THE GIFT OF GIFS
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.