As well as being a year that swept in many changes with AAA behemoths, VR, and updated console releases, 2016 was a distinctive year for the indie developer. Gamers where awed by personal projects that captured hearts and minds in unique, challenging ways with titles like The Witness, Stardew Valley, Inside, Abzu, Owlboy, this list can go on and on. One of the most surprisingly standout games of last year was Superhot thanks to its unique exploration of first-person shooting mechanics and its bold, often abrupt presentation. Indie games have their own sort of hype and expectations in comparison to AAA titles, often they go unnoticed until they are released and become widespread due to word of mouth or promotion from Steam, Sony or Microsoft. Its reliance on the game’s own merits often make successful indie releases deserving of their own praise which Superhot had certainly achieved in doing so making it one of the most influential and important games to play from 2016.
Distance and familiarity both resonate in a game that’s strikingly unique and innovative. Superhot provides fun, addictive, arcade-style action through the scope of first-person, a perspective ubiquitous with gaming albeit in a game that mould the genre into something hitherto unseen. Superhot offers something new and different, almost dangerously experimental, thanks to its time-warping features and creative approach to combat that. Intermittent is the pervasive fourth-wall breaking that is bold while simultaneously does not take the player out of the moment. It cleverly walks a fine line of addressing the player directly without dampening the immersive qualities of the experience.
Superhot’s beginning shows us a faithful and reverent combination of old technologies and new, giving it a unique presentation that immediately sets the tone. There’s a sending back and forth of messages on a retro computer interface that feels more at home in the eighties than now with a “friend” inviting the player to try some new software, obviously some forbidden code that the player is not supposed to tinker with. Upon cracking the code, we enter finally get to experience the fps gameplay elements with a visual effect of the screen zooming into another layer of virtual reality. Gameplay comes in the form of finishing levels with the objective of defeating lustrous, crimson enemies. Time slows down significantly when the player doesn’t move allowing filmic moments in slow motion from taking down enemies, dodging bullets or finding some sort of weapon in the environment. It adds a new dimension to the gameplay, adding a necessity of taking your time rather than going guns blazing. Players may also resort to using objects in the environment such as a glass bottle, a weapon or perhaps disarming the enemy and using their guns or katanas against them. It often leads to a combination of moves that feels immensely satisfying when your performance in real time after you complete a level.
The player is given a lot of power and control from the gameplay while still being a challenge. At first, taking on multiple enemies with a deadly range of weapons might seem daunting. I credit the initial game story for constructing a well-paced and engaging walkthrough of the game’s mechanics which, from then on, gives players a skilled familiarity allowing them to try challenges and an endless mode. There’s an added deeper layer of enjoyment which comes in the form of perfecting your playstyle and finding creative and more skilful ways in challenge and endless modes of the game. Replays of your performance can be uploaded showcasing your talents in real time. Some of the most impressive ones look like a hybrid of The Matrix and that one scene from Kill Bill where Uma Thurman brutally annihilates the Crazy 88.
This might only be a minor consequence of the way the gameplay was constructed, it’s also a very nitpicky choice on my behalf but there is a lack of intelligence in how the game provides a challenge. AI is quite sloppy. Often they will shoot each other accidentally or will just blindly attempt to attack you, which might be a viable strategy for a game where the levels are so open-ended.
Once we get into these levels, it sets a clear precedent for how the overall gameplay experience will be. Taut, minimalist, no music, almost colourless, low detailed enemies and all the while feeling incredibly smooth and responsive. The game doesn’t require filler, instead relying on a truly unique blend of gameplay and a story of sorts that confronts the player directly. The narrative and interactions with the retro interface becomes more complicated and surreal once it starts to confront the player for playing it, the faceless entity that owned the software initially takes control of the system, accosting you for playing the game and demanding you to quit at every turn. The game turns into a surreal metanarraitve where the player’s system and eventually mind gets taken over by the faceless entity. Where the player’s mind becomes one and virtual servant performing what the game tells you to do. At times discombobulating, nevertheless I was impressed with its confrontational style and how it changes how the player interacts with Superhot, reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 1 where there’s a gameplay experience that exists outside the traditional boundaries of gaming.
It is an innovative experience, but it is a short one and for many consumers, buying it for its current price(€23 in Europe) might not be worth for some(although I don’t mind). Monetary value doesn’t dictate the value of enjoyment obtained from playing the game. However that does not dismiss the fact that Superhot is a creative, innovative foray into first-person shooters while redefining the experience of how players interact with a game on more than one level. Slashing your way through enemies in an arcade frenzy while being tempered by an omnipotent cyber entity, coerced into pledging subservience to it and encouraging your friends in the real world to play it in an insidious manner like a new-age computer cult.