Superhot Review: Am I Standing Still

superhot-headerYou’ve probably heard or read the lines but maybe you don’t understand them. “Super. Hot. Super. Hot.” Or maybe you’ve read “It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.” These aren’t ready-made box quotes from your favourite critics. They’re lines right from Superhot, the new first-person shooter that’s taken gaming by storm for the last week or so.

Superhot is a new first-person shooter that’s been labelled as being somewhere between a strategy game, a puzzle game and a traditional FPS. The hybrid of styles certainly makes this one of the more fun and interesting games that I’ve played in years.

superhot-screenshot-02Superhot’s core mechanic is that time only moves when you move. Except that’s not strictly true. It’s a good marketing line but it’s somewhat inaccurate. Time still moves but at a glacial pace. The game doesn’t have a pause menu so your options are to exit out of the level or let yourself be killed while you step away from the computer. And you will die. Just because “time only moves when you move” doesn’t mean that time stands still when you go for a walk.

The more accurate but less catchy way of describing the game’s mechanic is that the game moves in real-time when you move but moves in bullet time when you’re stationary. When you grab for an object, attack or move, the game then moves in real-time. I don’t consider the complete stoppage of time a necessity, though. It forces you to make decisions rather than letting you sit back and ponder for as long as you want.

The result is a very interesting experience. Some people describe it as an FPS crossed with a puzzle game. I consider it more of an action movie simulator. While many games try to emulate the highly choreographed action scenes of movies through quick-time events, Superhot attempts to emulate it by letting things play out in slow motion to you don’t know action hero reflexes to pull off crazy moves. When you complete a level, the game replays your actions in real-time (behind a robotic reading of “Super. Hot.” on loop) which looks like it’s out of an action movie.

superhot-screenshot-03There are some puzzle elements to the game. There is a right (or, at least, a better) way to approach the start to some levels. As the levels progress, it’s all about spacial and situational awareness so you know where the enemies are, where the bullets are and what you can do to save your own skin. When you get shot, the level restarts and enemy spawning doesn’t change from each attempt so you know where they’re coming from. It’s then a matter of dodging bullets and firing back. So I suppose the start of levels are about planning and the remainder is reacting.

Superhot’s other unique mechanic is “hotswitching.” This allows you to switch yourself into the body of an enemy. The mechanic is on a timer, doesn’t fool other enemies and comes with the added penalty of throwing away your weapon so you have to start fresh. There are a couple of campaign levels where it’s necessary to hotswitch but I seldom used it in the endless game mode. It’s basically there if you’re in a predicament so overwhelming that you have no chance to survive otherwise.

The game has a campaign mode that runs about two hours in length over several levels. There’s an interesting little story that I can’t get into because of spoilers but I am willing to say that it feels like it gets a bit meta at times because it’s not violence for violence’s sake. There are endless levels in which you attempt to kill as many enemies as you can until you get overwhelmed. There are also challenges like speedruns (both in game-time and real-time) and limited weapons (like Katana-only) to keep you busy. They work to pad out the game but I do wish there were leaderboard functions through Steam instead of just the achievements.

superhot-screenshot-01The art design of the game is fantastic, though. The world is white, the enemies are red and interactive objects are black. It’s all very simple to figure out and it’s a very clean design. Everything also acts as though it’s made out of glass. It’s oddly rewarding to shoot or bunch an enemy and watch him shatter as a result.

The game does have a few issues, though. The campaign mode is very short, there’s little to no difficulty curve and its completion is required to get any of the other game modes. The mechanics and some tricks are explained through campaign so it’s tolerable though I think I would have actually preferred to skip it and I’m a campaign/story guy. The game is stylized as though it’s running on an old computer with static on the screen when loading a level. Unfortunately, that static freezes for a couple of seconds when loading a level which looks troubling because you think the game is about to freeze.

The biggest problem, by a wide margin, is the hit detection. Numerous times, I thought I fired a bullet or threw an object around a wall or obstruction only for the game to insist that I hit it. Sometimes, the best laid plans can be foiled in a way that leaves you screaming at the game. You also seldom know when a bullet is about to hit you. It’s not a spacial awareness thing. It’s a matter of bullets looking like they’re going to miss you only for you to be hit. You have to be very sure when dodging bullets because you apparently have very broad shoulders and a massive forefivehead. If I was a let’s player, this game would provide for a hell of a rage video.

Conclusion

superhot-screenshot-04On Twitter, I joked that this review would be 800 words of me pulling out my hair because of how terrible I am at first-person shooters and puzzle games. It turns out that I’m a lot better at Superhot than I am at most other shooters or puzzle games. It’s actually a lot of fun trying to figure out the best course of action, though I’m still hesitant to call it a puzzle game. It’s a shooter at its core but you can really take either the shooter or puzzle approach to either and come out ahead.

What excites me the most about Superhot is the potential for this idea of time moving when you move to be applied to other games. As I mentioned, this game strikes me as trying to recreate Hollywood fight scenes in slow motion. I think that integrating this time mechanic with other games’ combat mechanics will result in that “cinematic” fight feel that is currently replicated through QTEs in other games. The Superhot Team has hopefully just given a boost to combat in triple-A games. That’s me being optimistic, though.

For those of us who aren’t hardcore FPS players, this is a fun game. I would much prefer to play this than most online first-person shooters. I don’t think this will find many converts from the CoD or Battlefield diehards, though. That and I think that the single-player campaign isn’t particularly compelling when you compare it to other shooters like BioShock or Spec Ops: The Line. It wouldn’t be a problem if the more fun game modes weren’t locked until completing the campaign.

Rating: 8.5/10

Superhot was played on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X. The review code for this game was provided by the Superhot Team. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and if this is the most innovative shooter you’ve played in years.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr, Steam and RSS.

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