SUPERHOT is a puzzle FPS game (as weird as that is to write…) by the aptly named SUPERHOT Team. It grew out of a game jam concept, had a successful Kickstarter, and is coming out this week for Xbox One and PC. I got an early review copy to check out, and I’m ready to tell it like it is. Does SUPERHOT live up to the promise of its title? Read on to find out!
SUPERHOT is, at its core, a first person shooter. There’s no getting around it – it’s played from the first person perspective, and you shoot people. Yep. That’s all the genre really requires of games. Check both those boxes, guys.
First person shooters were edgy and new once upon a time, but in the years since the early era of 3D graphics, they’ve largely stagnated. We can count on a new entry in the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises yearly, and even games like Destiny and Borderlands just layer on a thin veneer of MMO or RPG to what is essentially the same game as Quake 2.
SUPERHOT looks to shake things up in much the same way as Portal did back… holy crap, 10 years ago? sigh. It’s sad that it’s been so long, and not just because it means I’m getting old. It’s sad because really this is a genre that ought to be evolving at some rate faster than 10 years between interesting experiments. But, I digress.
SUPERHOT‘s main claim to fame is that time only moves when you do. It’s not that simple, though – time is kind of constantly moving in slow motion even when you’re still, and you can turn in circles all you want without fast forwarding.
Once you make a move, however, time starts moving at a relatively “normal” rate again. Things are still moving slowly enough that you can easily dodge bullets, so the real-world laws of physics aren’t totally in play at any point.
The other interesting quirk to SUPERHOT is that basically everything is made of a substance that approximates glass. You can throw a cue ball at a bullet, and the ball and the bullet will collide and shatter into pieces. Similarly, if you throw a shot glass at a gun, both objects shatter. Perhaps most importantly, a bullet hitting any enemy causes it to fragment and crumple, before slowly disappearing.
The combination of the time slowing, the abnormal physics, and the glass construction of everything creates a more tactical FPS than most. Letting time move forward (without being strategic about it) is almost certainly going to get a bullet put through your skull, and any hit means instant death.
Levels in SUPERHOT feel more like puzzles and less like shooting galleries. Punch this guy so his gun flies out of his hand, then grab it out of midair, shoot, jump a low-fired shotgun blast, wait what seems like an eternity for the gun to become ready to fire again, shoot again…
Meanwhile, enemies are subtly dodging and weaving, trying to get out of the path of the slow moving bullets. Oh no, the gun is empty! Now it’s a projectile, stunning a nearby foe and getting him to drop his gun. Welcome to the party, pal.
This almost choreographed ballet of violence means that winning against your foes feels great. It’s probably the most badass I’ve felt while playing a FPS, and since the whole point of playing these games is to feel like a badass, that’s saying something.
Each level in SUPERHOT is basically a puzzle to solve. You spawn in some environment with a certain number of enemies, and as you defeat them, often more spawn. Defeat everyone and the level is clear. However, the complexity of the levels and the need to constantly dodge, weave, and find weapons means that failure is always an option.
All of the levels feel like action movie setpieces that you’ve been dropped into mid-fight. In one, you start in a bar bathroom, kicking some dude’s ass in a toilet stall, before busting out into a full-on bar brawl. Another has you cornered in an elevator with three gun-toting baddies that you’ve got to outwit before crashing down a hallway full of shotgun fire.
There’s also a meta-plot that ties the levels together, which I won’t spoil. Mostly it involves text-based chats that occur in what looks like a DOS-era terminal.
SUPERHOT‘s presentation is delightfully minimalist. All the environments are white, untextured surfaces, interactive items are black, and the enemies are red, low-poly humanoid shapes. The contrast works well to highlight things that are hostile versus things just in the way. It feels a little Mirror’s Edge in the best way.
After playing through the main story (25 or so levels), a whole set of modes unlock. There’s an endless mode, along with a bevy of challenges that reuse existing levels in new ways.
SUPERHOT is also designed to be shared – it’s got a built in replay engine that has its own editor and social sharing functions built in. It’s almost as if they want the game to spread virally… hmm…
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For some reason, I feel compelled to tell you SUPERHOT IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS. Seriously, though, it’s crazy innovative and a ton of fun to play. The post-game challenge modes add a lot of replay value.