SUPERHOT: Stimulating, Satisfying, and Sizzling
The videogame medium has the ability to satisfy a lot of different appetites. For some, games provide an alluring role-playing experience. For others, a compelling interactive story-driven narrative. For many, the gameplay sits front-and-center as the core element of what makes a videogame. I personally find a lot of joy in living out a distinct variety of gameplay, challenges, and experiences through my videogames. A desire for versatility in my games has edged me toward becoming a golden-path gamer, meaning my trek through the game world often sticks to the core yellow-brick road and rarely overstays its welcome by grinding out side or fetch quests. This also allows me to dip into a large amount of games and dabble in genres that don’t immediately resonate with me. Of course, I gravitate towards many genres naturally. One such genre is certainly FPS.
“A desire for versatility in my games has edged me toward becoming a golden-path gamer”
This brings us to SUPERHOT, which, by a clever PR spin from within the game itself and by its marketing team is having the community herald it as “the most innovate game I’ve played in years”. What a gamer like myself may find though, is that despite the fairly successful hype-building cultivation, the game really is a fairly unique gameplay experience that I would plausibly recommend to a great many folks. For gamers and non-gamers alike, Superhot provides a challenging pace that ramps up fairly linearly, and the learning systems and mission structure work well to teach the gamer how to play and what skills to focus on.
This is the first PC game I’ve sought out in over a decade, and it’s got quite simplistic controls. The combination of time-stopping powers that allows time to breathe, minimal demand for reflexive controls, natural challenge progression, and fairly short campaign make this an ideal game for getting non-gamers into FPSs. I personally love games that have the ability to appeal to non-gamers as I love sharing unique gameplay experiences that can only exist in the confines of games themselves. A great many games may fall under this particular qualification, but it’s especially games like SUPERHOT and Portal that can only really exist solely through our beloved medium.
SUPERHOT demonstrates that simplicity and simple mechanics can be a joy to overcome. It stakes initially challenging levels on the player and has them building skills until once difficult environments become downright fluid once the player has spent several hours with the game. By playing through the fairly short campaign in one or two chunks, the player has an opportunity to enter a flow state that allows the player to catch a playful rhythm with the gameplay. Even as one spends multiple deaths figuring out the right course of actions, the game is never really frustrating as it’s pretty clear what the player can do to overcome the challenges. The only poor feedback might have to be the bullets that appear as if they are going to miss you but strike your larger-than-expected hitbox. Playing this game in VR would definitely be a treat.
By playing through the fairly short campaign in one or two chunks, the player has an opportunity to enter a flow state that allows the player to catch a playful rhythm with the gameplay.
I found the gameplay to really pick up once I had beaten the campaign and began targeting the challenge modes. Katana only, ghost, and oneshot were some of my favorites. Each one provided such a different way of processing combat that I beat all 3 of them in one setting. During these challenge modes I felt I entered a flow state that made combat feel extra responsive for me.
While I champion the concept of novel gameplay experiences, I must agree with other critics that SUPERHOT suffers from a lack of content, small variety of weapons, and minimal movement mechanics. These are simultaneously pros and cons. More gameplay missions would significantly increase the longevity of this game (which is likely one of the biggest issues with it), and have me and other players engaging with it for much longer, but on the flip side it becomes harder to recommend to a non-gamer as it’s a much greater commitment to the game. More enemy and weapon variety would create different experiences as far as combat goes, more strategic understanding of enemy movement, and more time adapting one’s gameplay to the environment, but could overload players with too many things to memorize or learn and take away from the progression of gameplay mastery. Make no mistake, this game shines when it makes you feel like a badass against insurmountable odds, and obtaining mastery in the game delivers a reward that isn’t often experienced for me in PVE gameplay. Minimal movement mechanics means that it’s both simple as hell to learn, but also intentionally limiting and also limits the feeling of being a badass. Greater agility and movement opportunities would create greater replays, allow greater dodges, and increase enemy opportunities… while also increasing the challenge before mastery is obtained. A focus on all of these could most definitely be beneficial for a sequel.
Make no mistake, this game shines when it makes you feel like a badass against insurmountable odds, and obtaining mastery in the game delivers a reward that isn’t often experienced for me in PVE gameplay.
STORY AND EXPERIENCE
Remind you a little of Neo’s mundane office existence?
The story of SUPERHOT has been discussed at length in various reviews. It’s no surprise that the game is invoking many Matrix comparisons, from the Morpheus-like hacker that contacts you through chat windows, to the Agent Smith-like body-overtaking that becomes a part of gameplay later on, to the philosophical discussion provoked by the narrative that asks you to ponder your own physical form and what it means to control an abstract form. More than anything, it’s this latter point that I absolutely adore about SUPERHOT. It’s a gameplay experience that digitizes and actively immerses you in an abstract world asking you to ponder your own bodily control. It then jumps back and forth and breaks that connection by reminding you the real world is where your fingers do the typing. When engrossed in the complex gameplay, your only focus becomes that of your character. Intermissions in between levels tell the story of your own body. As such, it creates a unique experience of taking your mind on a journey and asking “Where is your body? Is it where your perspective is? Where your attention is? Where your control is?” It’s these philosophical leanings and hacker-esque narrative that make up the entirety of “story” in SUPERHOT. It’s far from a traditional plot strucutre, it’s short, but it’s pretty compelling.
It creates a unique experience of taking your mind on a journey and asking “Where is your body? Is it where your perspective is? Where your attention is? Where your control is?”
The presentation of the story is sleek and stylized. Unlike most other games, it’s the cumulative experience that stands out after all is said and done. It’s hard to pinpoint specific moments that makes the story stand out. The chat dialogue that is played out feels a little dull, with fairly basic communication and no attempt at uncovering more about the person on the other side of the screen. It would have been nice to have some autonomy over the actual dialogue, as some interactive choice would have worked well to provide some campaign replayability. Not to mention that removing choice from the few times you’re in control of your mind somewhat undermines the philosophical notions mentioned above. However, the design/narrative challenge in creating something complex like a contextual chat is not lost on me, and it worked well for what it was.
Even the marketing tells a meta-story that continues to thrive online, with fans touting the game’s slogan, while the game itself superliminally reinforces the game’s name over, and over, and over again. SUPERHOT SUPERHOT SUPERHOT. Try to forget the name of the game. Just try.
Occasionally the gaming industry throws out a game that has a potential for change. Anytime a game catches on and designers adapt gameplay mechanics, features, or ideas, its potential for change becomes realized. SUPERHOT has some innovative gameplay by messing with time whilst also demonstrating once again the power of Kickstarter and indie games. I’m hoping that a sequel for this game gets picked up and much more fleshed out with content, narrative, and variety. I also hope that other developers take note of some of the simple ways mechanics can be tweaked to make for interesting, novel, gameplay experiences.
Clearly, a certain responsibility rests on our shoulders.
The gameplay is short, sweet, and burns bright as the hype would have you believe. It’s got flow and rhythm, a great pace, and solid learning mechanics. Its story is compelling, thought-provoking if you allow yourself to be immersed/prodded, and it’s well presented. The longevity and lack of content means that the experience heavily influenced just a couple of days in the last week of February for me, but I think I’ll continue discussing the game when I share it with other folks. But maybe the impressive marketing and potential DLC will keep me coming back. Here’s to hoping that’s true.
Recommend for fans of this genre? Yes.
Recommended for non-fans of this genre? Yes.
Recommend for non-gamers? Yes.
Semi-arbitrary score: 8.5/10