I am a super hero. I have no cape, no laser-beam eyes, no mystical hammer. I am unarmed. And there are three figures all pointing their guns at my head, fingers on triggers.
Six seconds later, they’re all dead. Because I am a super hero. And time only moves when I do.
This is the beauty of SUPERHOT, a shooter pared down to the barest of bones. Each level a story where you are outnumbered and outgunned, the only possible outcome death; yours, or that of the red figures who relentlessly pursue you through colourless environments. Death is inevitable, but the action that precedes it is every action-movie gun battle played out in slow motion, a choreographed ballet of strike and counter-strike. It’s beautiful.
There’s an overarching story of sorts; we won’t spoil it for you, but in truth while diverting it’s not what matters in SUPERHOT. This game is all about the action. From the original tease the concept of the game has moved on slightly. Time is no longer at a standstill when you are, but it moves at an almost imperceptible pace. This does provide some urgency to each miniature story, but this is a game of thoughtful violence, of actions and consequences. In SUPERHOT the chain is the key. Maintaining the momentum – strange in a game where time moves in fits and starts – of fire weapon, throw weapon, punch, grab weapon, avoid incoming shot, spin, fire weapon…
This is bullet time on steroids, you are the action hero with impossible reflexes and implausible grace. One shot, one kill. You can pick up objects to throw – a thrown item will cause an enemy to be knocked back, their equipped weapon thrown into the air from where it can be snatched if you’re close enough. Get within beat-down range and three blows will put a red guy out for good. But it only takes a single blow to kill you.
When you move, the action moves on. Try to play as a traditional shooter and you’re overwhelmed in seconds, your real-world reflexes no match for the relentless pace and unerring accuracy of the foes pitted against you. Every move you make becomes an agonising decision – do you have time to close the gap and land a blow before that shotgun is raised, or should you circle round, sidestepping the hail of pellets before wresting the weapon from your assailant and turning it on him? You decide to close the distance and begin to inch forward but you have misjudged badly, the muzzle flash signaling your doom. Slowing even more you inch to the left, seeing pellets crawl off the edge of your screen and imagining them grazing your flesh. The wrong decision, then, but you were lucky, and now you can close that gap.
Reach each story’s conclusion and your reward is an instant replay; it’s breathtaking to watch as the moves you choreographed so meticulously at a snail’s pace are played back in real time. Those red guys? They didn’t stand a chance.
The main mode has variations on this theme of violence with precision; tougher scenarios with greater numbers of increasingly well armed bad guys. Each level starts to feel like a puzzle – all the pieces and all the players laid out in front of you, all you have to do is find the right way to join the dots. Each miniature story sees you starting unarmed, but the set up is effortlessly communicated in the first frame or two. There’s one that’s reminiscent of Hit Girl’s corridor rampage from Kick-Ass, and nothing less than a Chloë Grace Moretz- level of grace will see you through. In every case you know what’s happening, what’s being asked of you.
Pick up that telephone, throw it at that guy, grab his gun out of the air, shoot him in the head. Damn, there’s another guy about to fire an assault rifle. Too close to avoid the shot, no time to reload… I know, throw my revolver at him, grab his rifle, blast him in the head… another one… where did he come from? And where the hell did he get that katana…? I’m dead. Press Y to restart.
SUPERHOT‘s only concession to increasing difficulty is the ability for you to jump into the body of any red guy you can see, earned a little more than half way into the game. This power – which is on a cool-down timer – is a game changer. Now you really are a super hero. Jumping into an enemy’s body forces them to drop any weapon they’re holding as you take control, breaking it instantly. You’re leaping into a defenceless avatar, but if you’re clever about it, you can link this power with the punches, thrown objects, and weaponry to deliver a devastatingly beautiful dance of death.
In the later levels, with hordes of well armed hostiles running you down, SUPERHOT is a pulse pounding affair despite the methodical nature of the gameplay. While there’s more than one way to complete each story level, it’s doubtless that you’ll try and fail many times until you find the strategy that’s right for you – and you’ll be thankful for the near-instant restarts as you hone your strategy.
When you finally conquer that last stage the satisfaction is palpable, and you are hungry for more. SUPERHOT serves that up in spades; an endless mode, where enemies keep coming and coming and you must despatch as many as you can before you’re overwhelmed, and a time attack mode which turns the game on it’s head, forcing you to rush in and make fast – and often rash – decisions to take down the allotted number of red guys as quickly as possible. And there are challenge modes – complete the story levels following strict criteria; our current favourite sees you only able to despatch the red guys using the katana – a delightfully satisfying weapon in use, either slicing through your enemies like you’re a digital samurai, or hurled like a javelin to impale more distant foes.
Visually, the simple three colour palette suits the tone perfectly, while the audio is top notch. Use of a surround system or decent headphones is highly recommended as sound cues will let you pinpoint the location of an unexpected weapon blast or identify from which direction a new enemy is warping in. This audio perfection only deepens our disappointment that the full-speed replay with which level completion rewards you is played out in silence. Replays can be instantly edited in game and saved in Game DVR immediately, though, which is a nice touch.
There’s no doubt that SUPERHOT is effortlessly stylish, and whilst the main story mode is relatively brief, there’s enough in the periphery to ensure there’s – just – enough substance to match the style.
SUPERHOT is available from the Xbox Store priced £19.99
SUPERHOT Team provided us with a review copy of this game for the purposes of this review.