The first time I saw SuperHot, it was a simpler game for the 7-Day FPS game jam. Although it was simple, it demonstrated a singular, sound, question: What if there were a first-person-shooter that was more of a puzzle than a game about reflexes? Time in the game only moves when your character moves.
The first time I ever played something similar was way back when with Action Quake 2 and using Quake 2-engine console commands in order to slow down time. That gave me something like The Matrix, but it was an incredibly shallow experience, especially when it wasn’t fun to play multiplayer that way.
The finished SuperHot isn’t incredibly deep, but it is more impressive and has way more ideas than that old childish power fantasy of thinking and moving faster than the enemies around you in an FPS we all cribbed from movies.
The game presents you with all kinds of style. An old-school ASCII-style terminal provides the menu and feels like something from DOS computers in the the 1980s. Each option makes sense within this universe. You can change settings in settings.exe and the main game is launched from superhot.exe. This menu is where you bounce back from the challenge of the main game and chat with artificial online strangers to find out more about it.
Each level is a stark contrast of white geometry with harshly polygonal red bad guys that have a kind of shine to them. You will see one additional color, black, to indicate bullets and firearms along with objects like baseball bats that can be picked up and wielded against your foes. This style is unique. The closest comparison would be to Mirror’s Edge, but even that game’s simplistic color-scheme has much more texture to the characters and world.
It’s an art style that grabs your eyes with simplicity in order for you to focus on the game play of avoiding the oncoming bullets, fists, baseball bats, and other objects the red guys throw your way.
Each time you shoot or punch out a red guy you’re rewarded with their polygons shattering in a unique display of aggression that is your reward for figuring out the solution to the puzzle of moving past that obstacle for the next. Each time you’re wondering how you can move onto the next red guy and survive until you’re rewarded with the end of the level when a robotic voice chants SUPER…HOT… while the full-speed replay displays underneath the text SUPER…HOT…
Early on in SuperHot one of the levels wants to teach you how to dodge oncoming fire in a simple corridor. It took me a few tries to understand that yes, indeed, I need to go slow as the game had informed me in giant bold text. Darting right until the red guys fired, then left and waiting for them to fire again, on and on up the corridor until I could try and retrieve the pistol a dead red guy had dropped. Except picking that gun up was another motion that caused time to proceed, allowing the enemy fire to move, and left me dead a few times until I learned to lead the red guys into shooting away from me and gave myself enough time to pick up the gun. Each step after that put less distance between the red guys and my character, but with SuperHot’s gun all distances are shorter and it’s just a matter of giving yourself the time to fire, wait for the next round to chamber, and fire again. All without getting shot. So if the first half of that level taught me how to avoid fire, the second half teaches you to remember where bullets are in the air at any time. That’s the puzzle you have to work out in each level. Moving, from one red guy to the next, reaching out and firing until… SUPER…HOT…SUPER…HOT…
The level-ending chant is deeply satisfying when it happens. Although SuperHot’s campaign doesn’t present any incredible challenges, it does change things up and add new twists that are almost universally fun to learn and best.
SuperHot succeeds at being unlike any traditional FPS, but it also isn’t an incredibly long experience. I finished the game’s campaign in just a few hours. Once you’ve completed it you unlock other single-player challenges and wave-based survival modes that are fun, but it is questionable if the game is worth those $25 dollars the developer charges by default.
That isn’t a question I will be able to answer for everyone, but for my life these days it’s nice to be done with something after a few hours without feeling like I’ve just made the first step into adding some 150-hour long journey to the back catalog of games I’ll probably never get around to. So, I don’t feel like SuperHot overstayed its welcome by throwing more ridiculous gameplay ideas at us. Instead, it was just as much SuperHot as I wanted, and I’ll always randomly think to myself SUPER…HOT…SUPER…HOT…