Superhot is a shooter with a simple – and genius – premise: time only moves when you do. This allows for acrobatic displays and feats of murderous cinematic ballet as you dodge bullets and fire with perfect accuracy, all of which plays out in real-time after each short level.
If you’ve ever watched an action movie, you’ll find some kind of reference to it here. There are levels set amongst several action cliches – shady deals gone wrong, a bathroom brawl that spills out into the neighbouring bar and even one that begins atop a moving train. The time control effect also takes the action to a loveable extreme. I knew I liked the game when I shot an enemy’s bullet out of the air, but I knew I loved it when I cut another one in half with a katana.
Levels essentially break down into puzzles rather than the action-packed romps you’ll see in replays. Trial and error is key as you figure out where the next shotgun-toting bad guy will appear so you can throw your gun at him before spinning around and beating another one to death – right before you take a bullet in the back and try again with new found knowledge. This is the central gameplay loop that drives Superhot, but in my time with the game it never felt repetitive, which is helped immensely with the inclusion of an instant restart button.
While I started this review by saying that “time only moves when you do”, this isn’t entirely true. Time moves at a glacial pace when you’re not doing anything, which generally won’t have a big affect on the gameplay but does enough to maintain tension throughout an entire level. Time also skips ahead when you take certain actions – for example, firing a gun will move time at a regular pace for about half a second, and jumping will do the same until you’ve landed.
While there is a story mode, it unfortunately feels like the worst part of the game, though it is mercifully short. It presents an opportunity to play through plenty of entertaining and interesting levels, but they’re broken up by story sections that are unwelcome at best and annoying at worst.
Without giving too much away, the story focuses on somebody addicted to playing Superhot, but never manages to make very interesting use of breaking the fourth wall. The narrative is open to interpretation, but seemingly criticises everything it represents without the same kind of self-awareness one might find in games like Spec Ops: The Line or even Bioshock.
The difficulty curve could also use quite a lot of work. Difficulty seems to curve nicely until the halfway point where it spikes sharply and then drops at an equally sharp angle. The middle level was by far the hardest for me, and the proceeding ones were mostly far too easy. This is partially due to a new ability that unlocks around the halfway point, and while I won’t spoil it, it does seem to trivialise the difficulty from thereon.
Speaking of which, the AI is incredibly dumb, though this is probably by design. They’ll often kill each other with friendly fire (which can and should be utilised frequently) and spend the rest of their time either running straight at you or standing still and firing. This isn’t typically a problem, but AI this stupid is too easy to exploit. For example, it’s possible to simply find a piece of cover and strafe back and forth until enemies come around to find you, then beat them to death and repeat. Almost all levels can be beaten this way with minimal effort, though there’s little fun in doing so.
Still, these issues aren’t so intrusive as to ruin the game, and once the story mode is over plenty of challenge modes unlock, including an endless mode in which the goal is simply to survive. This is where the bulk of the gameplay lies, and it’s more than entertaining enough to warrant the purchase.
These challenges include modes like “Katana Only”, which is a huge amount of stylish fun (even if I’m still terrible at it). There are also timed challenges and ones that attempt to switch up the gameplay entirely, such as a mode in which thrown objects kill instantly, but guns can’t be fired.
Despite the variety of modes and challenges, the bulk of my fun came from simply watching my replays after each successful run. While the more straightforward levels aren’t as fun to watch, most deliver on the action movie fantasy. Weaving between bullets, utilising every nearby tool and taking down all the enemies without being hit is guaranteed to make you feel like a bad ass.
These replays can then be uploaded to a website called “Killstagram”, though at the time of this writing, the website is very much in beta, and players can’t so much as make their own account or keep track of their uploads. Luckily the videos are also stored locally, so showing them off to your friends is a cinch. It’s easy to see a large following dedicated to completing the most challenging and stylish runs in the very near future.
Superhot also sports great sound design, though the total exclusion of music may irk some players. However, this may be because the audio moves to the pace of the game, speeding up as you move and slowing down immensely when the player stops moving.
While the sound design generally gives a good indication of what’s happening and where, it still doesn’t do much to stop you from being shot or stabbed in the back, which leads to the most frustrating and and anticlimactic deaths. There’s nothing like cutting bullets out of the air, shooting three guys and throwing your gun at another only to die from an unseen bullet. The simple act of turning around also causes time to move forward, meaning that checking over your shoulder is dangerous enough to make it almost not worth doing.
Despite these grievances, the gameplay of Superhot is fun, deep, and addictive enough to make for an enjoyable and memorable experience. It’s easy to recommend for anybody with a love of over-the-top action sequences or even just unique games, though the story may not be enough for those seeking an engrossing narrative.