“SUPERHOT is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.” —SUPERHOT Tagline
“It’s about time”, states SUPERHOT, “time moves only when you move”. Armed with this mechanic, SUPERHOT is a first-person puzzle game where the goal is to capitalise on this unique power to complete the different levels: when the player stops moving, time flows at a dramatically reduced rate, allowing one to carefully plan their next move. Playing as themselves, SUPERHOT introduces itself as a cracked game, but it becomes apparent shortly after that something sinister is occurring; the player is being watched and gradually becomes absorbed into SUPERHOT itself. Throughout the game, the player is reminded that they are not in control, a caricature of the linear nature of many contemporary shooters. This is where SUPERHOT stands out from other shooters: by utilising the time mechanic, players are afforded a few extra moments to plan their next move, and later missions in SUPERHOT provide players with hot switching, allowing them to possess different bodies. This feature is highly useful for escaping difficult situations and is balanced out by the fact that when entering a new body, the player immediately discards the weapon and cannot hot switch again to prevent abuse. The flow of time and hot switching create two novel elements that allow players to create novel solutions for extricating themselves out of difficult situations: upon successfully completing a level, the announcer reiterates SUPER…HOT, two words with strongly positive connotations (“positive” and “intense”), and yes, it does feel very good to complete a mission in one attempt, because SUPERHOT, like Wolfire’s Receiver, is highly unforgiving in that a single bullet will result in death.
Its minimalistic artwork, novel concept and clean execution combine to make SUPERHOT a super hot title: the game lives up to its own claims as “the most innovative shooter…in years”. The handling for the game is superb, and comparing the final product with the prototype, it’s clear that the game has been well thought out. Gun mechanics are now tied with time, so players must strategically move around before their weapon will cycle a new round into the chamber. Weapons have extremely limited ammunition, and players can choose to discard their weapons manually: a well-timed throw will disarm an enemy, making it possible to use this as a means of relieving enemies of their weapons to buy one more time. Each level, though short, is about finding a functional solution for completion, and each level further permits players to experiment with different means of completing them. The minimalist artwork further makes SUPERHOT easy to play; enemies and usable items immediately stand out against the white background, and bullet trails help players determine how to evade them. SUPERHOT‘s campaign presents all of the game’s mechanics with a quirky narrative, and while it’s quite short (clocking in at only two hours), its main purpose is to prepare players for the game’s challenge and endless modes.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The SUPERHOT prototype was released in September 2013, and I was taking proteomics at the time. In the prototype, the enemies sported shades, their deaths resembled alpha helices in a protein’s secondary structure after being shot and the guns were more realistic-looking. Their slides locked open after they were depleted and operated independently of the time mechanism, allowing one to fire quite quickly.
- In the completed version of SUPERHOT, enemies and weapons resemble glass, shattering when destroyed or thrown. The guns’ action is also tied to the time mechanic now, so players must move around in order to advance time and allow the weapon’s mechanisms to chamber a new round for firing. This adds a new complexity into the game, prompting players to place their shots more carefully.
- In addition to guns, beer bottles, Erlenmeyer flasks and even pool balls can be used as weapons in SUPERHOT: these can be thrown, and a successful hit will cause an enemy to drop their weapon. Players may subsequently pull this weapon out of the air and wield it. This ability has come in quite handy and has saved me from certain death on more than one occasion.
- For the ranged weapon, besides pistols, a shotgun is also available. Despite its slow firing rate, it shoots pellets in a conical pattern and because each pellet can shatter an enemy, the shotgun can be a powerful tool for downing multiple hostiles with a single shot. However, on the flip side, evading the pellets are trickier the longer they’ve been in the air, so I usually make it a habit to take out shotgun wielders as quickly as possible.
- I finally got around to beating SUPERHOT on Friday after starting the game on Thursday: it was a very slow day, and I had spent a majority of it working on my thesis. As the afternoon passed, I had made reasonable progress with structuring my chapters and decided to stop for a break. I got about halfway through the campaign by the time the evening rolled around, and so, I stepped out with a friend to Big T’s BBQ & Smokehouse: dinner was on me that evening because he had stepped in for my Makerspace duties on very short notice while I had been in France, and we were also celebrating the end of the academic term.
- There is also an assault rifle that appears to be set for burst fire. It has the highest rate of fire of any of the weapons in game, and can allow for up to four rounds to be fired in rapid succession. It can be a great precision weapon against multiple targets, and I shoot my way out of an alleyway here. It was quite the windy evening, but when we arrived at Big T’s, it was not too busy. I sipped a cool ginger ale in a mason jar while perusing the menu, and we ordered the Creole Shrimp as an appetizer in addition to our main course.: this buttery shrimp had a bit of a spicy kick to it and accompanied the bread quite well.
- Because it was a Thursday evening, service was blazing fast, and so, my dinner came on short order. I ordered the baby back ribs with brisket, steamed vegetables and shack fries (essentially chili cheese fries with succulent chunks of beef). Everything was delicious in this vast, flavourful dinner: the meat fell off the ribs, and the smokiness in the brisket was quite distinct. Unlike last year, man defeated this food challenge. I subsequently beat SUPERHOT on Friday right before the Alumni Weekend presentations started, and similarly, had spent much of the day working on my thesis.
- From what I heard, SUPERHOT‘s campaign was meant to be roughly similar in structure and length with that of Portal‘s: the former can be beaten in roughly two hours on one’s first try, including multiple attempts, while the latter takes roughly three hours to beat. However, Portal costs much less than SUPERHOT, and this proved to be quite the point of contention, since SUPERHOT costs 35 Canadian dollars owing to the poor exchange rates.
