Superhot Is The FPS Made Cool Again

Superhot [official site] is the first-person shooter deconstructed. You don’t move and shoot, jump and dodge. You move then shoot, jump then dodge. The reason for your turn-based decision making is that time only moves when you do. I’ve been playing the beta for the past week, and it’s superb.

The beta is available to Kickstarter backers who last year funded the game to the tune of $250,000, largely on the strength of a freely released prototype made the year before for the 7-Day FPS jam. The money is visible on screen; where the original was sparse by necessity, the full-game makes an art of its pristine white environments and its shimmering red enemies which shatter like glass when struck.

It’s also naturally expanded in scope from those few levels. There’s a story mode which drops you into disconnected combat vignettes, in bars and factories and back alleys, each one requiring a little extra thought from you if you’re to dodge the obstacles and survive intact. There’s a meta-narrative that strings this all together, which I won’t spoil, but which begins with the game’s command line-style interface and carries through the now trademark onscreen text flashes. There’s also an endless mode, in which you’re challenged to survive respawning waves of red enemies, with or without a selection of GoldenEye or Unreal Tournament-style modifiers.

The story mode is good, and I look forward to playing more of it when the game is finished, but it’s this endless mode that I keep returning to and where the game most shines. By changing the way time flows and increasing the focus on individual actions, Superhot takes on a rhythm that’s familiar from its real-time peers – and propulsive, ultra-violent fare like Hotline Miami – but with thoughtfulness in place of reflex.

You learn how to move through its levels like learning the steps of a dance. Step one: leap upon the table. Step two: leap again, over the now approaching bullet, and land upon the enemy to kill them. Step three: turn around, and grab their gun as it sails through the air. Step four: turn right and position the crosshairs just in front of the thinnest sliver of red arm approaching through a doorway. Step five: fire, but don’t bother waiting to see the bullet hit.

By breaking each moment down into single actions, you’re able to carry out actions with precision and coolness that would be impossible in real-time. At the end – which in endless mode, is when you die – you’re rewarded with a real-time replay that shows your dance as if it was a single action. All of the practice that got you there disappears in the final performance. This isn’t an uncommon reward for games of trial and error – the same trick hooked me in N, and in Trackmania – but Superhot is different in that you feel clever even before time is sped up.

It feels slick to grab a gun out of mid-air, even when there’s no skill involved in doing so. It feels skillful to launch a sword through the air at where you think an enemy is about to appear and to hit. It feels cool not to look at that hit, relying instead on the full-screen number momentarily flashing up your kill count: “16”. It feels balletic, John Woo-style, to toss a gun in someone’s face to send them reeling so you can steal their dropped baseball bat and smash them into pieces.

Endless mode becomes quickly difficult and I think my best score is 26, but the game supports you in feeling great. The kill counter, which means you don’t need to look at the explosion of red glass, is one example. The slow rotation of your crosshair and its slight pulse upon reload is another, as is the limited ammo contained within each gun that forces you to throw it away and keep moving.

Mostly though it’s that time isn’t dealt out, as it likely would be in a proper turn-based game, in fixed increments. Time moves when you turn your head. Time moves when you take a step, with a single step obviously taking a little longer than the smallest increment of head movement. Time moves when you fire a gun, with more time passing as you fire a machinegun – in four bullet increments – than when firing a single projectile from a handgun.

The result is that you’re constantly making decisions. A bullet will be sailing towards you, but you won’t fire back because you know that the time progression will be great enough that you’ll be killed. Instead you sidestep, winding the bullet past you as you wind yourself out of its path. Or, as per the GIF below, you’ll find yourself with no sidesteps to make and wonder whether jumping will use too much time and see you defeated.


[This should snap to the right size; if it doesn’t, click through for an unzoomed version.]

Phew. In this sense, time takes on a relationship with space. You judge distances in terms of how long it will take you or the bullets to travel them.

Time seeps into every corner of Superhot, then. It is a game about time. It’s also a game about the building blocks of every first-person shooter, taken apart and made cool again.

Superhot is due for general release later this year. You can still play the 2013 prototype.

36 Comments

  1. colw00t says:

    Superhot looks as cool as it ever does, but I swear at this point I’ve been reading about how cool it is since about… 1874.

  2. MrFinnishDude says:

    I do really like the “SUPER HOT. SUPER HOT” parts, they really add to the experience. Makes you want to pelvic thrust to your awesome moves.

  3. Xzi says:

    DOOM(4) still looks cooler. I will of course be buying Superhot as well. When it releases in Q2 2026.

  4. G-Lord says:

    Loved the beta. Have to admit that I ended up using the gamepad for the analogue movement. Really helps in this game, and twitch aiming is not really necessary thanks to the unique gameplay.

    • King_Rocket says:

      I have been using a contolpad in my left hand for analog movement and the mouse in my right for aiming.

      The dev confirmed on reddit that that’s how they play it to.

  5. Muzman says:

    Two wants: a real time multi-cam replay once you win and the ability to turn off that “SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT” thing.

