SUPERHOT – a successful game paying it forward

It’s easy to say “Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years!” but at this point, everyone probably heard of this phrase. In fact, people probably know the meta narrative twist tied with that phrase as well. There’s a lot that has already been said about SUPERHOT, so after a nice brief review, I’ll talk about what’s come after for the game.

SUPERHOT is the most innovate shooter of 2016, and may unironically be one of the most innovative shooters of the last decade. The game was initially born out of a game jam and I actually remember attempting to play the original version years ago, though I couldn’t properly play it because I had a cheap netbook at the time. Even after getting stuff that could actually run and play the full game, I kept putting it off… until now.

The gimmick of SUPERHOT is simple: time only moves when you do. Time is frozen until you take a step or move your mouse, with time speeding up alongside your movements and slowing to a crawl the moment you go back to taking things easy. The goal? Kill everyone in the level. Your fragile, disposable body dies in one hit, but you can take advantage of the slowed time to dodge everything.

Within the slowed time, you can see bullets whizzing toward you, with clear trajectories. Weaving between the bullets, you can go up to an enemy’s face and beat them to death. You can then take their own gun and point it at their fellow – but uh oh, the whole time deal also applies to your own bullets as well. While guns are very helpful in this game, you also need to account for where your bullets and enemy movements will be in a few seconds to make sure you actually hit something. The same thing applies to throwable objects, which can disorient enemies if it hits (or if it’s a shatterable object that breaks right in front of them), which can buy you a precious slow-mo second to steal their weapon.

Shoot, bludgeon, slice them all apart. Your avatar tosses their weapon aside as the game chants “SUPER. HOT.” over and over as your rampage gets replayed in real time. It feels super cathartic, especially if it’s a level you’ve been having trouble with (fuck that elevator).

Personally, it’s a game that’s right at home with me. I tend to have problems playing most shooters because my reaction time is just shit, but putting the shooting action in a context that lets me slow down and think things through? Real good. The way I see it, SUPERHOT could be accessible to anyone not into the fast-paced stuff.

The gameplay – at least until you get a certain ability – has nothing to do with the plot of SUPERHOT. But the fact that time slowing down has no actual relevance is what makes SUPERHOT effective as a trap.

There’s this whole meta-narrative built around this violent, time manipulation game. Within the universe of the game, you are a computer user that’s been sent a copy of superhot.exe, a seemingly insignificant yet addictive game with no plot. In fact, the characters even lampshade the fact that the game just seems to be about killing red guys over and over. However, it soon becomes apparent that the game is an evil program that’s trying to pull you in through an obsessive game. You are cultivated into a weapon for the system underlying SUPERHOT, with the end goal of making you one with the system. It is also… weirdly horny? Like, there’s absolutely some stuff people that fetishize mind control would be into.

I actually think the story stuff is kinda cool once the ball gets rolling. That said, I kinda hate that the plot is built on “oh you can’t stop playing this game, it’s so addictive.” Like, I mean, it is. But it’s also just kinda conceited.

After the end of story mode, the game gifts you with a challenge and endless mode when you finish the main story. Keeping within tying the gameplay and story together, they’re presented under the pretense that they’re further challenges to cultivate you into the perfect killing weapon. But first, hm, is there any reason to go back to the story levels?

Something I haven’t heard about until I started playing SUPERHOT myself are the secret computer terminals. Each level has a secret computer hidden on it where your character talks directly to the system that’s now their new overlord, which provides additional context to the story. I think it’s interesting to make players go out of their way to engage with the story stuff, because hey, that’s a sign that they care.

And you really do need to go out of your way to find these terminals, because instead of being in the play field, you have to actually find your way out of it through platforming. I’m actually surprised that I’ve never heard of this stuff before because uncovering this stuff feels really cool, as all the out of bounds areas have weird architecture and objects that are unused in normal play. It feels like walking into a bizarre other world. It’s like the stuff those YouTube gaming channels dedicated to easter eggs and discoveries would feel hype over. This is my shit.

One of my favorite terminal messages actually addresses SUPERHOT‘s art style. “Why is everything made of concrete?” your character, the fool, asks. Why, it’s to keep you focused on your mission. And the art style does exactly that, with these bright red enemies and bullet streaks indistinguishable from the white background that’s littered with easy to spot black items. Again, neat ties between gameplay and story. Some of the challenges change the art style, but it all still maintains a high contrast. It all manages to be very clean in spite of being a kinda violent game.

And speaking of that, challenges! The actual main story is really short, but you can play through different variations of the levels through challenge mode. I’m a simple person, so my favorite out of the bunch is the katana-only challenge. The katana is probably the coolest weapon in the game in that besides letting you play out a cool anime fantasy, it can actually slice through bullets and you can chuck that shit at enemies for an easy kill; the devs know their audience by putting this mode in.

There’s also the endless mode, which has a constant stream of red guys rushing in to ruin your day. There’s the actual endless mode, but there’s other variants like seeing how many people you could kill within a certain amount of real time. It’s perfect if you just want to get down to the core experience of SUPERHOT and want to see how good you are at it. “CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP,” the system will chant, as you continue chasing a new high score.

SUPERHOT is plainly a good game, and the only people that probably wouldn’t be into it are the ones that get finicky about price-to-playtime ratios. Since release, it’s been followed up by a few other things. There’s a VR version of the game, which honestly, as a VR skeptic, sounds exciting. I can just imagine flinging objects at red dudes and given the plot and themes of the games, strapping players into a VR device is fitting. There’s also apparently this roguelike standalone expansion called Mind Control Delete that’s currently on Steam Early Access that’s getting close to release.

SUPERHOT has obviously been successful. However, its development team isn’t resting on its laurels. In fact, it’s extended a hand to help other games succeed.

Last year, the SUPERHOT team presented, erm, SUPERHOT PRESENTS. It’s a small fund set up by the team that’s meant to financially support the developers of games that the team thinks is interesting. Currently out, SUPERHOT PRESENTS has supported the Frog Detective games, these cute goofy games where you’re, well, a frog detective. SUPERHOT PRESENTS is also helping fund the development of Knuckle Sandwich, a neat upcoming indie RPG. This is a game that I’m personally excited about, so it’s cool to see it getting support.

The SUPERHOT dev team has done something pretty cool with this. Like, just imagine all the super successful indie developers helping fund and uplift smaller devs. There’s a lot of developers that don’t have the money to succeed, but receiving a boost from ones that did would surely mean a lot in this hell that we call an industry.

It isn’t exactly a publisher thing, either, though Steam does list SUPERHOT PRESENTS as a publisher on these games. In fact, the fund’s explicitly targeted for independent developers that don’t have or want a publisher. There’s no risk of being under the thumb of an abusive indie game publisher, which seems to have become a more open problem last year with the news about Nicalis and Dangen Entertainment.

SUPERHOT is a good game, and its team is helping make sure other potentially good games get off the ground as well. I think a lot of what surrounds SUPERHOT is admirable and I’m looking forward to Mind Control Delete, Knuckle Sandwich, and finally playing Frog Detective.

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