There was a time when whenever I would recommend an off-beat/indie game to one of our friends, he would shrug it off because it would not be “fun enough” for him. That changed last year, when he went aboard to study Digital Arts. His assignments now require him to play games he would have shrugged off earlier. SUPERHOT is a game that he would have never played in a million years, but it was he who recommended it to me.
SUPERHOT’s defining characteristic is immediately intriguing. It is a first person shooter where time moves forward only if you do. Stop moving and everything around you freezes. This gives ample time to plan your next move and traverse the web of bullets that your enemies may have shot at you. This way SUPERHOT is not just a first-person shooter, it becomes a strategy game as well.
Originally developed at what I seem to understand is a game jam – the 7 Day FPS challenge, where developers create a FPS in a week, SUPERHOT soon became popular enough for the developers to consider a proper expansion. They launched a Kickstarter campaign which was funded soon enough. The complete version was released early this year. The browser-based demonstration that caught the world’s attention is still available here. You’ll need Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Opera to run it, though. It does not work in Google Chrome.
The game sets the player in a minimalist environment. Your enemies are in red; bullets, guns, knives, and other weapons are in black; everything else is in grey and white. This makes SUPERHOT instinctively attractive. It’s simple and it’s beautiful.
My first hour with SUPERHOT felt almost eerily similar to my real-life situation. Your friend recommends you a new game and sends it over. You play a bunch of levels then share your experience with him over chat. The game is set in a world where DOS seems to be the prominent operating system: levels are files stored in folders, and you begin and continue your game by opening “superhot.exe” from a file manager. This interface is tied with the plot and as you continue through the 30+ levels, more is revealed. I wouldn’t go into details about the plot, but themes of control and subjection, liberty and freedom are in play. Sure, it’s familiar territory, but the game explores it in a way that feels fresh. I especially enjoyed how they wrapped it up – asking you to pass the game on to more of your friends. This is obviously the developers promoting the game, but is also coherent with the plot. Clever.
One of the things that SUPERHOT does so well is adapt and change. While every level prima facie feels similar – every time it’s just you vs a bunch of enemies – every map is unique, new devices are introduced every few levels. To finish the level you need to perform a precisely choreographed dance of violence. Fail to do so and you start over. It may get a bit frustrating in the beginning (never to the point where you may want to ragequit), it is extremely satisfying when you nail it. Finish the level and immediately the game replays your movements in the level with the words SUPER HOT flashing on the screen.
At its core, SUPERHOT remains an FPS, no doubt. It is how it approaches the gameplay that makes it different. Elegant and intriguing, SUPERHOT offers a unique gaming experience. And since it is such a departure from most games, once again we make this departure from our traditional article structure to review this game.