The games industry doesn’t do new things very often; I often mention this in my introductory paragraphs because, well, it’s true. Indie and AAA game developers alike love money; they’ll pay attention when something hits it big so they can crank out some clones and get paid. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as innovation alone does not a good game make. Still, though, when something new and impressive does come up it’s worth taking notice. One such game is SUPERHOT, an indie title that offers a different perspective on the FPS.
SUPERHOT is pretty easy to explain: it’s a first-person shooter. You’re the good guy. You’ve got a gun…usually, anyway. There’s lots of bad guys. Something needs to be done about them. Use your imagination. Try not to get shot; one hit from any hostile element is enough to take you down.
Okay, it’s a little more complex than that. The biggest way that SUPERHOT differs from your average FPS is the way that time works. If you don’t move, nothing else does. If you move, time moves with you. This applies to everything: bullets, enemies, moving parts of the environment and even flying weapons. As long as you hold still, you’ve got all the time you need.
That one little twist alone turns SUPERHOT into the best video game rendition of the Matrix films that has ever existed. Dodging bullets is easy when all you need to do is stand still in order to plot out the best possible evasive maneuvers. Kung-fu, likewise, is a piece of cake when the enemies patiently wait while you plan their demise. No gun? No problem! Sock someone in the face, grab theirs out of the air and cap them while they’re still reeling from your punch. Out of ammo? Throw your empty gun at someone so they drop theirs! SUPERHOT rapidly pits the odds against you, and it’s entirely unfair…for the enemies, who don’t know that the weapons they’re about to fire at you will soon become the instruments of their own destruction. Few games can make you feel like quite this much of a badass.
That’s not the only trick, of course; about halfway through the campaign, SUPERHOT introduces the Hotswitch, a body-swapping technique that allows you to take control of another body at will. This is a strategic move rather than an instant-win button: it’s got a cooldown, the lucky winner you’re switching into will drop their gun and other enemies will immediately realize what you’ve done and turn their weapons on you. Still, it’s a valuable addition to your arsenal and can lead to some devastating turnarounds.
The aforementioned campaign is surprisingly short, with a runtime of around an hour and a half depending on how many times you have to restart a stage. This is admittedly a little paltry given the game’s $25 asking price, but at least the presentation is cute; I’ll refrain from going into detail. There are a wide variety of levels, some clearly “inspired” by famous movie scenes; you’ll run into the classic hallway from Equilibrium, for instance. A personal favorite takes place in a bar, where you start right behind an enemy about to take a leak – smashing him quickly leads to the level turning into a giant bar fight while you dodge shotgun blasts from the bartender and fling pool balls at baddies.
Once you’ve finished the campaign you’ll unlock various challenges, like clearing levels using only a katana, and endless maps with a nonstop stream of enemies to blast. There’s another neat trick as well; after beating a level, you’ll view a replay of your performance in real time, which you can then upload as an animated gif to killstagram.com for others to check out. Naturally, there are already loads of animations up there to check out made by people who are better at the game than you or I will ever be.
SUPERHOT’s presentation, like its gameplay mechanics, helps this game stand out from other shooters. Everything is rendered in a minimalist style, with red enemies against gray backgrounds. While many indie games that do this end up feeling lazy, SUPERHOT comes off looking stylish. It’s especially cool when you take out an enemy and they shatter like glass; that’s doubly awesome when you slice them using the katana, which makes an even cut right through your foe as they fall to the ground in pieces. Sound design is excellent as well, with the most memorable moments coming from the booming authoritative voice that serves as the campaign’s central figure.
As mentioned, the campaign is fairly short given the $25 you’re paying for it. Still, there’s plenty of additional content to hold your attention, and the time-control gimmick is unique enough to merit giving the game a shot. There’s a demo version available online that you can check out for free; once you do, I’m pretty sure you’re going to pony up for SUPERHOT. It’s one of the most innovative shooters I’ve played in years.