SuperHot wants me to inform you, and I quote, “It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in Years.” But I’m not going to do that because it’s not technically true. It is however one of the most unique puzzle games I’ve ever encountered. It just also happens to masquerade as a Shooter. Because of this game’s unique position, it needs to be examined on a component by component basis. In true Past Due Review Style, we will be inspecting SuperHot’s Animation Quality, Modeling, Lighting, Level Design, Particle Effects, Audio, Game Mechanics, and more.
Let me start by saying that the animations are presented in a very clear fashion to the player, and the meshes attached to said animations have extremely precise hitboxes. Which is a good thing considering the game’s nature. I will also state though, that these same animations that make character actions very clear to the player, are as basic as you can animate a humanoid character rig in Unity. Whether or not this is a negative is of course up to you. I personally believe that the game’s systems and dynamic puzzles that are created around you are enough to hold your interest if the Animations don’t. I would be shocked if this game wasn’t using the Mecanim State Machine and all it has to offer considering how the game handles time. This is of course tied in very closely to the game’s mechanics that I’ll be discussing later.
Many will find the Game’s simplistic art direction as stylistic and striking. while some game modes do introduce some fantastic spins on SuperHot’s art style, I feel it serves as a mask to hide the somewhat pedestrian models that are on display. Take away the shiny shader from the character meshes and you’re left with a basic humanoid mold that you could learn to make with Blender and a YouTube video. A lot of the game’s environments also appear as if the could have been modeled in engine. Again, despite this criticism, I feel this is done purposefully to highlight the systems that are built around these elements.
If I already sound like a broken record I do apologize. But many of these game’s components just don’t stand well on their own. And textures, or lack thereof, is another section I usually like to talk in detail about but can not. Most of what appears to be applied to the models in game are either various shaders or Light Maps that do not even try to obfuscate how they are baked into the game’s environment. Yet again, they do still strongly serve the optimistic theory that this is all just to highlight the core mechanics of the game and allow you to focus on solving the problems in front of you. But for those of us who love to both play games and appreciate their visual appeal, SuperHot constantly asks you to ignore it’s environments and characters. Don’t get me wrong, I can admire a minimalist theme in a game or any other art form for that matter. And I happen to think as a whole these three components are greater than the sum of it’s parts.
I think this game could have benefited from a better lighting system. While the majority of the game makes it very clear where your enemies are, I think it would have been an interesting curve-ball for the player to be presented with a situation based on lighting and using shadows or light to create advantages or disadvantages. But unfortunately the lighting in SuperHot might as well not exist. While it could be called subtle, the few casted shadows are not nearly as dark or detailed enough to warrant yet another simple visual component of the game. On the other hand, the lighting is great when you look at the little details. Muzzle flare lights up a far larger area than it would in most games. And I’ll speak first hand by saying there’s nothing more terrifying in Superhot than hearing a gunshot and seeing nothing but your own hard shadow cast along the floor in front of you. And it’s moments like that where I can’t help but respect the lighting overall in this game.
This is where the game starts to show some real substance in the work the developers put into the game’s aesthetic. Bodies and weapons break apart in great detail with a wonderfully realized shattering effect to accompany the mayhem. The effect is so well crafted that they decided to the same same effect with different colors for just about every object in the game. So Bullets, People, Windows, Bats, Swords, and Guns all shatter the same way. Which is a shame since it’s clear whoever did the Tech Art for the game has a real knack for it. I think it would have been cool to see them make more types of effects, and considering the small number of different objects in the game it’s surprising to me that the extra work wasn’t put into them to really make them stand out more. So really the only other effects you’ll ever see is the muzzle flare when shots are fired, and the red line that follows the ray casted line from the bullet path. Neither effect really stands out as much as how objects follow the destruction effects. Which for the most part do reflect the areas that damage has been done quite well.
This is where SuperHot’s best elements really start to shine. Not only are the audio assets greatly beneficial to the feedback of the game, but are clearly defined from each other. Not to mention how satisfying many of the sounds can be when you finally pull off that perfect path to your enemy.
Levels In SuperHot are very well crafted to reflect the mechanics I mentioned above. Many of the levels even have well done elements of verticality. Never once did I ever encounter a hallway that was too small to dodge bullets, nor did I ever feel that the game’s placement of enemies or items was done so in an unfair fashion to cheaply increase the difficulty. Each level clearly must have gone through many iterations and testings to get them all to be at the level of quality they are now. A game with such a strange core gameplay mechanic always runs the risk of not taking that into account in the level design. But that is not the case in SuperHot. If I had one criticism for the Level Designers of this game it would be that the levels are always fairly set in stone with the characters inside of them being the only thing that move. I think it would have been interesting to see some moving platforms or walls to shake up the world around you. It also might have been nice to see some more platforming elements that could have added another layer of challenge to these puzzles. At the end of the day though, if those additions to the level design would run the risk of making the levels over complicated it may have detracted from the core gameplay loop.
