SUPERHOT Review

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SUPERHOT is a game that literally speaks for itself. Any and all key information is either bathed in bright red or flashes in 72pt font, and the only spoken words are its own title as a form of congratulations, or perhaps a cultish chant. The delivery system of SUPERHOT is bold and brash, but not the only clever thing about it. Existing as something of a sacred object within the online independent video game circuit, the game is notorious for its deceptively simple gameplay. The experience is visceral, raw, and rarely ceases to be an utter thrill. That’s almost the whole point, tapping into a brutal, tribal urge that action films inspire in us all: our inner badass that walks into an elevator and quickly determines how they’d fight their way out. There’s a word for it now, and it’s SUPERHOT.

“TIME MOVES WHEN YOU MOVE”: definitive information punched into the player’s face as soon as SUPERHOT boots up. From there, the game blends the high-wire excitement that comes in elaborate action sequences with chess-like strategy. The player is flung into action scenes stuck in time,red glowing men charging with swords or guns slowly getting ready. The protagonist dodges slowly torpedoing bullets like Neo, and fights back with Jason Statham-like elegance, punching “red guys” and causing their gun to fly out of their hands, only to then take their gun and kill them with it. Just one bullet will send the red guys, or you, exploding into millions of glass shards. It’s a deconstructionist glimpse inside the bloodlust-driven, adrenaline-filled mind of an action hero, and that’s before you gain the power to swap bodies with enemies. Victory is rewarded with a real-time rendition of the previously completed sequence narrated by a robotic voice, either critiquing, praising, or merely commenting “SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT.” over and over again; it’s stupid and incredible all at once, hyper-rendering just passed sequences as highly satisfying in result.

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SUPERHOT IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS!

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On a purely emotional level, SUPERHOT deserves the hyperbolic signifier of “incredible.” Most importantly, the way these dudes explode when you kill them is so damn satisfying. Action gameplay rarely cooks up the amounts of pleasure that come in pretty much every move made by the player here. This comes with the game’s actual challenge, daring players to take their time as slowly as possible. It goes against the visceral instincts action games, let alone first person shooters, often inspire in players. Instead it encourages and rewards patience. Frankly, it makes patience feel awesome, in how it takes that aforementioned sensation straight out of THE MATRIX and gives it wings. As much a superpower as it is an obstacle to reckon with, the time mechanic works in tandem with the game’s color patterns, which encompass a simple palette of white, black, and red. Weaponized objects are spectrumed toward black, environments are wholly white, and all threats are red, including bullets and enemies. It’s not only a cool look, but it creates a secondary call and response, turning action-play into an observational dance. To side-step an approaching shotgun blast by inches is a stunning feeling, no matter how many times you pull it off.

The action loop created by this design certainly comes with a level of difficulty. Levels are often loaded with enemies, and they keep coming from all sorts of directions. To even turn around means to push time forward, often leading to stray bullets from all sides. It’s a game where trial and error is not uncommon. Thankfully, SUPERHOT understands the preferred quickness that comes in respawning. It knows that its puzzle elements are as prevalent as the action itself, and to master a level is to observe and attempt several different ways. The player will get used to where the enemies come from, creating a choreographed dance. Or, things will be so chaotic that they’ll grab a vase or beer bottle and literally start by throwing stuff at the wall; the reward for experimentation can be gratifying. Later challenge modes dare the player to limit their resources to single weapons or modes of action, like going through the game with only a katana or just one’s fists. After beating the game once, the player unlocks an ENDLESS MODE, which definitively states “THEY. DON’T. STOP. COMING.” It’s like someone gave HOTLINE MIAMI a sedative; same violent rush, different breed of trip.

 

SUPERHOT IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS!

SUPERHOT sports untraditional quirk, written all over with consistent cleverness. How it avoids being insufferable comes in its devilish subtleties. This game could easily just run on its core mechanical concept alone, and yet the SUPERHOT team put a story into this damn thing. It’s not a labyrinthian narrative, but instead a bite-sized, metaphysical pulp action thriller with an odd sense of humor and a brooding aesthetic, both chillworthy and ridiculous. In an ode to fellow cyber-horror title PONY ISLAND, the player plays themselves, entering a computer-based conspiracy adventure. When in game, the “antagonist” communicates through the flashing bold letters, and transports the player to different locales, fragmenting the computerized world with glitchy aggression. The deeper you go, the creepier it gets on an aesthetic and story level. The atmosphere manages to remain unnerving, even when the sense of humor refuses to let up.

Half of the fun comes in spending time on the ingame computer, frankly. Chat interactions, where the player can keyboard smash and the game will type out what it wants them to type, act as dorky exposition, especially when the plot becomes more sinister over time. The player terminal also comes with additional ASCI games like TREE DUDE (GOTY 2016?), digitized art, or an IIRC channel that is a hilarious delight to watch for a couple minutes. There are potentially hours of miscellaneous content to engage with, and the fact that the main screen alone is an experience in itself helps keep that promise up. The secrets of SUPERHOT are teased with a smirk and strike tonal intrigue. Attention to detail goes a long way, and it’s applause worthy that the same amount went into the outer fringes as much as it did into the core game.

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SUPERHOT IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS!

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It’s almost miraculous that SUPERHOT can contain and develop itself practically as a meme in a post-PORTAL landscape, and do it so damn well, too. Plus, like PORTAL, it makes delicious lemonade with a ballsy few lemons. In cases where the style is substance, it’s hard to not smile with it working at all, let alone above and beyond. Considering the relatively short length of SUPERHOT’s campaign, it cleverly creates enough content for a solid level of replay value. As a whole package, it not only inspires returns, but creates intrigue for whatever is next for TEAM SUPERHOT. Whether they go big or stay small, it should almost certainly be SUPER. GOOD.

Verdict: Recommend

Rocky Pajarito

Rocky Pajarito is a Crossfader guest contributor, writer, pop-culture enthusiast, and filmmaker based in Orange County, CA. He will try, and fail, in bringing up the film MACGRUBER in every single thing he writes.

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