me, the trade-off in favor of more replayability and customization is worth it, making this a complementary experience to the original instead of one that tries to beat it at its own game. If a true sequel is ever in the cards that can combine the best of both worlds, we’re really going to be in for something special.
The original Superhot was a truly unique experience, masterful in its execution of a simple concept. Mind Control Delete loses some of the novelty of the original but succeeds in exploring new ways to make the game fun. It's a great example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and while some will lament the loss of hand-crafted levels, most should be happy with the endlessly-replayable collection of content now in their hands.
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Core gameplay is still rock solid, great new weapons and objects, fun ability upgrade system, lots of replayability.
Procedurally-generated levels lack some of the charm of hand-crafted levels, less narrative presence.