It's the most innovative shooter I've played in years
I need to get this out of the way at the start: SUPERHOT is beautiful.
I’m partial to constructivist and suprematist art so maybe I’m influenced by that — the explosions of red polygons, the solid black weapons and white ground make screenshots look like artworks by Rodchenko, Lissitzky or Malevich — but this game really is aesthetically stunning. There’ve been times when I’ve died because I was so distracted by the beauty of the scene before me that I failed to notice the bullet about to enter my face.
SUPERHOT is a first person shooter with the central conceit that time only moves when you do (which isn’t quite true, time moves very very slowly when you’re stationary) allowing the player to pull off some crazy John Woo-esque moves that wouldn’t be possible in a normal shooter. Punch a man in the face, grab his gun from the air as he drops it, shoot him with his own gun, turn 180°, throw the gun in the air and punch the man who was behind you in the face after side-stepping the bullet he just fired, turn to your left and catch the gun you threw, shoot the man to your left and so on.
The FPS is transformed into something between turn based combat and a puzzle game without losing the raw excitement of second-to-second first person combat.
It’s a simple mechanic but it’s artfully executed; animations are fluid, physical and weighty — it feels good as you perform superhuman feats — and the intent of your AI opponents is evident from their posture and movement. The sparse aesthetic, aside from just looking gorgeous, keeps the game readable — visual confusion would’ve spoiled the flow. Combat sounds have a pleasantly chunky feel to them and attenuate wonderfully as you speed up and slow down time.
SUPERHOT has something like a story; it’s more of a meta-narrative with shades of Stanley Parable (though far less extreme) and The Matrix to it. I wouldn’t quite call it a narrative — nothing is really expounded, developed or resolved, it’s more like flavour text and I like it all the more for that. This meta-narrative is mainly delivered through the glitchy faux text-based OS that constitutes the game’s menu system and comprises IMs, IRC-like chats and mini-games (most of which are optional). I’m not usually a fan of superfluous narrative in action games but I enjoyed the meta-narrative of SUPERHOT; it’s not deep, but it’s intriguing, sometimes amusing and, a couple of times, pleasantly disturbing. It augments the action, adding a slight emotional layer, without distracting from it.
The main story/campaign of SUPERHOT will only take you a couple of hours to complete. It took me about three and a half and I’m slow. I’ve seen complaints about this but I think they miss the point — completing the main campaign unlocks the rest of the game and that is where the real meat is — the main campaign is really just an extended tutorial. I’ll happily play the same level for hours, trying to beat my score or complete a challenge or challenging myself to play in a particular way (fists and thrown-things only, for example). If you don’t enjoy that sort of gameplay then I’d look elsewhere since that’s the game this is — you’re intended to replay and refine, it’s very much a toy to be played with as well as being a game to play through.
Having said that, I do hope the developers add more content. There’s enough here to keep me busy honing my superhuman ninja combat skills for quite a while, but there will definitely come a time when I want more. More maps and possibly more weapons to play with too. It feels like the sort of game that could be expanded upon for a long time and grow into something even more special than it already is, I hope the devs take that route.
This is going to be my go-to relaxation game for a while, I think. I recommend it!
(Also, it’s beautiful.)
Here’s a video I made of a few minutes of Endless Mode gameplay: