THE GIFT OF GIFS

EDGE - - PLAY -

At the end of each level you have the op­por­tu­nity to edit a re­play and up­load it to an of­fi­cial data­base, or cap­ture and pub­lish it us­ing your own means. The plot en­cour­ages shar­ing with a code phrase that creates a rap­port among fel­low play­ers while en­cour­ag­ing them to mar­ket the game. It helps that the gifs look so good, and show off some un­con­ven­tional tac­tics. One player de­cided to play the bar level by vault­ing the counter and throw­ing ev­ery sin­gle bot­tle of wine on the wall at at­tack­ers. An­other player who was stuck in a long cor­ri­dor chopped their way out through a win­dow and ran along win­dow ledges to launch a clever sur­prise at­tack. a vi­o­lent sense of im­pact, and it’s hugely re­ward­ing. Half­way through the two-hour cam­paign we picked up an achieve­ment for mak­ing 100 head­shots, for which there’s no sys­temic re­ward – a shot to the arm would be just as deadly. But it’s the best-look­ing way to com­plete a level, and in Superhot that is as im­por­tant as win­ning.

Superhot’s hero mo­ments hap­pen at the end of each round, when the game plays back your run in real time. You’re re­warded with a flurry of thrown weapons, punch­ing, per­fect head­shots and ex­plod­ing en­e­mies. In a game about au­thor­ing the per­fect ac­tion se­quence, the in­stant-restart key is a gift. A missed shot looks messy, and must be cor­rected. In­stead of fir­ing the shot­gun, it might look cooler to throw it… Time to restart, again. It’s a vic­tory for style over sub­stance, then, in which style smashes sub­stance’s head into a mil­lion pieces with an ob­sid­ian base­ball bat. There is a story of sorts, which un­folds in chat logs be­tween rounds. Mash­ing the key­board types out your avatar’s lines as you chat about the game, at first with friends, and later with more sin­is­ter forces. The menus re­sem­ble an old MS-DOS file struc­ture that con­tains a scat­ter­ing of dig­i­tal cu­rios. In one folder there’s an an­i­mated ASCII cube, in an­other a se­ries of ba­sic minigames, in an­other a voiceover ad­ver­tis­ing a new VR game set to grimy footage of peo­ple writhing around scream­ing. It’s ef­fec­tive: Superhot feels like a sin­is­ter counter-cul­tural art pro­ject, ac­ci­den­tally down­loaded from some dark cor­ner of the In­ter­net. The omi­nous mood is more in­ter­est­ing than the specifics of the story, a shal­low meta­com­men­tary on the na­ture of the player’s sub­ju­ga­tion to the de­signer. Hardly BioShock, but it’s an­other un­ex­pected el­e­ment in a mem­o­rable pack­age.

Things start to slip once Chal­lenges and End­less modes are un­locked, af­ter the end cred­its. The for­mer lets you re­play mis­sions with rule­set mod­i­fiers. The katana-only run de­mands that you mas­ter the art of cleav­ing bul­lets out of the air; speed runs pit you against times set by the de­sign­ers, and ask you to learn ev­ery spawn point so you can blow up foes be­fore they fire a shot. End­less mode pits you against in­fi­nite waves in un­lock­able are­nas. The var­ied lev­els de­serve a re­visit, but the more we en­gaged with Superhot’s sys­tems in longer bursts, the more its flaws grated. En­e­mies wit­lessly run into the open and stop to take a shot, seem­ingly un­will­ing to fire on the move. Un­pre­dictable spawn points are a blight in End­less mode, where runs are most com­monly ended by a bul­let from an un­seen en­emy. Af­ter a while you run out of in­ven­tive ways to play, and that’s when the game dies. For all its ini­tial cre­ativ­ity, Superhot cools too quickly. It’s an ul­ti­mately lim­ited ex­plo­ration of a clever time me­chanic, ex­e­cuted with tremen­dous style. It’s worth a visit for that, so long as you’re not ex­pect­ing it to last.

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