Superhot: super focused gameplay that's perhaps style over substance
If you want innovation in gaming, you've usually got to go indie because that's exactly what Superhot offers: an innovative indie experience that's stylish and hyper-focused on one element.
Despite how the screenshots look, Superhot is less an FPS and more of a physics puzzler like Magrunner or Portal that just happens to take place in an FPS-style world.
Rather than figuring out where portals will go or how gravity will be affected, you are instead trying to guess trajectories and timeframes as bullets whizz by in slow motion glory.
The heart of every level is calculating where the enemy will be and how fast your bullet is going to travel, all while dodging out of the way of the many bullets or melee swings coming at you from different angles.
Essentially, Superhot takes bullet time from The Matrix or Pax Payne, but expanded out into the entire game experience. This slow motion mechanic makes you think logically and puzzle out a solution, with the veneer of an action movie placed over the top to keep gamers interested.
There's a lot of fun to be had with that singular mechanic in train stations, elevators, or office buildings. There aren't many games where you throw your empty pistol at an enemy, grab his gun in mid-air, and then turn around and start shooting at the three other guys chasing after you.
New weapons in later levels change up the formula, with different numbers of bullets and different trajectories. An up-close experience is offered by grabbing the katana and going to town, although that comes with its own challenges due to time constraints.
For the completionists who like to explore every nook and cranny, there are also hidden computer terminals scattered across the levels and waiting to be found.
After finishing a level you are treated to a full-speed replay of what you just did in slow motion, although annoyingly with the giant words “SUPER HOT SUPER HOT” plastered across the screen as the announcer keeps repeating the phrase over and over.
The end of any given level is where my reservations begin: once the novelty wears off, this is just about learning a specific pattern of movement and firing. You'll end up repeating that pattern again and again with minor changes when you frequently die in the harder levels.
The game's strength is also its Achille's heel: it feels unfinished and unpolished. In a lot of ways, Superhot is like a proof of concept tech demo begging for a bigger and more fleshed out experience. That's unfortunate, as this actually is the expanded experience from an original tech demo released a few years back.
I recently reviewed the indie horror title Layers Of Fear, which is itself a very minimalist and hyper-focused game with only a small number of mechanics on display. The unfortunate fact is that even that title, which has fewer overall gameplay elements than Superhot and has a similar length, still feels more like a complete, fleshed out game than this one does.
There's nothing really wrapping it all together and giving Superhot a point, and even that could be forgiven if there was more to the levels themselves. Stripping everything out (characters, story, speed, fleshed out environments) lets the core mechanic shine, but its also reduces replay and makes the game less interesting overall.
The bottom line is that if you dig FPS titles that really change the rules (like Screencheat) or enjoy a good slow motion brain teasing puzzle, then Superhot is easily worth trying, although I don't see it becoming a hallowed classic of either genre. You can grab a copy of the game and try it for yourself through Steam here.