very level in Superhot is an exciting, self-contained, time-bending puzzle that turns typical fast-paced first-person shooter mechanics on their head. Every time you move, your enemies and their bullets do, too – but if you stand still, so will time. It’s a unique idea that creates a smart, tense puzzles where, in between reloading and lining up a shot, you can sometimes dodge every individual bullet in the spray of a burst rifle by moving one small step – and therefore a fraction of a second.Even as you learn that painful lesson, near-instant respawns keep Superhot’s pace feeling addictive, rather than frustrating. The levels are also designed in a way that compliments both replayability and trial and error: they’re small, self-contained combat instances that would be a tiny part of a level in most games. The real-time playback you get when you complete a level might only be five seconds long, but Superhot’s real gameplay exists in those moments where time has stopped and you have to carefully calculate your next movement based on a heightened situational awareness of what the enemies around you are likely to do while they can move, too.
Tough decisions happen in those moments: Is it worth picking up that object to throw, knowing that picking something up is the most time-consuming action you can take, and your enemy might have moved three feet to the left by the time it lands? Something that an action hero would have to do by instinct in a split second is, in Superhot, a carefully thought-out move.
Pick Your Targets
You’re not Batman – there aren’t any fancy takedown moves.
“While the difficulty does increase throughout the 32 levels by introducing environments with less cover to hide behind, multiple entry points for enemies, and usually a lot more enemies armed with shotguns and rifles instead of clubs or pistols (just like other shooters), Superhot also presents scenarios that would likely be impossible without the ability to slow time. One of the later levels, for example, has you standing unarmed in a small room with three armed enemies. You’re not Batman – there aren’t any fancy takedown moves, so you have a few intense seconds to rely on your own attention to detail, and take tiny steps that let you see which enemy might raise their gun first, whether one of their bullets will be inside your head in the next second, or whether the one you just disarmed has recovered behind you and is ready to punch you out before you can shoot the others.
None of my deaths in Superhot felt unfair, though – with white, plain environments that starkly contrast with glowing red enemies that shatter when they’re dead, with a sound effect that makes sure you know they’re out of the picture, every aspect of its visual design is catered to your success, so long as you’re meticulous.
A Particular Set of Skills
Superhot doesn’t bother to introduce new weapons or effects to master.
“But while every scenario offers a unique challenge, and every level is wholly worth playing, there’s a very significant lack of them – Superhot only takes around four hours to finish, and never significantly evolves its concept in that amount of time. Unlike a puzzle game like Portal or Braid, which constantly introduce new spins on their novelty mechanics, Superhot always functions based on the same time-stopping principle, just in different environments. It doesn’t bother to introduce new weapons or effects to master, except for a ‘possession’ style action that you’re never overtly prompted to use because no levels are designed around it. In its lack of variety and brief length, Superhot feels underdeveloped – a good first step toward a great game, but not quite there yet.
Finishing the main story will unlock some very basic challenge modes in the same levels, but also an ‘endless’ mode that’s fairly addictive in its near-ridiculous difficulty. Hopefully we’ll eventually see some leaderboards, but they weren’t available at the time of review – the difficult-to-decipher menu is actually full of holes and links that lead to nothing, or things that aren’t explained well.That’s if you can manage to get through the story without wanting to quit, though – what starts out as a laughably cheesy 90s-style hacker story turns into an annoyingly corny roadblock in between the enjoyable gameplay. While it uses its premise in some creative ways – like telling you to quit but rendering your ‘esc’ button useless – it’s largely just nonsensical in its ridiculous hacker hyperbole, like telling you your body is disposable, and you should submit to the software. The entire experience also feels very skewed towards the upcoming VR headsets, as opposed to the 2D screens it’s playable on right now, and while it’s easy to imagine playing these levels and experiencing some of the pixelated software-inspired cutscenes in VR, I doubt it would make the story any more impactful or intelligent.
Superhot’s clever time-manipulation idea delivers consistently fulfilling challenges by turning blink-of-an-eye action into carefully considered and cautious tactical decisions. It avoids potential one-hit death frustration with quick respawns and deaths that always feel earned and avoidable in hindsight. Its unique brand of puzzles are complemented by simplistic but helpfully high-contrast art and sound design, yet undermined by a tedious, intrusive story and a reluctance to put new game-changing spins on its ideas to extend their lives.