Superhot PC Review
I’m going to be completely honest; my intent with this review is to get you to play Superhot. Perhaps you’re a numbers person? Then just scroll past all the text and my work here is done. Do you need a little bit more than that? Then crack open a beverage and sit back, because I’m about to throw everything at you.
Superhot is a first person shooter in which time almost stands still until you move. You can look around freely while standing in place, but as soon as you take any action, you basically “push” time forward, meaning enemies will charge you and fire their guns. In fact, if you’re using a gamepad with an analog controller, you can seamlessly control how fast time moves depending on how much you push the movement stick in a direction. As soon as you stop moving, time slows to a crawl again, and you can see the hail of bullets suspended in the air.
This doesn’t render enemies helpless, however. Your ability lets you contemplate your actions – it doesn’t let you run circles around opponents. You go down in one hit, which immediately restarts the level, and you will die mercilessly unless you use your strategic advantage wisely.
And to do so, you employ a skill set that feels similar to Hotline Miami. Guns only carry a certain amount of ammo, and when used up, you literally throw them away. You can elect to throw them before they’re used up, as well, which can be useful since doing so is often faster than waiting for the recoil to be over and being able to fire again. There are also melee weapons like baseball bats, crowbars and swords, and when unarmed you’re able to dole out a short combination of punches.
You can find weapons in the environment, but it’s more common to disarm enemies and pick up theirs. In unarmed combat the first couple of punches don’t kill, which gives surrounding enemies time to crowd you while you’re flailing away. A single punch will temporarily stun an enemy, however, and much more importantly; disarm them. You can also disarm enemies from a distance by throwing just about anything at them, and throwable objects are usually strewn about the environment, highlighted by being black against otherwise sterile, white geometry.
When you disarm an enemy, it’s common for their forward momentum to send whatever weapon they’re packing flying through the air, allowing you to snatch it by intercepting its trajectory, only to immediately turn it around on said enemy. A common cycle is you pick up a gun and shoot one of two enemies, then throw the gun in the face of the other enemy to avoid the recoil time; that enemy lets go of his weapon, sending it flying in the air, where you catch it and shoot him before he has time to recover. It’s worth noting that almost any object will outright stop an incoming bullet, so you can throw things at bullets to save yourself. Or cut them in half with a sword.
Enemies may also accidentally shoot each other if they end up in each other’s line of fire. This can be used to your advantage by simply positioning yourself the right way. Basically, the number of possible combinations of actions is dizzying, and the game inspires you and empowers you just the right amount to make you do crazy things, but makes those crazy things hard enough that there’s a visceral thrill when you succeed. You respect the game and feel a palpable sense of danger because dying is so common and life is so fleeting, and yet you’ll tempt fate because it’s just so compelling.
It turns you into a daredevil adrenaline junkie, and the game becomes a freeform and spontaneous gameplay experience that turns any single level into a different feeling thing each time. It evokes Halo at its best – if Halo‘s combat encounters were portioned out as levels. There’s one particular level in the campaign called “Elevator Pitch”, which represents the moment that I fell in love with Superhot. It immediately brings across what a beautifully stripped down and dynamic game you’re playing. You’ll know when you get there. Because- uh… Because it says the name of the level. But also because of that other reason.
Superhot has a very striking look, as you can tell by the screenshots. It abstracts the visuals to a point where it can present action movie-like scenarios where all the game’s elements fit in without needing to specifically dress up to fit the occasion. More than being a stylised and economical way to draw a low budget game, the design choices make perfect sense from a playability standpoint as well. Enemies are all drawn in red and immediately distinguishable from the all-white backgrounds. When you kill an enemy, it shatters, which is a visual you get increasingly addicted to, but it’s also a great cue that signals that you successfully dispatched them. It’s accompanied by a sound of shattering, and firing at an enemy just as you round a corner into cover, you can simply listen for the audio cue to know whether you hit them.
And what satisfying hits they are! If you played F.E.A.R., you’ll remember that the game did two pivotal things right – AI and the feedback from bullet-enemy impacts. Superhot has the same quality of area based animation and physics, but may be the new best-in-class when it comes to the simple pleasure of shooting dudes – precisely because their twisting and breaking apart into shards is so satisfying. There’s a physicality and weight to it that makes the most mundane actions feel more dramatic. It’s like a Toribash of first person shooters, but obviously more playable as a video game than that comparison suggests.
The narrative that frames the campaign is fun and inventive (and makes writing a review into an awkward proposition), but comes across as somewhat parenthetical. The campaign itself, however, is a perfect step by step introduction to the different circumstances that you may find yourself in, and encourages experimenting to get out of them. Levels evoke little action set pieces from movies, often with as few as a handful of enemies. The difficulty level doesn’t necessarily scale with the number of enemies, though, but rather along with the circumstances and level geometry. Superhot effortlessly transitions between tight, intimate head-to-heads and grand, epic shootouts.
When you’re done with the main campaign, you unlock a hard mode setting that nerfs your punches and makes enemes fire sooner and recover faster – giving the campaign levels a second wind. You also unlock the Endless mode, which plops you into an environment where you try to kill as many enemies as possible before you die – a “horde mode” if you will. Continue playing and more arenas unlock, along with new modes, modifiers and challenges. Especially worthy of mention is a mode where you try to rack up kills for 20 in-game seconds, meaning the clock moves when you do, and a mode where you do the same for 60 real-time seconds – meaning your propensity for tempting fate gets a real workout. It is knee deep in this myriad of things to do that you feel like you could play the game forever.
While it is all technically a single player endeavour, I will say that I played this with two friends on the couch over the weekend, passing the controller between us and competing for scores in the Endless wave mode. We had all these other games lined up (shoutouts to Lethal League and Mount Your Friends) but we ended up just playing Superhot for six hours.
Because it is your own actions that push time forward, the pace increases as you become more adept and make decisions faster. The game seamlessly follows along, and its ability to feel so dynamic and so attuned to your desires is all thanks to how it scales without fundamentally changing at all. It is simply in lock step with you, like a perfect dance partner. But with guns and stuff.
While it may lack the flamboyant charisma of Hotline Miami, Superhot feels as good in every other regard. Its central conceit is such a strong one that it would easily be forgiven for skimping on additional mechanics, but it goes the extra mile, and the juggle act it engages in makes for a blend of reactionary decision making and creative expression that I find utterly irresistible. On every level, Superhot‘s execution flatters an already brilliant core idea, and within the parameters that feel meaningful in this context, the resulting game is essentially perfect.