SUPERHOT Xbox One Review
Publisher: SUPERHOT Team Developer: SUPERHOT Team Genre: FPS/Strategy
Players: 1 Age Rating: 12+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
SUPERHOT is one of those games that sits in a group of deceiving games that are a lot more than meets the eye. You’d be completely forgiven if you were to think that the game is just an ordinary FPS with shooting and melee attacks, as that’s exactly what the game first appears to be. The truth is that SUPERHOT is so much more than that, and it’s a highly unusual game that also takes inspiration from genres outside of the FPS. You can only truly tell the difference when you see the game in its stop and start motion.
SUPERHOT’s campaign is wrapped around a rather bizarre story that is largely told through text chat. The parts you control are actually meant to be a game, but it’s a game that you aren’t meant to be playing. The story is intriguing enough and rarely interrupts the game for too long, although it does come across as a little confusing at times. SUPERHOT’s best storytelling is definitely the tales you tell when playing the game for yourself, particularly as there’s nothing else quite like it.
So, in what way does SUPERHOT differ from the average FPS? Well, firstly, time only moves when you do, which means that keeping still results in your enemies pausing in their actions as well. This changes the FPS in a way that it actually feels very much unlike an FPS, with certain things about the game creating a feeling more in line with puzzle and strategy games. In some ways, the game even feels turn-based, which means that this is far from a typical FPS, and if you try and play this like Call of Duty, well, just don’t expect to be able to get anywhere very fast. Instead, this is a game that requires caution and for you to slowly check every possible corner, as missing an enemy can easily result in your doom.
When shots are fired, red tracer lines indicate the path of the bullet, which allows you to pause the action and then decide how best to deal with the incoming threat. Having bullets whizzing past your ear, knowing that your avoidance strategy worked or that you have just had a bit of luck are moments that get the adrenaline pumping, particularly as taking a single bullet always spells your end, forcing a complete restart of the current level. Even when you stop moving, bullets continue to move through the air in slow motion, although if you move too fast, they then fly through the air at a normal, more dangerous speed. As for firing your own gun, there’s satisfaction to be found in predicting an enemy’s movement, and getting your bullet to smash into his body. It’s electing what to do or not what not to do during your stationary moments that makes the game feel like a puzzle and strategy game, and also like no FPS you have ever played before.
The levels are often laid out in a way in which there’s no clear strategy as to how to complete them, and you are given enough freedom to work out your own means, utilising everything that the game gives you. You might find an object to throw at your enemy to stun them and to knock their gun out of their hands, and then coolly snatch the firearm out of mid air. If available, you might opt to go for a katana, use the stop/start mechanics to your advantage and slice an incoming bullet in two, and then continue to chop the intended shooter in half. It’s even possible to try and save some ammo by getting enemies to shoot out windows or to strategically manipulate them into the path of friendly bullets if you so wish, or to toss your empty gun at an enemy and then rearm yourself with their airborne weapon. Guns are very limited in their ammo, so the game is all about making each and every bullet count, and then hopefully finding another firearm once the ammo of your current weapon is spent.
Guns include handguns, machine guns and shotguns. As each enemy only takes a single shot to kill, the guns here show their differences in the amount of area coverage when fired with the handgun only firing off a single bullet at a time, while the shotgun fires off an impressive spread, which can potentially kill a number of enemies at once if you are able to line your shot up accurately enough. As for the machine gun, this allows you to fire off a barrage of bullets, allowing you an even better spread and to spray the gunfire in different directions with each press of the trigger. With all the latter said, all guns in SUPERHOT are an attractive thing to arm yourself with, although shotguns and machine guns are the most precious methods to help you succeed.
SUPERHOT’s only enemies are the Red Guys, who are just as red as the name suggests. Like a lot of other things in the game world, they also smash up when shot. In fact, the violence here is actually bloodless, but you still get plenty of gratifying feedback from the Red Guys deaths, smashing up like glass in the way that they do when a bullet makes contact with them. The game could definitely be described as a smashing good time.
When you are able to kill all the enemies and complete a level, the game shows a replay, but as opposed to when you are actually playing, the replays actually show how things pan out at a normal speed. It’s an excellent inclusion, and you soon come to learn that SUPERHOT is a game that can make anyone look like Neo from the Matrix or Chow Yun Fat in any John Woo film. Even though you know that you have completed the level using time-based control and probably through careful planning and, perhaps, a bit of luck, the replays often display what appears to be superhuman reactions, and are just tremendously satisfying to view, particularly after a tough time in a stage which resulted in you having to restart a number of times.
SUPERHOT’s brief campaign varies things enough to make each level feel unique, and it also has to be said that many of them can only be completed through trial and error. Some won’t like this approach, but others will enjoy the experimentation, and will be immensely satisfied when they finally complete one of the more difficult levels. The game can undoubtedly feel very frustrating at times, but it’s never anything less than satisfying when things do eventually go according to plan, and then witnessing your much earned and glorious success on the replay.
Back to the brevity of the campaign, and it’s a shame that it can be completed in under two hours. This is easier to forgive when two further modes are unlocked following the completion of the campaign though. The Endless mode has you taking on an infinite amount of enemies and surviving for as long as possible, and there are also unlockable variations, which includes killing as many enemies as possible in a single minute. The Challenge mode, on the other hand, is exactly as the title suggests. Challenges include playing a stage with only a katana or your fists, and there’s also speedruns, amongst other options. There’s also hard and impossible challenge options which has enemy bullets moving faster, and enemies taking five hits to kill. The Endless and Challenge modes are very worthwhile extras, but in regard to the Endless mode and speedruns in particular, it’s a shame that there’s no online leaderboards to see how your own times and kill numbers compare to the records set by others.
Visually, SUPERHOT can certainly be described as highly unusual. The game looks rather basic, but it’s also very striking as well. The Red Guys stand out in the white, clinical looking environments, as do the red tracer lines of the bullets, as well as the black bullets, weapons and objects. It’s a very stylish looking game, which is very fitting as SUPERHOT’s gameplay ideas are also amazingly slick.
SUPERHOT is one of those games that reminds me just how precious indie developers are in the current gaming climate. It’s a very inventive game with ideas that work wonderfully well, changing the way in which an FPS is ordinarily played in major and clever ways, and the game is just as satisfying as it is slick. Some may not take to the trial and error and often frustrating nature of the game, and it’s sad that the campaign is so brief and that the game lacks any form of leaderboards, but, for people that take to the game, everything else will very likely work like a dream; a surreal dream involving people made out of red glass, and spectacular shootouts that result in them being smashed into a million pieces.