Yes, we know SUPERHOT has been released for over a year now and it has made quite the impression on the gaming world already. However, I have not played the game yet and the release of the PS4 version seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the title for anyone who hasn’t yet experienced it and might want to jump in. This will be a completely fresh review from my perspective, so if you have been on the fence, perhaps I can help you over it.
SUPERHOT is essentially the encapsulation of a game that takes its central idea and runs it into near perfection. The premise and the promise is simple; time only moves when you move. The result is a shooter that allows you to calculate your moves and cinematically dodge through bullets, creating this almost action movie like feel to the gameplay. The way the game handles this unique selling point can be accurately described as “pure”. There is little in the way of distraction as the game has a clinical white colour palette and geometrically shaped environments. The enemies are bright red glass mannequins and the weapons as well as the objects are simply black. However, within this pure aesthetic is a frantic and almost puzzle-like shooter experience unlike any other.
SUPERHOT isn’t just a purely mechanics-driven game, it has a narrative that you can get through. The story shares the game’s running theme of uniqueness, crafting this incredibly meta and satisfyingly tense tale. You are simply sitting at an old school DOS looking PC and you start playing the mysterious superhot.exe that is on your computer. Much of the game is told via text, both on your PC and as you play, and the tension remains consistent throughout. It isn’t a hugely fleshed out or intricate story, but it is clever. They take base gaming concepts, spice it up with a little social commentary and throw some added strangeness on it for extra flavour.
You are simply sitting at an old school DOS looking PC and you start playing the mysterious superhot.exe that is on your computer.
I haven’t said much about the actual plot and that is because the game can be finished in just over 2 hours and even just minor details can be spoilers. It goes by extremely quickly, but this is because the story is merely a base for the rest of the game. The missions will be the same missions that you’ll play in the challenge modes, which we will get to later. After finishing the story, I did wish that there was more. The ideas they established just started to get room to breathe and there could have been more to explore, but I had the feeling that the “complicated” aspects of the story were deliberately obfuscated in favour of a more visceral story. Overall, however, the story was satisfying to play to even just for its sharp wit alone.
Let us get to the meat of what makes SUPERHOT tick; the gameplay. As mentioned earlier, time only moves when you move. Enemies will rush you down and shoot at you, but being the time-bending action hero that you are, you can dodge bullets and make calculated decisions about your next move. Everything, including you, dies in one hit from bullets. Enemies can be beaten up, but the most effective method of dispatching is definitely with guns and melee weapons. If you punch an enemy with a gun, they will drop it and you can grab it right out of their grubby mitts and pop them in the face.
Guns have limited ammo and each one of them has its own unique advantage and disadvantage. Pistols shoot quickly, but they only have one bullet going at a time. Shotguns have a wide blast that can obliterate multiple enemies, but the reload time is extremely long. There are also melee weapons in the game that can kill enemies with one sharp hit in the dome, but they break rather quickly except for the katana which is objectively the most overpowered weapon in the game by that merit alone. Throwables are also scattered around multiple levels and they can be a huge advantage to disarm enemies on the fly or stun any pesky red dudes out of your reach.
The formula that the game evolves into once you understand these base fundamentals can accurately be described as satisfying. You enter a flow state where you disarm enemies, use their guns against them and once your ammo is depleted, you throw the empty gun at another enemy in order to get their weapon and continue the cycle. Sometimes it’s advantageous to throw a gun at an enemy as it is reloading, since stealing a new weapon will often be faster than reloading.
In many ways, SUPERHOT is a puzzle game. You need to calculate your moves very carefully and find the optimal line to follow in order to kill the most guys in the most efficient way possible. The levels that the game throws at you also have puzzle-like qualities where you need to follow particular steps in order to not be murdered instantly. Sometimes it’s a process of knowing how to use the tools available to, other times it’s dodging bullets in the best way possible.
In many ways, SUPERHOT is a puzzle game. You need to calculate your moves very carefully and find the optimal line.
The gameplay is at the heart of what makes SUPERHOT so special and its simplicity is where it shines. It is a pure shooting and slow-mo kung-fu experience that lights up your synapses and forces you out of your usual run-and-gun comfort zone. There are a couple of problems, particularly with precision. The guns feel a bit sticky to use and the collision detection isn’t always at the level it is supposed to be. The overall feel of the game always felt a bit off to me and this hindered the otherwise pure and fun experience somewhat.
The story mode definitely isn’t the only mode that the game has. In many ways, it is merely the starting point for the rest of the game that is composed of challenges and endless modes. The challenges range wildly and put a new spin on the gameplay. One challenge mode requires you to finish the whole game with a katana, there are speedrun modes, a challenge where you can only use your fists and so on. These challenges are based on the story mission areas and you’ll soon have a familiarity with them as you play through each challenge.
Endless modes are exactly that. You are placed in an arena and you see how long you can last without dying. There are also variations in these endless modes where you need to kill twenty enemies as quickly as possible or you have twenty seconds to get as many kills as you can. This is where the lion’s share of SUPERHOT‘s content lies and where you will spend the most time. If you play the endless modes and challenges in one long session, you may be doing the game a disservice. SUPERHOT is meant to be played in short bursts and when you need a quick fix of awesome looking violence. However, this doesn’t excuse the game’s biggest flaw.
SUPERHOT struggles with its lasting power. After you are done with the story and played most of the challenges, you have pretty much seen everything there is to see. You can spend the rest of your days playing the endless modes, but after a short while there will be nothing exciting left to do and you’ll find yourself mindlessly shooting red guys. While the challenge modes do offer some much-needed variation, they all take place in the same bundle of levels. This is a game that makes you hungry for more content that it doesn’t necessarily provide.
As for technical aspects, the game does run pretty smoothly on the PS4, but I have noticed some framerate drops when the action gets a little intense and there are particles flying all over the place.
In closing, SUPERHOT is a game built on its pure fundamentals, from the visual style to the gameplay. There is a finite number of strategies you can employ and they crafted the game in order to get the most out of that. You will definitely have a fun time playing this because of its innovative ideas, quirky nature and satisfying gameplay. However, that love is transient, it is short and you will struggle to play it for more than a couple hours at a time. But it wasn’t made for that. It shines when you have a few minutes to kill or just need a quick jolt of slow motion excitement and because of that, it’s timeless.