Too often in a first-person shooter, the element of danger is removed. Your floating camera of a head often becomes a mess of red to indicate imminent death, which slowly fades as you simply hide in a corner for a few seconds or dangerously push forward. SuperHot chooses to ditch this idea in favour of more danger, instead changing every single other element around it in order to compensate. The result is a game that’s a little less shoot, a little more puzzle, and a whole lot better because of it.
SuperHot’s premise is simple. From the moment you’re overcome with its blindingly bright tutorial messages, the main mechanic is clear. Time moves only when you do in SuperHot, with the world slowing to an absolute crawl when you’re stationary. This gives you more time to think – allowing you to map out bullet trails fired from surrounding enemies, or survey the area to quickly arm yourself beyond just your fists.
This initially makes the game rather easy, with the first few levels ensuring that you understand how this mechanic actually affects the way you perceive a shooter. Once you move, time really kicks into gear, and gives you little time to react from a bad move. A bullet, for example, that is just meters away from you is nigh impossible to dodge at that point, so it’s more about overall awareness than spilt-second decision making.
The same goes for knowing where enemies are placed around the small, but intricately designed levels. Letting one disappear from sight for too long invites a surprise attack from behind, and nothing is more chilling than hearing the boom from a shotgun from an enemy you had no idea was near you. The way levels are put together keeps you on your toes too, effortless shifting from cramped elevator sequences to expansive open rooms with little in terms of cover.
While it struggles to feel fluid at first, the more time you put into SuperHot the more it starts to offer. The depth of its fun lies deep within its ability to make you think and move quickly, but also in changing up what makes you feel comfortable in a shooter. More often than not throwing a weapon to stun an enemy is sometimes far more beneficial then attempting to shoot. Doing so allows for a satisfying loop of actions too, with the now incapacitated foe flinging his weapon into the air, ripe for your taking.
When these various actions of shooting, punching and throwing your way out of danger start linking up, SuperHot hits its climax. There simply is nothing better than completing a level in a way you felt was flawless, allowing the normal speed replay at the end to show you how incredible fast your actions would’ve been in the real world. It’s a satisfying way to hit home just what’s happening when you’re moving, and is the propellant to play just one more bite sized challenge after the other.
SuperHot’s array of mechanics expands the further you go in (such as being able to swap bodies with enemies from time to time), but its highest highs rest on moments such as these. Puzzles themselves help keep each level feeling fresh and exciting, and for the most part are cleverly designed. There are instances of the puzzle not being able to keep up with your abilities from time to time, but these are often swiftly followed by challenges I sometimes didn’t feel intellectually prepared for. It’s jarring sometimes, but these moments are thankfully brief and fleeting.
Trying to talk about why everything is happening the way it does in SuperHot without mentioning its visuals seems redundant, because its incredible how intrinsically the two are tied to one another. Levels play out in white and grey rooms and areas often devoid of particular detail. Enemies stand out against this with a strong red, low-poly exterior, with weapons and the like making themselves apparent with their dark black coating. Information in Superhot is clear and easy to understand, and it’s immediately clear from the outside what you’re playing.
But how this ties into the story is both genius and confusing. SuperHot’s narrative premise revolves around the idea of a program that, at first, seems to be a harmless game. Not too long after starting it’s clear this isn’t the case, and the mysterious company servers you’re “hacking” into in order to play seem to use this more as a tool rather than a program for enjoyment.
Soon things start to get really strange, with Superhot effortlessly breaking the fourth wall within the game and in reality – to a point where I was both killing my in-game avatar while inside the “superhot.exe” program, and stretching to actually having to quit the game in reality to progress. It’s as confusing as it sounds, but completely within the boundaries of how the narrative is trying to keep you engaged.
It’s a little mind bending and extremely self-aware, but also borrows a lot from dystopian sci-fi tropes such as ones found in The Matrix. The idea of a system being more important than your physical self is a theme SuperHot drives home, as you unwittingly take control of a soul addicted to engulfing himself within the SuperHot program. Navigating the MS-DOS styled main menu (which, as it happens, is more game than simple UI) never lets you escape this idea of SuperHot as a narrative entity being more than a game, and it’s one of the more novel styles of narrative I’ve seen in a while.
It doesn’t always make much sense though, and the idea of being a slave to this imposing system is driven home at nearly every turn. SuperHot’s borderline obnoxious text flashes and blaring sound bites invade your senses at nearly every turn, which in a way could be interpreted as some sort of subliminal brainwashing that your character is undergoing. It can go overboard at times, but the frequency of them somewhat ties into what SuperHot is trying to convey. If you let it, it’s compelling – otherwise it can just be straight up annoying.
SuperHot as a whole is definitely stronger when its narrative and gameplay are cohesively understood and connected together, but it’s a uniquely styled puzzle shooter even without the context. It’s why the game was so eagerly sought out after it was published as a 7Day FPS entry, and the progress since those early, limited levels truly shows. It tries to sometimes drive home certain ideas to the point of annoyance, but it’s an otherwise exhilarating, mind-bending game that you’d find hard to put down.
Last Updated: February 25, 2016