Superhot: The most innovative shooter I have played in years
Updated: Jul 28
A few years ago I was at a friend’s place, this friend had a PSVR . It was there where I was able to play the only VR game that didn’t make me ill; Superhot . I played one the challenge maps and it was one hell of a time. Needless to say I loved it, but being the poor guy (toss a coin to your blogger) I could only play it for a short period of time. Now that I have able to get through the story campaign, I can safely say that I still love it.
You are someone at home playing games, one day your online friend sends you the hot new shareware game: Superhot. What starts as an innocent afternoon quickly turns into a battle of life and death as the lines between reality and fiction blur. Think of Superhot (in terms of meta) on the same level as Pony island, Undertale and DDLC. It wants to create the thrills and (maybe) scares of the titles mentioned.
But there is a distinct lack of...nuance in its execution. One particular scene tries to show me where I live. I had no idea I lived in an apartment complex, or owned a VR headset. Others might be less obvious, like the chat room scenes where you pretend to type. I say ‘pretend’ because that is exactly what it is. It does not matter what you type, the words are pre programmed. You just rubbed you hand over the keyboard and got the same result. I will go into more detail with the pacing problems right now.
4th wall: A question of pacing
In Pony Island, Undertale and DDLC, the player is lured in with a sense of security. There is some downtime in order to get us immersed first. The entire first act of DDLC in particular was build up. Hoping that you grow to like the girls before EVERYTHING goes wrong. The foreshadowing was quiet and but it prepares you the act one climax.
Superhot is so excited to get started, that it forgets to build up any foreshadowing. One minute you are just the average player playing games, the next you are up against a hostile AI. I am barely engaged with the plot before it is asking me to press escape only to find out it doesn’t work (AHHH).
The lack of pacing and the overexcitement to break the forth, makes the twists and turns rather...limp. That failed escape action was done at Undertale’s climax and it was much more effective. Because I was invested in the world and Flowery was scary. The AI on the other hand never really establishes any sort of threat. Because Superhot never allows the AI breathing room to become a SHODAN it fails to create an interesting villain. There is a lot of missed opportunity with Superhot’s narrative, there was potential for a great science fiction thriller. Instead we are left with a story that is hollow and lacking bite.
It’s still good though
However that is not to say that there is nothing to gain from the story. Towards the end of Superhot you are forced to repeat a number of phrases (“The mind is software” for example). I at first thought this was another weak attempt at 4th wall. However, I soon realised that I was obeying the AI’s every command regardless of choice. Upon dawning on this, I realised what I was doing in the story’s context. It was destroying my free will, training me to its slave.
As a result, I started becoming interested in the plot, despite its hammy delivery. It ends with me killing my physical form and becoming one with the AI. Now that I had become a good little drone, I was then order to advertise the game with the phrase “Superhot is the most innovative shooter I have played in years.”
I am still obeying the AI by quoting that phrase. Because of this realisation, I found myself with some respect for Superhot’s writing. I didn’t expect it to go in the directions it went, nor did I expect it to be as clever as it became towards the end. I love how integrated the interactive element was in story progression. How the game slowly teaches you to obey the AI through direct (repeating phrases) and indirect (shooting yourself) .
Before I go on, I need to clarify something. Time does move a little bit when you are not moving. So please be warned against standing in place for too long, bullets move at a snail’s pace but they will hit you. Slightly deceiving marketing aside, Superhot is undoubtedly a standout in the FPS genre. It takes a spin on conventional shooter mechanics and adds an element of style and strategy. There is nothing else like it.
Time is on your side
You will die a lot in Superhot, no less because you can die in one hit. Because of this, you are forced to remain constantly aware of your surroundings. The basic but never the less effective art style helps with this. However the core mechanic is time. With the benefit of time you can plan- figure out the best course of action. Did that red guy try to shoot me? Take the opportunity to shoot the other red guy before he reloads. Because of that opening you can then plan the amount of movement required before you can shoot again. Has your gun run out of bullets? If it has, then throw your gun, take your enemy’s and shoot them with their own gun.
Time's the cruelest ruler we control
Those are only a fraction of actions you can do. Because time is slowed down you can take into account bullet projectiles, dodge them or throw an object in front of the bullet. Time is slowed but not stopped, allowing strategy that would otherwise be impossible in classic shooters, while maintaining the threat of failure. In fact failure can be part of the learning experience; you start to take into account patterns and spawn points.
In the final level for example, I found myself taking into account gun placement and what sequence to kill the reds in. Superhot as an FPS is something of puzzle game. Because, it forces you to carefully analyse the situation, killing off opponents in a certain sequence in order to not get hit. Therefore, you learn what objects and guns are in what place. It is bloody clever.
Killing with style
Superhot is a stylish game. From the story to the gameplay to the art style, everything about Superhot is meant to bring across a certain style that is what we academics call, f****ing badass . The simple act of throwing your gun into a foe, grabbing the gun and shooting the same foe with their gun is an amazing act. The split second decision between lobbing your gun and into the incoming reds before punching them to death is just fun. Superhot is, above all a fun game. It is fun to dodge a bullet, pick up a sword then throw said sword into the shooter. As a result you feel like a badass, like you are in John Woo movie that fell in love with bullet time.
Art style and graphics:
Superhot’s clear and crisp colour coding is brilliant in its simplicity. Non intractable objects and surroundings are clean white. Enemies are sharp reds and intractable objects are a dark black. As a result of this the player knows exactly what each thing is and how to interact with it. The menu screens are stylised as low screen CR2 monitors. I fail to see what it adds to the game, asides from style over substance. But it’s good style.
Superhot demanding the player to call Superhot the “most innovative shooter I have played in years” is a great marketing tool. Mostly because, (at least for me) it most certainly is. Superhot might be style over substance but it is damn great style never the less.
2020/06/10-Edit: Fixed minor spelling and gramma.