SUPERHOT, in a few ways, reminds me of dearly departed P.T.--it started as a small yet fascinating alpha level concept that held infinite promise, if given the chance to accentuate on its style and substance. Unlike the unfortunate end to the best Playable Trailer of all time, SUPERHOT went on to garner a generous Kickstarter cycle and eventually see a full release. The game focuses on a kind of bullettime premise: nothing moves unless you do, effectively turning each scenario into a kind of sadistic John Woo puzzle. With everything stemming from this solitary yet unique take on slo-mo action, the game manages to bring forth an intensely satisfying experience and subvert expectation, all at the speed of snail.
From the second SUPERHOT boots up, it presents itself as part of an odd metagame; you're on a crappy computer interface, complete with whirring and clacking drivers, miscellaneous apps and blips stuffed into a few folders, and even a primitive "hacker's channel" that looks like it was pulled from the 90s. The main game begins once you have a faux-chat with one of your "friends," who patches you into a super-secret .exe called Superhot. From there, you are beamed into a wild mix of Videodrome, VR, Matrix effects, and possible cybercrime. The overall story, while nothing completely groundbreaking, is incredibly entertaining for how it makes you feel like you're playing something forbidden. More than once, SUPERHOT will poke and prod at your immersion to ensure you don't forget that this is a game within a game computer interface.
Although you're probably familiar with how bullet-time works thanks to landmark games like Max Payne, the first-person gameplay of SUPERHOT has more in common with Hotline Miami--if Hotline Miami only let you see what was in front of you, and the concept of time was stretched to a crawl. Moving slowly and deliberately enables you to see muzzle flashes at their base instant, dodge the red-accented bullet trails, and predict trajectory of both the glassy Red enemies and their weapons. Time only moves as fast as you do, promoting that patience isn't just a virtue--it's your means for survival. However, going the route of daredevil--especially in time trials--is valid, providing that your swifter punctuated moments can be backed up with a bullet. Faster actions like jumping or throwing objects can be useful, and it's especially cool how everything you can utilize is outlined in black as opposed to the crimson hues of incoming bullets and enemies against the icy white backgrounds. There's no other way to describe throwing a pool ball at a shotgun goon, distracting him long enough to skirt across the bar to slice him with a katana while easily dodging an auto rifle's salvo in time to impale him on the thrown sword other than "fucking awesome." The engine allows for so many solutions just based off the simple "hit, pick up, throw, move, jump" ethos, and the ease of access ensures you'll be disarming and destroying Red troopers in no time.
You'll need to master your powers quickly, as the 30-odd levels in the main story will take you to some snazzy setpieces and hardcore situations. One of my favorites in particular was a short yet bitterly sweet stage wherein you spawn in a cramped elevator with three guns pointed at your head. Even if you get past the goons, the elevator dings open, and a man with a shotgun is waiting to spray you with a cone of pellets. Another was a recreation of the foyer battle from Matrix Reloaded, complete with sword baddies. You're going to notice some elaborate homages to cinema, and more than a bit of inspiration from Cronenberg classic Videodrome. After each massacre, the scene replays at normal speed to show you just how incredible your run truly was. Even nicer is the option to save a replay and upload it to a dedicated offsite known as Killstagram, enabling you to share your wildest runs with others.
After the psychotic 2 to 3 hour storyline has finished, Endless Mode, Challenge, and Freeplay for Story unlock. Endless is just that; fight impossible odds for as long as you can across a variety of arenas. Challenge Mode is a bit more fun, giving you modifiers across a huge set of missions. Can you complete story mode while just being able to use the katana? How about only melee, or at only regular speed? The lifeblood of SH lies within continuously challenging yourself with speed runs, crazier stunts, and new ways to tackle tasks you probably saw were improbable.
It's difficult to quantify why I felt SUPERHOT was so crisp, complete, and excellent even when I was just an hour into the game. It's an experience trimmed free of bloat and excess fat, presenting a lean and limber fight while throwing in a fun metatextual package around the product. It's not very often that the content for something is JUST right without wearing out its welcome or leaving you wanting more. In the case of SUPERHOT, I do actually want more, and I expect the continued challenges I unlock plus the free updates the developers have promised will continue to satiate me for a decent roll of time. In the same way people felt about tiny yet illustrious jewels like Hotline Miami, Gone Home, or Frog Fractions, SUPERHOT is a stellar example of marrying style and substance in an especially deadly and addictive way. It's one of those instances wherein you remember that this medium is quite young, and can still hold very pleasant surprises.
Amazing and topical!