- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On March 11, 2016
- 0 Comments
Being a gamer in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of experiencing the meteoric rise of the first-person shooter. I watched as technology leapfrogged its way from game to game, with the 90-degree angles of Wolfenstein 3D paving the way for the more advanced DOOM, which in turn led to further advances which gave us an ever-changing and ever-satisfying genre of action. Games like Heretic and Dark Forces added the ability to look up and down, Duke Nukem 3D and Blood piled on heaps of interactivity and inimitable irreverence, and Quake and Unreal finally brought true 3D into the mix. From there, advances began to stall, with the genre simply maintaining the status quo, albeit with prettier graphics.
Needless to say, the FPS genre needs something fresh to progress again and, ironically, SUPERHOT does just that…by slowing the action down. Huh?
Whereas other games limit their strategy to remembering where spawn points are or finding a primo sniper’s nest, SUPERHOT turns the genre into something more akin to a turn-based strategy game, allowing for players to think their way through the highly kinetic firefights. Once you spawn into a level, you watch as time seems to creep by at a crawl, with enemies creeping towards you by the inch and bullets lazily boring their way through the air. You can turn freely, but any attempt to move your character will accelerate the game to real-time until you stop, at which point it returns to its previous, Zac Snyder-esque state.
While the game’s deceleration of time may make it seem slow, the way that you plan and execute your attacks and counterattacks makes you feel like an insanely efficient killing machine. Remember that scene in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, where Robert Downey Jr’s consulting detective analyzes his foe to find vulnerabilities and defeats him in an underground brawl? That’s the best analogue that I can come up with, because SUPERHOT is really like nothing I’ve ever played before.
The visual vocabulary of the game is stripped down to the bare minimum, with the game drawn in a simple three-color palette: white (the environments), black (the weapons), and red (the enemies). This allows you to quickly assess threats and plan your movement in order to take the enemies out as efficiently as possible. In one scenario, my unarmed character smashed through a door, knocked an armed enemy over a balcony railing, snatched his gun from midair, turned, and shot another enemy in the head, reducing it to a scarlet shower of polygons. The game sets up multiple scenarios like this, where you need to observe your environment and plan your next move. Do you distract a trigger-happy barkeep with a pool ball and try to disarm him, or do you try to find a way to wrest a pistol from one of his goons? Do you wade into the fray with a large group of thugs, or do you systematically isolate and pick them off like a mashup of Neo and the Predator? There are multiple outcomes and strategies, and you’ll get a chance to try them all out because you’ll die. A lot. You’ll fail to notice an enemy sneaking up on you, or accidentally step into the crawling path of a bullet, which will lead to death every time. There is no health or damage for your character: you die from one hit, so you’ll have to observe everything around you, assess and prioritize threats. It’s not that different from a traditional FPS, but the super-slow pacing allows you to pull off some pretty fancy moves, which are recreated at the end of the level in a sickly satisfying real-time replay, which makes you feel like an indomitable badass.
Stranger than SUPERHOT’s glacial gameplay is its attempt at a story. You’re given access to the SUPERHOT server by an online buddy, whom you’ll chat with through an ASCII-based DOS menu, complete with CRT scanlines and phosphor bleed. As you slaughter your way through the scenarios, you start to realize that this reality may not be as virtual as you first thought. It’s not particularly coherent, but it works within the slice of surrealism that is SUPERHOT.
Graphically, the game’s minimalist color palette lends it a stark beauty. Nothing in the game is textured, which means that your only focus is on color. Animations are smooth, and the bloodless deaths your enemies suffer are surprisingly grisly and satisfying. Extremities shatter like glass as bullets drill through them, and your opponents crumple like paper against your murderous melee moves. Sound is sparse, but punchy and satisfying, especially the weirdly distorted voice that chants “SUPER…HOT…SUPER…HOT” at the end of each scene.
While you can churn through the game’s campaign in a few short (but satisfying hours), SUPERHOT is so unique and innovative that it’s worth the time you spend in its violent virtual reality. Even after you complete the story-driven levels, there’s an Endless option that will keep you in the thick of the slow-mo action for the foreseeable future.
SUPERHOT is available now for PC.