Wot I Think: SUPERHOT

All I really wanted from the full, commercial release of SUPERHOT [official site] was more of the same. The original prototype ranks among my favourite FPS games of recent years, its ‘time only moves when you move’ idea causing it to play out like a turn-based Hotline Miami, viewed from a fresh perspective. Can that central idea carry an entire game, however, or would it become stretched thin? Here’s wot I think.

There are several similarities to Cactus’ kill ’em up, including the necessity to throw spent firearms at enemies, the use of improvised melee weaponry and the fact that a single hit will stop you in your tracks. And then there’s the style of the game, which is drawn from a completely different palette to Hotline’s grotesqueries, grime and gore, but is equally important. There is substance to go with the style, but both game’s stand out from the crowd thanks to their finely executed aesthetics.

In SUPERHOT, enemies seem to be made of glass, their bodies shattering at the point of impact, leading to strangely beautiful moments as a limb explodes into fragments or the stained red structure of a silica skull collapses as a body crumples and disintegrates. The sound effects match the visuals and even though I was tempted to write a strongly worded letter of disagreement to Nick Lowe by the time I’d heard my own body breaking for the hundredth time, I haven’t grown tired of the splintering sounds of my targets.

It’s ultraviolence without any of the splatter or screams.

I’d also expected ultraviolence without any context and that’s certainly how the game sets out its stall. You’re in an office building, killing angry people, and then you’re in a bar, and then you’re in a…cage?

It’s not long before things start to drift toward the deep end of the pool, where strange things lurk beneath the surface. In fact, the game is drawn toward weird waters from the opening moments, when a framing device reminiscent of Pony Island introduces SUPERHOT as a game within a game – the latter game being a fake, glitchy operating system that acts as a menu screen.

From there you can jump straight into the story or explore some submenus, which contain the other programs on this fake OS. They’re eerily convincing fragments of an alternate reality in which SUPERHOT is the hot new thing, a game that looks far ahead of whatever fictional time it exists in, given the crude nature of its neighbours.

The story, such as it is, mainly unfolds during instant messenger dialogues between the character you play and the friend who first drops a cracked version of SUPER HOT onto your hard drive. There are chuckles about the disconnected nature of the levels and the apparent lack of a plot and, a few levels in, something sinister breaks into the conversation and the game within a game is revealed to be something far more mysterious than a turn-based FPS.

I was thoroughly entertained during the couple of hours that the story lasted. It’s brief, yes, but it’s packed with ideas, both in the plotting which is alternately creepy and humorously self-aware, and in terms of level design and modifications to your toolset. There’s only one major change, one addition to the control scheme beyond the time-tampering, but it’s an extremely smart development, vastly increasing the possibility for slick play without overcomplicating the game’s essential simplicity. Kill or be killed is the only rule but by providing both temporal and spatial controls, SUPER HOT encourages the kind of inventive action that more traditional FPS games rarely capture outside scripted sequences.

If I have one notable complaint about the story mode, beyond its brevity (which, given the quality of the other modes, might actually be a virtue; it doesn’t overstay its welcome), it is that some scenes are a little too scripted. Like the Hotline Miami 2 levels that felt like punishing puzzles that required trial and error rather than creative play and speedy reflexes, some situations are designed to require an immediate and precise response. Of course, ‘immediate’ is relative because you decide when the next moment actually arrives, but when a level begins with several guns primed to fire and pointed at your face, you need to plan that moment with foresight that is actually the hindsight gained in the life you just lost.

It’s a minor complaint. SUPERHOT actually suits those scenarios, even if I don’t find them as satisfying as the more free-form and chaotic fights, and they’re not overused. Nothing is overused in the story, short as it is, and if that were all the game contained, it’d be much tougher to recommend. As it is, I can recommend the game to anyone who finds the idea of the central mechanic interesting.

Do you want to freeze as a bullet whistles past your ear and see that bullet hang stationary, a trail like a scar in the air behind it? Do you want to sidestep the pellets of a shotgun blast, not in one smooth motion but one tiny step at a time, weaving between each piece of shot? Do you want to throw an empty pistol into a man’s face, causing him to drop the shotgun he was about to fire, and do you then want to catch that shotgun and take out a sword-wielding assailant approaching from the rear?

The challenges and Endless Mode that unlock when the story is done are what will keep you coming back after those initial hours. They offer new ways to play the levels you’ve completed with optional variations, including a modifier that causes time to freeze completely between moves. There’s normally a sluggish onward drift, which feels like a forward momentum that can’t quite be halted completely, and when it’s deactivated the game truly is a hybrid turn-based FPS. It’s fantastic.

And that’s not all. You can play with specific weapons or alter the way that weapons work. You can vary certain aspects of the enemies, and you can chase scores forever in the glorious Endless Mode. As a duo, SUPERHOT and the splendid Devil Daggers have caused me to fall hard for brief, compact, intelligent first-person score attack games. It might end up being my favourite trend of 2016.

A word on VR as well. Given what we know about the price of VR kit already, it’s going to take more than one quality game to sell me on the hardware anytime soon. SUPER HOT could well be the first though. Whether you want to live out bullet-time Matrix fantasies in first-person virtual reality or want to see how movements of your head can cause time to advance, VR SUPER HOT is a tantalising thought. It could have been designed specifically to sell the concept of the kit, right down to a brief VR cameo within the story mode.

Whenever you finish a level you can watch a replay in real-time (to do so without the SUPERHOT logo and voice repeating in a distracting fashion, click as if you intend to edit the replay for a cleaner view). It’s during those replays that I tend to relax and enjoy my astonishing achievements – victories against all odds, using a variety of weapons, juggled and tamed as they spill from the hands of fallen foes.

During the actual playthrough, I’m tense and thoughtful in some moments and chortling in delight during other moments. SUPERHOT is a game in which time is often frozen but it’s a game that allows you to cherish every moment. Time stands still but it’s never wasted.

SUPERHOT is out today.

62 Comments

  1. Frank V. says:

    Sadly, SuperHot’s website is currently down. I’m guessing they were seeing high volume… It does appear you can buy the game on steam though.

  2. funkstar says:

    SUPERHOT

  3. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    I’d completely forgotten I’d bought this 18 months ago to play with the protoype builds until I got an email telling me to pick up the Steam key from Humble Store.

    Whoops :)

    • Voidlight says:

      That’s basically what happened with me and Hyperlight Drifter. I saw it pop up on the humble store and went “Ooh, how interesting!”

      Turns out I bought it last year…

  4. Faults says:

    Eh, I played the prototype ages ago, and it felt really hobbled, janky and not really enjoyable or engaging outside of its central ‘time stops when you stop’ conceit, which it never really felt like it did anything particularly interesting or creative with.

    Would people say the full game is worth persevering with even if I didn’t enjoy the prototype all that much?

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      I think you played it wrong, preserving guns and ammos while you have to throw everything away in someone’s face.

    • gunny1993 says:

      I think it’s fair to say if you had no joy with the prototype then you’re not going to like the full game. Especially since the Time stop mechanic is what the game is based around and what the people who like the game like about it.

    • RobF says:

      Maybe! I didn’t get on with the prototype at all, didn’t see what the fuss was about in the slightest.

      The story mode in this is a lot tighter, both in how it plays and in how it plays you.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      I.. have no idea what you played, but that doesn’t sound like what I experienced when playing the demo. That’s not meant to be insulting or anything, I’m just surprised.

      And what I experienced I liked. A lot.

    • jrodman says:

      The unity demo? The in-browser thing?

      The full game is .. smoother, and the story framing is kind of interesting, but it’s basically more of the same.

  5. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    So the designer and writer is Ste Curran eh? 7/10 then ;-)

    • Faults says:

      Eh? It says on the website that the game was directed by Piotr Iwanicki and the story was written by Cezary Skorupka. No mention of Ste Curran, unless I completely misunderstood the point you were trying to make, which is, of course, entirely plausible :P

      • Mr Wonderstuff says:

        Ah my bad…the Eurogamer review mentioned Ste in a caption…just put two and two together and came up with 200 ;-)

    • steves says:

      I dunno, it ‘reads’ like an 8 to me.

      Do people still do that nonsense?

      Anyway, it had me at “rare piece of charmingly curated violence”, which it certainly is.

  6. Blastaz says:

    Got to say that the advert on mobile that is plastered all over RPS is a cracking use of the conceit.

    Best first person puzzler since Portal?

    • ROMhack says:

      I dunno, there’s been a few good ‘uns.

      The Talos Principle for a start. And Anti-chamber. And The Witness if you deny Public Enemy’s advice and believe da hype.

    • SuddenSight says:

      I wouldn’t call it a puzzler. There are some levels that can feel like you need to find the correct solution, but its more a case of trial and error, killing that enemy that surprised you last time, not a case of logicking out your attacks.

      Mostly the game puts me in an odd state. On the harder levels and in endless mode you are often pressed for (in-game) time. Combined with a non-360 degree field of view, it makes the game feel tense and slow at the same time. Definitely an interesting beast.

  7. Ugubriat says:

    > both game’s stand out from the crowd

    GET THAT APOSTROPHE OUT OF THAT WORD RIGHT NOW.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Apparently the apostrophe enclosures at Castle Shotgun aren’t as escape proof as they could be.

  8. Jeroen D Stout says:

    I am so excited for this that it is almost unseemly.

  9. Premium User Badge

    alphager says:

    Any comment on the hardware requirements? The minimum requirements posted on steam are surprisingly high (Quadcore-CPU required).

    • BannerThief says:

      At this point, I’d say that it’s bizarre to not have a processor that’s at least quad-core. It’s ‘not having at least 4 gigs of RAM’ levels of bizarre.

      • Wulfram says:

        i3s seem to fairly commonly get recommended for the cheaper end of gaming PCs. And that’s currently, go back a little further and people were pretty keen on the notion that single threaded performance was what mattered.

  10. WombatDeath says:

    How’s the multiplayer?

    OK, sorry. But there’s a vaguely serious point there: it might be interesting to have a deathmatch game with fixed periods of x seconds to move/shoot and y seconds to think/panic. Or it might be terrible. I don’t know, I’m not a game designer. Why are you asking me all these questions? Please leave me alone.

    • Moonracer says:

      It is certainly an interesting mental exercise imagining how multiplayer could work. I’m humorously imagining a mode where time stops unless all players are moving at the same time. Maybe something like time moves faster or slower depending on the cumulative movements of all players? So not quite ever a total stop.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Actually I can sort of imagine how it could work — whenever you do something it gets sort of “queued”, time passes whenever all players have a queued action, up until you reach the end of someone’s “queue”. Considering it’s first person and head movement is analogue & not as measurable or plannable as say, moving a piece on a board, this doesn’t quite work…but I bet you could figure a way to make it function even if it doesn’t exactly feel good.

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      It’s a bad idea but: F.E.A.R. Combat and max payne 3.

      • zxcasdqwecat says:

        bleargh I took for granted you were going to talk about slow motion not “turn based” action, don’t mind me.

    • Stevostin says:

      IMO – and this is true of Devil Daggers too – multiplayer should be based on Tetris multiplayer dynamic. Each player plays alone but when he makes combo, that creates extra opposition for the other player who can either die of it or use it to create bigger combos and give you hell back.

  11. JoeX111 says:

    I used to play the tech demo with “Shots Fired” from the John Wick soundtrack thumping in the background. I highly recommend this for the full game! It goes together very well.

  12. haldolium says:

    And again Unity Aliasing Hell of Horrors… I really wonder if thats the new thing since Unity doesn’t offer real FS anymore.

    Image Quality Matters.

  13. ComradeSnarky says:

    Lack of music is a bit of a missed opportunity and ought to be mentioned, no?

