US: 25 Feb 2016
You have to play Superhot. It’s the most innovative shooter that I’ve played in years.
Superhot would be an impressive feat under any circumstances, which only loses a little bit of its sheen when you know that the original prototype was developed for the 7DFPS game jam, a game jam where the whole point was to innovate on the first person shooter. It isn’t simply a glorious happenstance within the contemporary video game studio system.
Superhot Team had presented prototype that was well received and did what any developer would do with such a hit on their hands. They started work on developing it into a full retail release. I’ve been hearing whispers of Superhot on Twitter and on alt game publications for over two years now. It had always been bookmarked in the back of my mind, and I was simply waiting for an official released. I never had the inclination to track down the prototype myself and give that a whirl.
A friend sent me the file while I was doing nothing in particular. The .exe brought up a stark white environment filled with red crystalline enemies. A robotic voice boomed the title in staccato start and stop intonations. Super. Hot. Then the instructions flashed up on the screen.
Time moves forward only when you move. If I stand still and stare at the screen, I see bullets frozen in the air, and enemies become harmless statues. I take a step forward and time progresses forward a second. The bullet is coming my way, a line of red streaking behind it to make sure that I know its trajectory. I step to the side. The bullet inches closer. Then I move forward a step, again. The bullet passes where I once was, and I check for the next threat.
The action put me into a turn based state of mind, but I could never get reasonably comfortable in that state. Looking around for the next threat means that time advances, and as a result, I took a bullet in the back from a source that I could not see. A button press later, and I was at the beginning of the level ready to try again.
The rhythmic dance of bullet ballet, dodge and discharge, sidestep and slash, is a taste that is acquired. The end result of a level is played back, uninterrupted in time for me to see what I looked like to the world. Superhot allows me to act out the fantasy of a hyper competent action killing machine, or in the video game parlance, a perfect speedrunner. What takes a minute or more of tentative steps plays out in 12 seconds.
The base mechanics, innovation and everything, doesn’t seem that much far removed from what I heard about its original prototype release. However, the uniqueness of its central mechanic means that time had to have been spent honing the level design. Every attack is a one hit kill, and the levels can be unforgiving in their enemy placements. These levels would be unremarkable in a standard shooter. However, mass market shooters are more forgiving, bearing in mind as they do that the player should always progress despite all odds. The more minimal design of Superhot means that you will instead notice (and take advantage of) of every nook and cranny in a level.
A few levels later and I’m kicked out by the server. My friend says that happens sometimes. He sends me a crack, and I get to play more levels of Super. Hot. The levels become longer and more difficult as enemy placement means a more menacing opposition. Sometimes the game requires precognition, expecting previous attempts to inform how the player will understand what needs to happen in order to succeed. The levels play like puzzles in that regard.
I am told not to come back to the server again. I lose control of my desktop. I enter Superhot once again. Here is a facsimile of an alley. There, an office complex. Now I’m in a bar complete with pool table and stripper pole. They are all fake. They serve no purpose other than as obstacles to my movements through that space, or they serve as items to be thrown to stun enemies. I am being watched. I kill more red enemies in the shape of human beings. They come apart in a crash of splintering gems. I am awarded for useless headshots, useless because a hit anywhere secures a kill.
For a mechanically driven game, one promoted on the basis of its unique take on the FPS, there is a lot more to it than that. Beyond exploring the game, there are little things sorted away in files external to it. The tech is so old, reminiscent of a bygone era, yet so much more capable and powerful than anything from that era. It is a clash of retro futurism and contemporary futurism that creates an odd tone. There’s a narrative, though not a plot. There is a conspiracy, but you don’t understand it. It is a cyberpunk tale that plays out in first person, much like the action of the game itself.
I look around online and find that I am not the only one playing this weird game from the depths of the internet. Others are praising it as I am. Super. I see it everywhere. Hot. I continue to stare at the screen. I agree that technology is more important than flesh. Super. I lose myself in the staccato steps of a supernaturally gifted killer. Hot. I continue shooting and punching and throwing and stunning and slashing and disarming and killing. I am behind myself. I succeed in my final mission. Super. The final level is beaten. Hot. I see myself point a gun at the screen and pull the trigger. I never see it coming.
Now I am free to enjoy Superhot. There’s more available in it to do, a long list of challenges and time trials to play. It is Super. It is Hot. We are one. I have no lips and yet we speak. It is from the first person perspective. Always. What is the real world?
This is the most innovative shooter I have played in years. Super. Hot.