There are some that spend their lives creating works that are style over substance. There’s something about being effortlessly cool that immediately appeals to us. These are a flash in the pan slice of greatness. Then there are those who succeed in marrying style with substance, and deliver a stonking game to blow our grey matters, as well as our eyes, to smithereens. Following firmly in the footsteps of the likes of Hotline Miami, SUPERHOT is just such a game.
The premise is alarmingly simple - time moves when you move. I should say it moves in extreme slow-motion when you stand still, but, to all intents and purposes, if you stop walking a bullet will hang suspended in mid-air. That’s it. There’s nothing more to this simple premise, but the execution is near flawless.
It’s so easy to pick up that within a matter of moments you’re going to be leaping over cars, dodging bullets and catching weapons in mid-air. It’s the ultimate balletic violence, and the nearest gaming has ever come to truly making us feel like Neo. In essence SUPERHOT is an action game which borrows heavily from the tactical thinking of turn-based strategy, and it can make even the most cack-handed gamer appear a lethal assassin.
SUPERHOT’s a game then that boils down to those amazingly awesome moments that happen in games that you have to tell your mates about. But this time it’s made up exclusively of these amazing moments. Before long you feel a real swagger to proceedings as you effortlessly karate chop someone, grab their gun, shoot a bullet down in mid-air, lob the empty gun at another enemy before vaulting over a low table, snatching a katana and slicing a foe in two. All that and it takes somewhere in the realm of two seconds in real time.
The best bit is the end of every mission where it plays out your carefully orchestrated murder ensemble in real-time. What took you minutes whizzes by in a matter of seconds, and the devs have even put up a nifty killagram website to post your best runs on. Warning: this makes for seriously addictive viewing.
Clearly the SUPERHOT Team knows a thing or two about level design as well, because the times are few and far between when you’ll be dropped in a featureless corridor. Not that it matters, the action holds up wherever you are. One level begins with you and three enemies trapped in an elevator, giving you limited time to incapacitate them, grab a weapon and shoot the next batch as the doors ping open. Another has you starting by leaping over a moving car. One has you coming out the gents to start a bar fight, beer bottle in hand. They’re all marvellous set-pieces, and they sort of call to mind the extended slow-motion mega-kills from Max Payne 3.
Like Hotline before it SUPERHOT is a brief affair, and it’ll only take you a few hours to breeze through the 32 levels. It’s brief nature makes it eminently replayable however, while an unlocked Endless mode gives you levels and various modifiers to extract even more out of it and chase those all important high-scores. There are also hundreds of individual challenges such as waking it through levels with specific weapons, or speedruns, so there's to get your teeth into if you look outside the main campaign.
It's worth highlighting that the method of storytelling is awesome as well, and it's ominous vibe once more calls back to the sublime Hotline Miami. The opening DOS-box style screen has a friend messaging about a new game which they've got the crack for. Known only as superhot.exe, you flit between playing the game and exiting to your OS and chatting away. It's not long before you realise things aren't quite what they same, and SUPERHOT is happy to play plenty of tricks with what it expects of the player. You won't be alone in feeling belittled as you're called a "good little doggy" for obeying yet another game's rules.
And all of this is wrapped up in the aforementioned style. It doesn’t take long to realise SUPERHOT isn’t all about the attention grabbing visuals, but they go a damn long way to helping. Everything is bathed in a gamma-infused glow, while all enemies are buzzing red. It’s ultra slick, absurdly minimalistic, and helps SUPERHOT stand out from the crowd. But most of it all it fades the environments into the background and introduces a laser-like focus between you and combating the enemies.
If there was one drawback to this game it's ultimately the length of the experience. SUPERHOT's story mode is extremely short at 2-3 hours, and those not willing to invest in the additional Endless modes on offer may feel a little short changed. The core gameplay is good enough to warrant significant investment in these side modes, but I expect some will balk at the $25 asking price. You're paying for quality though, and from the ground up SUPERHOT reeks of quality.
There’s no doubting what’s on offer here is special, and while it’s about time we decry the word ‘indie’, SUPERHOT sits comfortably with such hugely imperious company as Hotline Miami, Rocket League, Super Meat Boy and The Witness. SUPERHOT feels like one of the most impressive advances forward for the first-person shooter genre in years, and to think it was borne from a tiny independent studio slapping something together for a game jam boggles the mind.
Everything about SUPERHOT just feels right, right down to look of its menus and how everything ties together. Equal parts fast & furious and tense & methodical, SUPERHOT is the perfect antidote to the legions of online-focused twitch shooters flooding the market.