If the Level Design and Audio of SuperHot was where the game started to shine, its core GamePlay Loop is where its lights shine the brightest. Holy Hell guys, I can’t remember the last time a puzzle game had me this hooked. I’ve woken up nearly every day since purchasing SuperHot just aching to try another challenge map. Rarely will you clear a map on the first try. You need to not only learn how the map is laid out, but also where the enemies are and the timing between their shots. Learn, Move, Act, and then watch a replay of your incredible deeds in real time.
While SuperHot may appear to be a simple shooter with a cool gimmick, the developers were able to elevate their unique idea into a far more complex game. Even though it controls like a shooter, presents the world to the player like a shooter, but don’t let it fool you. SuperHot is a puzzle game through and through. On top of that, it’s a dynamic puzzle game where the paths of danger and sources of threat change.
I thought for sure that the idea of time only moving when you do would wear out its welcome fairly quickly, I could not have been more wrong. And this is entirely because of the fantastic character controller the game put at your fingertips. Their ability to code such a solid script for how the player’s character functions while sticking with very standard input controls for the user is Award worthy. The character controller does very subtle things that you pick up on over time, training you to control not just yourself but also the world around you. An example is the extremely subtle movement speed acceleration that caps out once you move in real time. This little detail in the movement function really brings a lot of control to the player and it’s something you might not notice right away. I can’t tell you how easy this game would have been if it was exploitable, but the developers kept a perfect balance of being able to move slightly and precisely around bullets while still accelerating the movement fairly quickly to keep you on your toes.
Each weapon type serves a different purpose, and you’ll need to learn when their usefulness has expired before they break on you, that way you can toss them at enemies to make them drop their weapon. Shotguns and assault rifles can be great for eliminating multiple threats if you line up your movements well with the enemies. And pistols offer far more shots to be fired, allowing you to feel safer for longer periods of time.
SuperHot really stands out as brilliant however, when you start to realize the demographics the game can appeal too. People who love shooter will of course dig the game because they will think they are playing a shooter with Matrix Mode on 24/7, when in reality they are playing a meticulous puzzle game. And people who love puzzle games will enjoy it, because it really doesn't play like a shooter in the slightest. Instead of constantly moving around trying not to die while causing other people to die, you’re slowly navigating around objects to basically collect powerups to get through the level. And I wouldn’t be surprised if puzzle game enthusiasts end up being better at the game than most people. Regardless of your normal gaming preferences, SuperHot is a game worth trying. Solely because of how well crafted it’s mechanics are, and how satisfying it is to successfully navigate the puzzle laid out in front of you.
I personally found the story weak. I’ll just come right out and say it. It might just not be for me, but I have enjoyed other games with a similar narrative. I just thought what the writing offered while intriguing at times, raised more questions than it ended up answering. Which isn’t always a negative in storytelling, but when you over burden the player with more questions than necessary they start to care less and less about them all. I also happen to think that this type of story has become an easy out to seem clever for a lot of indy titles. And maybe I’m just burnt out on them. But if you haven’t played through many games that acknowledge that you’re playing a game then maybe this will grab you more than it did me. Thankfully the weak narrative had no effect on the great levels you do play through in between the game’s “cutscenes.” And these levels you play through do follow a great challenge curve that does throw you a couple curve balls here and there.
After beating the somewhat short story, you will be given access to many different endless modes and challenge maps.Thankfully they all keep you playing long after the initial narrative. Endless modes and their variants place you into fairly difficult starting positions and keeps spawning enemies until you inevitably take a fall. For those who love to see improvement in their skills by taking out more red dudes than the last time, endless mode is for you. I actually prefer the challenge modes, where one or more elements of the core mechanics are altered and you must stick with the new system for all 25 maps. My personal favorite so far has been KatanaOnly, where you can only pick up or use the katana. You get really good at slicing bullets in mid air in that mode I tell you.
Overall SuperHot offers plenty of great variants to its base game, and the directions they take it really help change up your mental process to achieve victory.
The way you navigate the different modes and settings of SuperHot does come off as fairly unique. You are presented with a 4:3 ratio screen that resembles old CRT monitors. Complete with blurred effects and simple navigation of the fake computer's directory. This aesthetic is somewhat nostalgic of childhood for me, and even comes complete with simple dos-themed games you could play if you somehow don't find yourself addicted to superhot.exe or its various mods and games modes.
I can not recommend SuperHot enough. Unless you only own a Linux machine.... Because while the game does have a port available for the platform, it runs absolutely terrible. Frame-rate rarely reaches above 20fps. And while this is a slow paced puzzle game, it is extremely frustrating when you can't even run the game well on the lowest settings. But running SuperHot on the same machine in Windows 10 with everything on high, I never had the game fall below 60fps. I was not able to try the game out on a Mac but if the Linux port is anything to predict port quality, I would be cautious. But again, if you're running Windows, pick up this title. If you're only really big on story in games, maybe skip it and watch someone play it. I guarantee, you will want to grab it. SuperHot doesn't just get a recommendation from me, it gets a gold star just from it's flawlessly crafted mechanics alone. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some puzzles that need to solved.