Superhot Review – Unconventional to the Core
SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. These words will be burned into the minds of any and every player that dares to experience the unique world of Superhot.
Superhot is a game that began its life as a 7 day game jam project in 2013, came to prominence as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, and now in 2016 it releases as a finished product that offers a fresh take on the First-Person shooter genre.
An FPS equivalent of N+ in both gameplay and aesthetics, Superhot offers slick and simple design that permeates every facet of the game and compels players to accomplish tasks by utilizing momentum and their knowledge of the stage and the enemies.
The game’s developers; Superhot Team, describe Superhot as a “first-person shooter where time moves only when you move.” While that might seem like a marketing tag line, this actually quite aptly describes Superhot’s central game mechanic.
In Superhot, the flow of time is dependent upon the player’s movement. When the player is moving so are the enemies however when the player stops moving, the in-game time almost stops. The key word being; Almost.
When the player is stationary it creates a Max Payne/Matrix like effect where the time slows down to such an extent that one can see bullets sluggishly traversing in the air, thereby allowing the player to dodge enemy attacks.
Everything in the game is designed around this mechanic and players have to anticipate enemy movements and dodge their attacks to vanquish them. Players are presented with different levels and scenarios to complete this singular objective.
While narrow and repetitive in its scope, Superhot never lets this objective become tedious. It utilizes this game mechanic to consistently up the ante and provide progressively unique and entertaining situations that keep the players on their toes.
Paradoxically, while the core mechanic of the game relies on stopping time, every other mechanic seems to be designed around the word; Immediacy.
Each level in Superhot, lasts for less than an in-game minute, and starts abruptly by immediately throwing players right in the mix of battle. Any bullet that hits the enemy results in a one shot kill, and any hit received from the enemy results in one hit death.
There is also no fanfare for either victory or defeat. Each level immediately restarts if the player dies and ends immediately when the last enemy is killed.
Players can only equip one weapon or object at a time and each weapon has very limited durability or ammunition. This results in the player being in a constant scramble to get to a new weapon immediately after an attack.
This design choice not only keeps the tension going in each situation encountered but also adds gravitas to each enemy encountered and every action taken by the player.
Unfortunately it is almost impossible to perfectly react to enemies in each stage as the enemies in Superhot spawn and most of them are not part of the stage map at the start. This makes most of the levels in the game require the age old crutch of ‘trial and error’ to complete.
However the enemies encountered in the game have scripted movements and spawn points and the game does preface each spawn with a red glow that indicates an upcoming enemy.
Colour plays a big role in Superhot’s minimalist and hyper stylised aesthetics. The game works with a simple yet strong colour association with its game elements, that serves to prevent tense and complicated gameplay setups from becoming a visual mess.
Enemies are red, the environment is white and weapons are black. It is a simple design choice that not only compliments the minimalist nature of gameplay but also its pseudo-retro presentation.
The stages and stationary objects look like they are made from pure white porcelain, whereas the enemies and weapons look like refined PS1 era 3D polygonal models, that have a stain glass feel to them and shatter when damaged.
Superhot’s graphical presentation is accentuated in the game’s equally stylized sound design where each gunshot and hit is impactful and its techno sound track has a “glitchy” quality that complements its meta-tech focused presentation, with the DOS inspired User Interface.
However the game’s styled goodness only lasts for a maximum of 2-3 hours in its main story mode. To compensate for its brief campaign, Superhot offers players access to post-ending modes like Endless and Challenges.
Endless is a survival-like mode which features 36 new arenas where enemies spawn infinitely and players can use all the tools at their disposal to kill enemies at their heart’s content.
The Challenges mode, on the other hand, features 13 different sub-modes like; speedrun, katanas only, barehanded, ghost and others. Each of these sub-modes contains 30+ stages from the story mode, tweaked according to their headings.
While each of the challenge mode offers an interesting and unique twist on the game’s formula, the fact that these challenge levels do not feature their own unique stages, can make repetition of stages a monotonous affair.
Therefore it is quite unfortunate that the developers were unable to utilize the game’s stylish yet simple visual design to their advantage and provide players with better level variety.
That said, Superhot is a postmodern First Person Shooter that goes against the grain of the conventions set by modern first person shooters. Where FPS games focus on fast paced twitch gameplay, Superhot’s gameplay focuses on taking deliberate and tactical approach.
Where the others are focused on graphic details and set pieces, Superhot presents itself through minimalism in colours and visuals. Where other games strive towards photo realistic visuals, Superhot flaunts its stylised design.
If that speaks strongly to your tastes then Superhot is well worth a purchase, however with its focus on a singular game mechanic, an extremely brief campaign and limited stage variety; its asking price of $25 might be too steep for anyone who is lukewarm on its core concept and is looking for variety in gameplay.