Superhot (2016) – thoughts

Superhot is the full game of the 7-day game-jam prototype that made waves a few years back. The core gameplay is more or less the same, but with a full (albeit short – a few hours) campaign’s worth of content and a couple of new mechanics.

If you don’t know what the core gameplay looks like, the below trailer will give you some idea:

Actually – the trailer just shows you what a completed level looks like, when it’s played at normal time-speed. As you are actually playing the game, you completely control time – “time moves only when you move” per the game’s tagline. So this game plays a bit like Braid or other puzzle games where you manipulate movement / time (though here there’s no rewind) – you can carefully plot out your moves, and the end result looks like a beautifully choreographed scene from The Matrix or John Wick.

The difficulty comes from everything (including yourself) is a one-shot kill, so if you misread the situation you will have to start the level from scratch. In later levels this becomes more trial and error as the margin for mistakes become much smaller and you really have to think about the consequence of every action – if I grab this gun I’ll be vulnerable for a split-second (during the execution of that action you don’t control time – you are committed to the action, kind of like an attack in Bloodborne).

The core gameplay is fun but imposes some strict constraints – with this style of “frame-by-frame” play, it could get incredibly tedious if the level becomes too long, but having short levels restrict the type of narrative you can present. What narrative the devs did put together is somewhat novel and indie-feeling, and wraps around this short-session level format fairly well. (The setting: you, the player, is using a DOS-like retro-interface and your friend shared with you a cracked game called Superhot.) There are also some moments of breaking the fourth-wall type of design, e.g. at one point the narrative has you unable to run the cracked game anymore, and tells you to quit – you literally have to close the program and relaunch the game client to progress further. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly clever but it is coherent with the meta-theme the game tries to present.

But really, the game is about those slick short-sessions where you feel like a badass (e.g. Chow Yun Fat from his bullet-storm John Woo Hong Kong cinema days). After you finish the campaign, you unlock additional modes (e.g. speed-runs, which sound like a great twist, and endless mode) that really enhance replayability.

In sum, I wouldn’t mind seeing more games like Superhot, and it is worthy of praise as one of the most original FPSes in the last few years.

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