  14. a very affectionate parrot says:

    SUPERHOT IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS!
    Seriously though, wow, just finished the story and I love this game, love the fake-OS thing, love the stupid storyline, most of all love the mechanics. Lack of music is an ‘issue’ and makes SUPERHOT instantly lose in any Hotline Miami comparison but considering how short the story is, I’m pretty sure people will be wanting to play their own jams while playing endless mode.
    The only problem i see is making a mix that has the exact timing of ambient and jungle to match my play style.

    • Unsheep says:

      Apart from the interface gimmick there’s nothing innovative about this game, we’ve had the slow-mo function in FPS for a very long time.

      • a very affectionate parrot says:

        Well the fake-OS interface isn’t really innovative either if you look at it that way.
        Maybe part of my love for this game and why I can’t stop playing the bloody thing is because it reminds me of the slow-mo chaos of F.E.A.R.
        Also that all-caps statement is somewhat tongue in cheek and relates to the game’s rather amusing storyline. Still I’d say there’s something quite innovative about the package as a whole, it’s certainly not a conventional shooter.

      • kament says:

        And while we’re at it, the cake is not at all a lie.

        • a very affectionate parrot says:

          While I get the comparison there It’s pretty unfair. The joke at the end of SUPERHOT is that that’s how people enthusiastic about the game will actually recommend it to their friends, and alludes to the start of the story. I don’t see it becoming some weird out of context phenomena like losing your job to a crippling leg injury or false confections.

  15. MakeSkyrimGreen says:

    I’d like to see a cross between this and Dishonored, a game where I often found the combat played out in short bursts between reloads. But mainly because I’d like to see some stealth elements.

    • kament says:

      Didn’t the make something like that for Daud with his time stopping blink thing?

  16. Soapeh says:

    You can also remove the UI during replays by pressing 7 on the numpad. There are some other controls for fine-tuning the replay on the numpad too, which are outlined in the mesmerising hacked BBS conversations.

  17. Dudeist says:

    Because gameplay length, it will be nice addition to incoming Humble Bundles

  18. Unsheep says:

    An FPS that’s all about short-lived gimmicks ? no thank you.
    I’ll happy leave this one to you bored media folks.

  19. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I think this might end up being my biggest disappointment of the year.

    It’s fun… in a way. The whole thing ends up feeling extremely flat. I couldn’t put my finger on why and then I realized that it’s the lack of music. This needs (yes NEEDS!) some kind of a dynamic soundtrack to it. Something where it’s just the drum beat while slow motion but then high energy while moving. Hell even just having the tracks tone down in volume during the slow-mo. Did you ever play King Mode in Geometry Wars? Like that.

    I also hate how hard it would to tell whether a bullet is going to fly past you or not. You can literally turn your head and watch it go past you buy it will still kill you.

    Get it on sale.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Ugh! “…it is to tell…” and “…but it will…”

      • jrodman says:

        Yeah, for a game about slow-mo, the inability to gauge collision distance is pretty lousy.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Surprised to see so much negativity in the comments. My reaction was pretty much the exact same as Alec’s, but like him I loved the prototype; I prefer my shooters to be puzzle-like, so I can imagine how someone who wanted more of a conventional shooter could find this disappointing.

  21. April March says:

    I’ll probably buy this, but I doubt the story is a plus. I liked how a story was alluded to in the prototype.
    THE
    DEAL
    IS
    OFF

  22. kament says:

    SUPERHOT SUPERHOT

    These damn words, I swear.

  23. Premium User Badge

    quasiotter says:

    I don’t like strategy and planning but I like how pretty it is and I want it but I don’t know if I want to buy a game just to look at cool things happening in slow motion

  24. Marclev says:

    Just to put “short main campaign” into perspective … I’ve beat it, and according to my steam game page, I have spent *2 hours* playing the game.

    That’s 2 hours including fiddling around with the “game within a game”, reading the story dialog, sometimes repeating levels when killed, and playing two or three challenge levels after the main campaign was over.

    I mean there’s short and then there’s short. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun enough game, but also the levels are painfully short, think Portal test chamber short, without the complicated puzzles. It felt as if the game was constantly building up to actual big levels, but that never happened.

    The challenges and endless mode seem fun so far, but more in short bursts between other things, as opposed to a must play style thing.