  6. Sarfrin says:

    Superbly subjective piece. It made me try out the demo and now I’m looking forward to the full game.

  7. khalilravanna says:

    Very cool looking I do have to agree. Though that “SUPER HOT”-flashing-on-the-screen-with-a-lame-voice-overlaid seems pretty obnoxious. I enjoy that two previous commenters brought it up before me, one who liked it and one who disliked it like me.

    • RagingLion says:

      I’m going to be another voice in it’s favour.

      I don’t know why, but the “Super Hot” gets under my skin like an addiction and I have genuine craving to keep hearing it. I feel like it adds a lot to the experience for me. I say this having only watched footage and seems a decent option to allowing turning it off for those that don’t see it this way, though.

  8. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    It’s a little bit like a roguelike, isn’t it? Definitely enjoying the concept here, I’ll be trying this out.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Graham: Do you have beta access because you’re a backer, or did they give beta access to the press?

    • ninnyjams says:

      Why does this matter?

      • Premium User Badge

        Aerothorn says:

        Why does it matter to you why it matters to me?

        • Yglorba says:

          Why does it matter to you why it matters to ninnyjams why it matters to you?

          • jrodman says:

            Horace would like to know why it matters to you why it matters to Aerothorn why it matters to ninnyjams why it matters to Aerothorn why it matters to me why it matters to you why it matters to Aerothorn why it matters to ninnyjams why it matters to Aerothorn why it matters to me why it matters to you why it …

        • ninnyjams says:

          I’m interested.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      They sent out access to press. Or at least me.

      Whyyyyy?

      • King_Rocket says:

        It has to be the beard, no doubt about it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Aerothorn says:

        Cool! Thanks for answering :)

        • ninnyjams says:

          Would it not be cool otherwise? I have to ask — I’ve seen people whine about this kind of thing before and I just don’t get it. I don’t think you’re doing that, I’m just interested to hear your opinion. I’ve seen people suggest backing it on Kickstarter is somehow any different than buying the game yourself, or how it’s any different from being excited about any other game post-release.

  10. Iain_1986 says:

    This game is screaming out for an instant reply feature that playsback at full/real speed.

    • BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

      At least in the endless mode, that’s a thing that happens. Once you die it replays what you did on a loop, but the overlay like the ‘restart’ text and so on gets in the way a bit.

  11. HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

    I will always buy an interesting time manipulation game.

  12. King_Rocket says:

    I’m so glad this game is getting coverage, the beta is the most exciting shooter I have played in years.

    I can’t wait for the full release.

  13. fug says:

    I Kickstarted this, and I’m really enjoying the Beta! Great game so far…

  14. tonicer says:

    If this was mixed with receiver i would buy it in a heartbeat. But even without receivers gunmechanics i will buy Super Hot Super Hot Super Hot Super Hot … ;D … well unless it’s multiplatform. I never buy multiplatform games. PC only or no buy.

    • CannedLizard says:

      Must be sad to have such a limited choice of games. No matter how awesome, say, XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within is, you’ll never get to play it because of the 360/iPad port.

      Want to play Half-Life or Portal? WHOOPS! None for you.

      Spelunky? Nuh-uh. Monkey Island? Not after that accursed iOS port! Doom? Pssh, that game has been on EVERY console and smartphone device ever!

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        Can’t even play the original XCOM. It had a PS1 port. Nice CD remixes of the soundtrack, too.

  15. SooSiaal says:

    An option to turn off “SUPERHOTSUPERHOTSUPERHOTSUPERHOTSUPERHOTSUPERHOTSUPERHOT” while watching the replay would be nice…it gets really annoying after a while..

  16. Gazza says:

    Looks stunning. My only concern is the structure. A lot of puzzle games settle for a bland mission-by-mission setup which can quickly become enervating: “You did mission 2-3… now do mission 2-4!” Here’s hoping they aim higher than that.

    • jrodman says:

      From the beta — I liked the meta-narrative a bit, but the actual mission structure felt kind of bland. Some of the missions that were more challenging I felt more annoyed than cool (character flaw, possibly), and some of the easier ones weren’t that interesting.

      In the flash prototype, I was willing to accept the random scenes as they came, for the minutes of fun I had with it. Partly the dodging and so on were more forgiving so I blazed through the content more quickly. In the beta, however, I ended up around the 8th mission/whatever losing interest in the places and things, because they’re mostly all disconnected from each other, and I don’t get a chance to explore anything or see where it goes.

      Endless mode was a nice idea, but somehow it tended to boil down to “huh, unlucky spawn I’m dead” or “oops, that guy popped in behind me and I didn’t see”. Both of those seem like maybe part of the game but when they’re the vast majority of the way your run ends it seems a bit less than it could be.

      Here’s hoping it gets brought together a little more tightly in the final creation. The core play concept does seem pretty appealing to me.

  17. metric day says:

    Weren’t they making a big deal about VR support and a partnership with Oculus a while back? Did that all evaporate?