Superhot is the slowest shooter that I have ever played, and in no way is that criticism. The time-bending features are the best things about the game. It’s what separates Superhot from every other first person shooter on the market and is one of few innovations brought to the genre in years. I just wish there was more content to keep me interested after the credits rolled.
Superhot’s development stems from the 7 day FPS challenge, which is exactly what it sounds like. The game’s developers were tasked with creating a first person shooter within a week. The idea was then taken to Kickstarter, and less than two years later, Superhot was launched to the public. The prototype version is still playable on the official website.
The developer (aptly named Superhot Team), deserves praise for crafting the unique visual style and gameplay. The environments consist entirely of shades of white and grey with no detail, while the enemies are constructed from featureless red 3-D polygons. The bullet trails also appear in red, giving you an indication of their destined path. The minimalist design works well to emphasise the important aspects of the game and adds to Superhot’s uniqueness.
The premise behind Superhot’s gameplay sounds more complex than it actually is. If you stop moving the character, time comes to a near standstill. Every time you move, time re-activates the enemies and their bullets. Each of the 30 or so micro levels becomes a tense puzzle to solve of the best way to eliminate your enemies. I say micro levels because each puzzle only takes around 10 seconds of moving time to complete. While the time is stopped, you have an opportunity to plan out your next move. As the time continues to move at a slow pace, you need to think quick, as you remain under constant threat at all times.
The gameplay can be tough and frustrating at times. The enemies have perfect accuracy and one bullet or punch will put you down. They possess a very limited variety of weapons, although they can regain any discarded weapon after being disarmed. There is no ammo counter on the HUD, which led to [many deaths because I hadn’t realised I was out of bullets. The enemies also frequently spawn behind you, which left some of my deaths feeling unfair. Having the option to instantly restart stopped my repeat attempts from becoming tedious.
Each micro level feels like a choreographed scene from a stylised action film. I can’t help but compare Superhot’s slow-motion gameplay to films like The Matrix and John Woo’s Hong Kong action films. Several levels even look like they were lifted straight out of the movies, including the grand staircase battle from The Matrix Reloaded. I often found myself laughing at the micro levels’ brilliant titles. The level set inside a bar was titled Last Call, while the elevator scenario was titled Elevator Pitch.
Superhot takes place within a virtual reality program on a computer running a DOS-like program. I don’t want to spoil the story details, but I will say it deals with themes such as free will and often breaks the 4th wall (like Tron!). The campaign mode is quite short, around two hours long. Once you have completed it, you gain access to the challenge and endless modes. Challenge more rehashes the campaign levels with slight modifiers such as melee only and speed runs. Endless mode is basically the same, although you attempt to rack up a high score of kills. There is little variety between these modes and I quickly became bored with them. Here in lies my biggest gripe, there’s just not enough content to continue playing without the gameplay becoming repetitive, nor to justify it’s AU$24.99 price tag.
Indie games have shied away from the popular FPS, and instead crafted first person games that focus on story and puzzles. Firewatch and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter are both great examples of this approach. Superhot embraces the FPS, and still features enough innovation and originality to retain both its independent qualities and feel modern at the same time. Whilst it would have been nice to have more meat to the bones, what’s here is as innovative as they come. If you can justify the cost, the reward comes from an experience like no other.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer who can’t talk about first person shooters without reminiscing on Goldeneye. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrVane