Review: Superhot

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Although it’s not nearly as graphic, playing Superhot is kind of like a video game adaptation of that restaurant scene in the movie The Equalizer where Denzel Washington’s character goes in to confront some Russian mobsters, and sets his watch to time his vicious massacre. (Just call him the speedrun assassin!) Before his murderous rampage begins, the scene zooms into Denzel’s eye and cuts into slow-motion as he analyzes his surroundings and visualizes his impending death spree. Then the scene kicks back into real time as his plan unfolds with deadly efficiency, just as he envisioned it. Each level in Superhot delivers that same flow and feeling of being a badass killing machine.

Similarly, the game does get by primarily on style points over substance, which is fine because sometimes fluff action with an effective single-hook mechanic is all that’s needed to carry an experience.

Superhot is an indie first-person shooter originally conceived as a game jam prototype at the 7 Day FPS Challenge a few years back. So what makes the game so super hot? Aside from its slickly stylized, minimalistic visuals, that would be its unique mechanic that causes time to only move when you do. Well technically that’s not entirely accurate. Time does move when you’re standing still, just at an almost imperceptibly slow speed. Each level plugs you into a different scenario (in an elevator surrounded by enemies, at the end of a long hallway with enemies shooting from the other end, on top of a moving train about to drive through a tunnel), usually unarmed and always facing seemingly insurmountable odds. The trick is to utilize the stopping and starting of time to weave in and out of bullet spray and seize just the right moments to strike. Take that, insurmountable odds!

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This is an action game for sure, but, to a certain extent, it can also be quite cerebral. The goal of each level is simply to kill every hostile red dude while simultaneously avoiding damage, because in this game one hit kills. As I was playing, I began to view each stage as a puzzle, examining the surroundings for threats and available weapons, and then figuring out how to best utilize the time mechanic to put the pieces together into a viable solution to the problem. That solution ultimately resulting in a spectacularly satisfying killing spree. The gameplay also steadily evolves around the time mechanic by introducing different types of weapons and abilities. You start primarily with punching, then graduate to pistols, throwable objects, melee weapons like baseball bats and katanas, more powerful guns including shotguns and assault rifles, and last but not least, a hotswitch move that allows you to target an enemy and transfer into their body like an Agent from The Matrix. (Speaking of which, there are definitely some heavy Matrix influences at work here, what with the slow-motion effects and visible bullet trails and the overall theatrics of the action.)

Throwing is probably the coolest part of the game. Whether it’s a glass bottle or a computer monitor or a gun that has run out of ammo, every object can be turned into a projectile that, once it connects, briefly stuns the enemy and makes them drop any weapon they happen to be wielding at the time. What’s really rad is the way you’re able to then catch a weapon out of mid-air and turn it against its original owner. Very few games provide the same level of satisfaction that explodes inside when you can pull all of this off in a single fluid chain of actions. In some magical way, the game is able to make you feel incredibly powerful even though your character is extremely fragile. The best part is being able to save your best replays and upload them to a dedicated community site called Killstagram.com.

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The story mode’s 32 levels take no more than about two hours to best, and few of them are especially difficult. But despite its singular hook, the game does have an oddly compelling narrative underpinning that brings at least some semblance of cohesion to what is really just a series of self-contained slow-mo fight scenes. I don’t want to go into anything too specific at the risk of spoiling the fun, but the whole game has a weird sort of meta vibe in the way both the interface and narrative are presented through a simulated DOS-like command prompt menu system, with dialogue that unfolds via fake text chat conversations. The interface is loaded with all sorts of little extras, like ASCII art, mini-games, and random executable files. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I definitely get the feeling that the game has a lot of little secrets hidden beneath the surface that will only be discovered once an active player community starts poking around in the code.

Interestingly enough, the true Superhot experience doesn’t fully manifest until after the story mode is cleared and the Challenge and Endless modes become available. That’s when you really get to sink your hooks into the gameplay and prove your mettle against more difficult challenges. In Challenge mode, levels are replayed using different rule modifiers, such as for speedruns, with Barehands only (meaning no guns, melee weapons, or throwing), against Impossible odds (faster enemy bullets, softer punches, shorter stun duration, and a single-bullet ammo cap per gun), or in a No Restart mode which requires clearing every level in a single run, no dying allowed.

Endless mode, on the other hand, skews the game into more of an arcade high-score-’em-up in which you enter different arenas and attempt to pile up kills in a wave-based survival format. There are variations on endless play as well, including challenges to kill as many red guys as possible in 20 game time seconds, or 60 real time seconds, or race to see how quickly you can achieve 30 kills. These are the modes where most of your time will be spent.

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Superhot is a fairly shallow experience all things considered, but hot damn is it fun to play. And play. And play some more. My only caution is that the story mode by itself, although plenty of fun, isn’t particularly challenging or long-lasting, and that the game doesn’t hit its full stride until the Challenge and Endless modes kick in. So in order to get the most bang for your buck, you’re really going to need to be the type of player who enjoys rerunning the same levels again and again, under different rules and modifiers to find new ways to master the whole “time moves when you move” mechanic and show off your super hot replays.

[Updated text added since original posting] As I posited previously, the game does have a lot of secrets that actually make the story mode a whole lot more replayable and interesting than I initially gave it credit for. I’ve continued to play from the full release build and found that there are indications within the level select menu after clearing the story that reveal that there is a secret “crack” to find within each level. (Maybe I overlooked something, but I don’t recall the level select showing these indications in the review build I played from.) Finding these cracks, which appear as computer terminals, are very tricky as you need to first deal with the enemies but leave at least one alive that you can sort of kite around while you search the environments for hidden areas, and then you need to figure out how to escape from within the boundaries of the level to find the terminal. I’ve only been able to find three so far, so it’s going to take a lot of investigating to get them all.

Anyway, for the sake of accuracy and thoroughness, I just wanted to update my review to reflect the changes I’ve discovered since updating to the public release build. Early reviewer builds are nice, but sometimes they don’t represent everything that makes it into the finished product, which is why I typically wait until a game launches rather than rushing to time a review posting with the lifting of an embargo. Fortunately, in this case I already dug the game a lot to begin with, so my original verdict stands. Discovering this whole secret crack aspect of the game only makes me want to recommend it more, especially for completionist players who are into collectible scavenger hunts.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Single-mechanic gameplay at its finest
+ Throwing objects and catching weapons out of mid-air just feels so cool
+ Gameplay truly shines in Endless and Challenge modes
+ Clever integration between the story and interface; it’s so meta and full of secrets

Cons:
– Story mode on its own is somewhat lacking

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux (also planned for Xbox One)
Publisher: Superhot Team
Developer: Superhot Team
Release Date: 2/25/2016
Genre: Action/FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!