Game ‘SUPERHOT’ features a minimalist art style, engaging mechanics

Andrew Shermoen

“The Matrix” was one of the biggest films of 1999. Its popularity and imagery greatly influenced the visual styles of science-fiction after its release. Its intriguing time-bending fight scenes have become very popular in action films of recent years.

“The Matrix’s” popular “bullet-time” segments have been a copied mechanic in videogames like “Max Payne,” “Red Dead Redemption,” “GTA V” and “Fallout.”

None of these captured the true essence of bullet-time though. “Max Payne” comes close, allowing players to track the direction of bullets and dodge them in time, but it only allowed time to slow down for a few moments. It didn’t truly feel like the time-manipulation that Neo is capable of. Introducing “SUPERHOT,” a game so much about time manipulation that it feels unlike any other game on the market. Its controls are smart and simple, but the gameplay is deceptively difficult at times. With a great story about the control of corporations over consumers and an amazing art style, “SUPERHOT” is “The Matrix” love-child we’ve been waiting for.

In the game, your friend sends you an invite about this new game they’ve found called superhot.exe. Your friend tells you that the game technically isn’t off the market yet. It’s actually been hacked from a company using a software crack. You get in the game and find yourself fighting against several adversaries, outfitted with guns, swords, bats and a plethora of weapons. You find that time only moves when you do. You dodge bullets, throw vases at your enemy and grab their weapon out of the air and shoot them down. After a few levels, the game glitches out and you can no longer play. When you try to tell your friend what you did in the game, your chat is altered. A message reveals that whatever you’re playing, the creators “know where you are.” What have you gotten yourself into? Why can’t you stop playing? What is superhot.exe?

You read right: the enemies, the bullets from their guns, vehicles chasing you, the bullets you shoot and the items you throw only move when you do. If you don’t touch your mouse or keyboard, nothing moves. But as soon as you turn your head, as soon as you walk to the left, a gunshot goes off. The bullet slowly moves through the air. You dodge the bullet, punch an enemy and grab their gun. Guns and weapons in the game differ based on ammo count, range and how they fire. It turns what seems to be a first-person-shooter into a strategy game, weaving through the paths of bullets, trying to find the easiest way to take care of the enemies surrounding you. You have to analyze and then strike. It keeps gameplay varied and offers unique scenarios for every single level. The controls are simple: time moves, you move. Executing those movements in order to survive presents a high dose of difficulty that makes the game an enjoyable challenge throughout.

The art style is beautiful despite its limited white, black and red palette. The red, crystalline enemies shatter when you attack them, and the bullets streaming through the air with their red tails makes for somewhat beautiful moments, which actually is somewhat jarring considering these two items highlight the violence in the game. This violence actually might turn away gamers who are bothered by the idea of a game simply being about mowing down “dangerous just because” enemies. It certainly isn’t the realistic violence of games like “Fallout,” “The Witcher” or “GTA,” but in those games there are activities other than just killing people, but “SUPERHOT” does not do this. Still, the limited art style makes the game more palatable than say “DOOM” or the disgustingly horrible “Hatred.”

The story is entertaining with some pretty intriguing comments on corporate control and addiction, but it doesn’t really commit to these themes. It offers some pretty intriguing and trippy moments, but its writing isn’t very clever, often copying too much from the plots of games, movies and TV shows that employ similar commentary.

Still, there’s enough from the story that it makes for an engaging narrative. After you complete the story mission you unlock the “Challenge” and “Endless” modes. Challenge offers fun arenas for you to try and beat very specific objectives, but most of the levels are just copied from the core story with an interesting change, like only using the katana or only using the pistol.

Endless mode of course allows you to challenge yourself to see how long you can last against enemies. Both modes allow for a lot of replayability, meaning the game more than justifies its cost, which is low for a game its size.

Using a great mix of intriguing story, fun and innovative gameplay mechanics and great art style makes “SUPERHOT” an early contender for Best of 2016 lists.

Did I mention you can cut bullets in half with a sword?

Rating: 4/5 stars