- I personally find that to be a bit pricey, even though SUPERHOT is exceptionally well-designed; when the game’s release date approached, I had decided that if the game cost 25 CAD or less, it would be worth picking up. Given that SUPERHOT does have unlimited replay value, this is the value I feel that I will get the most bang for my buck, and having tried the game out, I will wait for the next sale to pick it up.
- In an earlier image, I am wielding a katana, which can be used to slice bullets in two. As with all the other weapons, there is a delay for swinging the katana, so it’s important to make every cut count. One of my preferred tactics is to throw the katana at an imminent threat if I’ve just finished cutting down someone with weapon in hand.
- The locations of SUPERHOT‘s campaign are quite varied, ranging from a subway station to office spaces in a skyscraper, a chemical laboratory, bar and even an apartment. One of the trickiest missions was dubbed “Elevator Pitch”, where the confined spaces inside the elevator made it exceptionally difficult to navigate around bullets. I beat that one after several attempts and basked in the game’s chant, SUPER…HOT. SUPER…HOT.
- Later missions give players access to the hot-switch ability, allowing players to swap bodies with the NPCs. This ability is particularly useful for extricating oneself from certain death: players can be downed by what appear to be near misses, but fortunately, SUPERHOT does allow for quick respawns. Because of the one-hit-kill mechanism, knowing where enemies is important, and the minimalist artwork helps players locate enemies quickly; enemies spawning in will cause a section of the room to glow red.
- Throughout SUPERHOT, large messages flash across the screen, giving players a quick idea of what’s to come. The game’s main menu and plot is articulated through a DOS-like interface, and the game references the lack of control the player has over the story’s progression. The game will reprimand players for playing, and even force players to quit and restart after a certain point.
- With a strong meta-narrative, SUPERHOT is quirky, innovative and a fantastical delight all around. The emphasis on stopping and moving strategically makes it much more relaxed than most shooters, but there are some occasions where a lack of situational awareness can lead to sudden, unexpected deaths. During the train station level later in the game, I would blow away everyone on my side of the platform but then die seemingly out of the blue. A few attempts later, I realised that there were two other enemies on the opposite platform.
- SUPERHOT features several corridors, and in any normal shooter, the player would be dead before they could react. The mechanic in SUPERHOT allows players to slowly navigate around the bullets, helpfully marked out with red tracers, to either take out the threat or reach cover. Hot-switching adds yet another powerful asset into the player’s toolbox, and in this mission, I would always start by tossing my starting katana at the feet of the body I would hot-switch into, then make the switch and retrieve said katana.
- Near the end of SUPERHOT, the goal is to upload one’s consciousness into a vast, red, crystalline core similar to the cores seen in Strike Witches‘ Neuroi, especially of the larger Hive-class. Because the red enemies shatter in a single shot similarly to the Neuroi cores, one cannot help but draw the comparison between Strike Witches and SUPERHOT. Predictably, the early attempts will fail, forcing players to exit and engage a few waves of bad guys. The first wave is not so bad, but later waves can be quite treacherous.
- One of the tricky things to remember about SUPERHOT is that the act of looking around and picking things up can also advance time: there have been several instances where I died in the middle of trying to obtain a weapon because time had resumed enough for an enemy to shoot or punch me out. In the absence of weapons, players have access to punches; it takes three to take out an NPC, and there are always risks in doing so, since each punch advances time by a little.
- Besides being able to cut bullets out of the air, shooting a bullet is also possible, and in the worst case, players can use their weapon to absorb a single bullet after throwing it. The campaign might be short, but it also introduces players to the sort of things they can pull off in-game, and these techniques can prove useful for both the challenges and endless mode.
- The final mission is the trickiest, involving multiple waves of bad guys. However, by this point in time, players should know the mechanics of SUPERHOT well enough to figure out a way to overcome the red guys and moreover, because spawns can be deterministic, it’s not too tricky to figure out which patterns the enemies generally appear in.
- With this SUPERHOT review done, I’m now very interested to pick the game up for my own Steam account next time there’s a sale. I suddenly realise that this post came out of the blue, although it represents a welcome break from the firestorms brewing about Hai-Furi‘s fourth episode: someone from Tango-Victor-Tango even called me out for not putting in an honest effort to fix inaccuracies in their Hai-Furi page. Unlike them, I do not have unlimited leisure time to curate things, so I’d rather do things like play SUPERHOT and generally relax. In the discussion for Hai-Furi‘s fourth episode, I stated that Sniper Elite V2 and Flying Witch would be the next topics of interest, and that’s not changed; I’ll have at least one of two posts out before the TEDx talk on Saturday.
SUPERHOT‘s present price tag remains somewhat steep (I played through a friend’s copy for this review), but the presence of endless modes, challenges and new content means that SUPERHOT will have unlimited replay value as one becomes increasingly familiar with SUPERHOT‘s mechanics and perform better. Moreover, when one completes SUPERHOT for themselves, the game generates a special discount code that can be applied for a 15 percent discount of the game; one could encouraging one of their friends to pick up the game. I have such a coupon now, and will definitely pick this game up once the next sale opportunity arises (from the sounds of things, coupons can be used in conjunction with sales to improve the deal even further). Besides the base game, SUPERHOT‘s DOS-like system also has several neat extras that warrant exploring, and the developers are suggesting that SUPERHOT could gain VR support quite soon. The unique combination of time and VR could create an incredibly immersive game that fully capitalises on the technology. Where SUPERHOT is headed is presently unclear, but what is clear is that SUPERHOT is indeed one of the most innovative shooters I’ve played in years; once the opportunity presents itself, I will pick up SUPERHOT and share some of the more impressive feats I manage to pull off in endless mode or through the challenges.