“Time Moves Only When You Move.”
The developers behind Superhot know exactly what their minimalist first-person shooter is all about, and this succinct summation of the game’s hook is the perfect way to describe it to anyone unfamiliar with the game. It also tells prospective players that Superhot isn’t just a fast-paced arcade shooter (though it can be). Instead, it’s a deliberately-paced puzzle game where methodically figuring out the correct series of actions to complete each level is the only way to move forward. Even if you’ve never played a first person shooter before, it’s possible to pick up Superhot and understand what the game’s devilish AI has in store for you.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (Version Played)
Publisher: Superhot Team
Developer: Superhot Team
Genre: Slow-Motion First Person Shooter
Release Date: February 25, 2016 (PC), May 3, 2016 (Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: Teen
Superhot opens by dumping the player into the DOS-like “piOS” command line interface. From there, players can meet up with a “friend” online, who transfers them a batch of files to play a new game that’s also known as Superhot. It’s here that players are then teleported into a VR landscape that also lays out the game’s rules in a very visual manner:
All enemies in Superhot are red, who shatter like glass when hit with any of the game’s weapons, which are silhouetted in black. Walls, floors, and other non-interactive background objects are white. The stark contrast between enemies, weapons, and non-interactive objects helps ensure that everything that needs to stand out does. And the game’s goal (destroy all the Red Guys) is readily apparent in each level.
On the surface, Superhot plays out like a recreation of the lobby scene from The Matrix, with the player as Neo, cooly moving from place to place, taking out faceless Red Guys that serve as the Agents still connected to the machine. Sure, you can dodge bullets with the proper planning, but another film analogy might describe the game even better. Superhot requires players to think of each level in a way that feels very similar to the “step-by-step” escape plan from Shaun of the Dead.
Because of this similarity, Simon Pegg would probably make a great Superhot player. This piecemeal approach to the action also allows players to approach the bite-size levels however they want. And just in case you forgot the plan, it’s… “Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil (Sorry!). Grab Liz. Go to the Winchester. Have a nice cold pint. And wait for all of this to blow over.”
But back to Superhot… in one level, I stumbled into the middle of a superpowered bar brawl where I had to leap over the bar, toss a liquor bottle into the bartender’s face, drop him for good with a haymaker punch, grab his shotgun, turn around, blast the other patrons who were advancing on my position, and then turn back around to pop the manager emerging from the back room.
However, another level lead me to embrace my inner suave superspy by moving in a very deliberate manner and taking cover behind a series of bookcases, only emerging to carefully peer around the corner to take steady aim at my target before moving on to the next row.
Superhot throws more than 30 levels like this at players, and eventually, the realization begins to dawn on you that piOS, the Superhot game, and even your friend are all just a front for the rogue AI that is attempting to corrupt your “Mind” and add it to “The System.” I’m not really sure you can even call it a twist, as an entire generation of sci-fi storytelling has primed players to expect it. But since completing Superhot’s story, I’ve been thinking about how dependent the game is on its setting. Its DOS-like command prompt interface is a tad silly, but it also helps immerse players deeper into its world than a more conventional Start Screen would.
The beauty of Superhot’s main gimmick is that you could have bootstrapped it onto any number of scenarios. The game could have easily taken the form of a training tool for a stunt coordinator or even given itself over to a movie license like The Matrix or X-Men. But none of those plotlines would have lent themselves as well to Superhot’s minimalist color palette, which does more to build its world than all of the rogue AI’s menacing interludes.
Superhot is a shooter that can be whatever you want it to be. The puzzling aspects of each level are very cerebrally challenging, and the action bits create the perfect moments for superheroic setpieces. And after finishing the game, players can even unlock an Endless Mode to battle wave after wave of Red Guys and Challenge Levels to perfect their Superhot skills.
I’m in love with Superhot’s Red-Black-White world, and the tricky mind games it plays with you to solve its many puzzles. While not a typical shooter by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s safe to say that Superhot is one of the most innovative shooters to come along in a long time.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Superhot was provided by Superhot Team for the purposes of this review.