WHY I LOVE… SUPERHOT’S REPLAYS
How posing and playing with time in Superhot makes your dreams of becoming an action hero come true
“You’re a bullet-spewing Road Runner with the reactions of Peter Parker catching a lunch tray”
The dream of shooting games is that you get to be the action star in your own private John Woo movie. John McClane in your own Die Hard. Arnold Schwarzenegger in basically anything he’s in. But not all of us are good enough with a thumbstick to make these fantasies a reality.
A confession: I’m talking about myself here. The actual pointing and shooting part of FPS games has never been one of my strengths, so I fall consistently short of my cinematic ambitions. Luckily, Superhot offers a solution. It’s a shooter where time only moves when you do – meaning you can stand still, with an enemy frozen in your sights, and consider your next move. You can gradually line up your next shot, as bullets crawl towards you like they’ve been fired into honey.
It’s like being able to see the Matrix. With a little practice, you can string together a perfect sequence of headshots, dancing between the bullets and not even looking back to check your opponents have fallen. But from the inside, when you’re just nudging the thumbstick to advance time a couple of frames per second, it doesn’t feel all that impressive.
The genius of Superhot is that, each time you complete a mission, it offers up a replay. The last few minutes of highspeed ultraviolence, compressed into perhaps 15 seconds of real-time. And laid out like that, with all the long pauses edited out, those feats look Herculean. Nay, positively John Wickean.
I watch myself, unarmed, facing down one of the red polygonal mannequins that serve as Superhot’s baddies. I wrench the pistol out of his hand, snatch it from the air as it tumbles towards me, and turn it on him. His head explodes into crystalline shards, as I turn and empty the remaining rounds into two more baddies. In the replay, all of this takes just over one second.
When you edit the replays, grabbing the finest fragments of action to share online, Superhot goes unusually quiet. The looping shouts of “SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT!”, the screeching sounds of a dial-up modem being tortured, it all fades away, leaving just a subtle buzz of white noise. It feels like the game is sitting back and admiring the chaos with you.
Even in the quiet though, you move so blindingly fast – a bullet-spraying Road Runner with the reactions of Peter Parker catching a lunch tray – that it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on. Superhot offsets this by using a remarkably simple visual language. Enemies are red. Anything that can be used as a weapon is black. Everything else is plain white, like the developers forgot to apply textures to their level wireframes. This not only creates a distinctive aesthetic, it makes the action much easier to read. It’d be impossible to follow a realistic action game moving at the same clip, but your eyes can quickly scan between the only two things that matter: the person-shaped obstacles, and the tools being used to knock them down. That’s especially important when the game gets harder and starts throwing more and more obstacles in your path.
Because the player lives in a state of constant bullet time, Superhot is able to stack the odds against you tremendously. You’re constantly outnumbered and frequently outgunned – but , seriously, what kind of action hero would you be if that wasn’t the case?
Besides, when it comes to the replays, there’s something else in your favour: they only show after the successful completion of a mission. By that time, if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely fumbled through a dozen times, and learned where and when each new enemy enters the level.
So you end up with an impossibly fast supercut, erasing all the mistakes you made on earlier attempts. It’s a nice little reward for succeeding, and much more personalised and meaningful than any unlockable McGuffin. But vitally, it also changes the way you play the game – or at least, the way I do.
Watching replays introduces a secondary objective: don’t just pass the level, but do it in style. Sure, you could hold onto this pistol and go for the easy shots, but wouldn’t it be cooler to throw it aside and make a dash for that katana, so you can slice baddies in half? Of course it would. There’s a simple test I use in these situations, with the enemies frozen in front of me: I just ask myself, “WWKD?” What Would Keanu Do?
Publisher SUPERHOT TEAM / Developer SUPERHOT TEAM / format xbox one / release date may 2016right With its striking red, white and black art, Superhot is one of the most distinctive FPSs.