Castle Content

Hollywood Action-Star

follow url Superhot
Platform: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS
Developer: SuperHOT Team
Publisher: SuperHOT Team
Reviewed on PC/Windows

Are you one of those people who measures joy and money value of a game by the arbitrary amount of hours it takes to beat the story? Then don’t waste your time with Superhot, unless you’re willing to rethink the way you value entertainment. Which is a shame, because it’s the best game ever released to self-proclaim itself as the most innovative shooter in years. No joke.

Superhot makes for the best elevator pitch: A vector-inspired first-person shooter where time only properly runs when you move. Architecture is sterile, white concrete and the enemies are a combination of Berocca and sugar glass. The cogs in imagination begin to crank with possibilities, but not before you cash in the paychecks from the investor’s minds you just blew. Funnily enough, there’s a scenario in the game where you blow everyone’s minds in the elevator. Hey, it was either them or me.

Rather than weave them into a full campaign ala Half Life 2 or BioshockSuperhot has opted to give you short, sharp levels that plonk you in the middle of action-film scenes that are already unfolding. It’s like you’re the lead actor, and the director already called ‘ACTION!‘ three minutes ago, and you suddenly have to figure out your next cue. You’re like Jason Bourne with spontaneous bouts of amnesia, similarly motivated by a sustained fight-flight response to survive. Similar to other family-friendly adventures like Hotline Miami, the protagonist’s violence is spurred reflexively to the situation around you albeit with slo-mo timing. Superhot gives you time to think, duck and weave, and soak in the pauses between the bloodbath, as a mechanism to fuel and sustain your violence fever and ferocity.

Some levels grant you the luxury of choice, as you sadistically deliberate between a katana torso-chop or a shotgun to the face – the glorious privileges of the time-rich. However, other levels like the cramped elevator trip force your hand to more reflexive and pragmatic measures. Irrespective of your options, most of the action unfolds so operatic and visceral that it transcends the underdone weapon animations and staccato enemies. Superhot has a special component that all outstanding shooters have, and is served as its modus operandi–sensate gratification.

The abstracted and flatly textured characters evaporate like a droplet under the sun after they fall and shatter. They never linger like the sprawls of dead flesh in Hotline Miami, but when a room is emptied, a booming voice loops, “SUPER. HOT”, as a bizarre, rarefied ‘mission complete’ statement. It snaps you back into a reflective state, like an intermission. A replay of your run can be played back in normal-time (cutting out all the bullet-time/thinking time filler) to showcase you as a twitch-fingered, trigger-happy esports Jesus. You can speed through it, loop, play it back, edit and record it so it can be appraised as an exhibitionist piece on Superhot’s online repository,It’s here that the game transcends its rudimentary level structure as Kodak .GIF moments to treasure and share with the world. I mean, why not? You’re a fucking beast; you can throw a katana through two people, grab their shotgun and then blast three more dudes into stardust before you can say, “Game over man, game over.”

The game’s take-or-leave plot premise of looking reflectively as a virtual experience and embellishing its naval gazing is a matter of style over substance. The player breaking away from the game’s ludic constraints has become a tired cliché, but the slick presentation and brisk pace means it doesn’t stew in its own juices too much. Strewn throughout the ‘story’ are cryptic MS-DOS messages which are unskippable by design and crudely display the thoughts of the program and what could be described as the game’s antagonist. How much you enjoy the often didactic and nefarious dialogue is dependent on your tolerance for commercial breaks during your favourite TV show. It comes off as interruptive, but inoffensive.

Most levels contain secret computer terminals, revealing supplementary plot with ambiguous phrasing. The way to reach these terminals, in fact, turns this game completely into an first-person platformer that most players won’t even realise without looking through walkthroughs or studying the Achievement List. 99.9% of the time, games are hell-bent against exploits or red-herrings in its environment as developers like their players dutifully confined in their playpen. Think of all the games you’ve played that have invisible walls to impede wandering off, for example. Superhott subverts this, exposes its raw underbelly of unfinished and random array of assets as an organic method of the player is breaking into ‘uncharted’ territory and proximate to locating a secret terminal.

Some of these terminals are insanely obtuse to access and rely on exploiting the floaty physics and collision detection of the game’s geometry. It’s a design choice you’d expect from a crazy Counter-Strike map modder, but not an actual game developer of their own project. It underpins Superhot’sphilosophy of being inherently exploitative, ’empowering’ the player to abuse bullet-time privileges, the pedestrian AI and even the level design itself as mechanisms for control. With the story ridiculing the player’s grip on reality and including unwinnable missions, it’s an engrossing running debate on how the game wants to see itself: is this game about empowerment or disempowerment?

If most games were to do this without some gameplay depth or variety, this would come off as pretentious blowback and suffer from a bleeding case of ‘head-up-my-own-arse’ syndrome. Superhot doesn’t suffer this fate because it’s sensational. Every weapon and mode condition directly correlates to a fresh strategy and approach to understanding the weapons, gun-play and locomotion just a little better each time. Its true endgame gives you the tools in anticipating and performing amazing, death-defying risks that sells the Hollywood action-star fantasy in a way that films cannot fathom. The replay system further encourages you to linger and stare at enemy deaths to soak in the cinematic showmanship. Be the director, actor and editor of your own self-serving masterpiece. You deserve the ego boost.