Superhot

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The problem with screenshots of Superhot is that they don’t really do the mechanic justice…and it’s a hell of a mechanic: time only moves when you do. Strictly speaking this isn’t entirely accurate – time just moves extremely slowly when you are not moving. When you are moving, rotating or performing an action time speeds up. Move a tiny bit and time will progress a tiny amount. Throw a snooker ball and time will move forwards until you are finished with the action.

It’s a great idea. You can see why it got so much Kickstarter attention and although I thoroughly enjoyed the game there’s this strange nagging feeling that this mechanic was ever so *slightly* squandered in service of some less fantastic ideas. To be clear I strongly recommend this game. It is great. The purpose of this post is mostly to discuss whether it could have been something more.

First we have to deal with the story. It is clearly a labour of love. Sadly it also thinks it’s far cleverer than it is. It’s possible that I have missed some kind of subtlety to it. Christian Donlan over at Eurogamer clearly saw something deeply satisfying in it: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-02-25-superhot-review. For me it was intrusive. I don’t want to spoil it in case there is something going on but it seemed to me to be a mish-mash of hackers, cracks, viruses and the nature of violence. However it somehow manages to simultaneously take up a lot of the time and say very little. There’s a swapping mechanic that arrives late in the game that introduced far more interesting ideas than all the teletyped text that I had to hammer the triggers to enter.

But more important than the story just being intrusive the developers actually managed to damage their own mechanics in the pursuit of delivering it. I am enjoying the game far more now having completed the story than I did during the “main game”. I have now unlocked challenges and time trials which feel like the game proper. I am now perfecting the ballet of violence that Superhot is so good at, treating the levels as puzzles to be solved in the most elegant way possible as opposed to just getting through them. Why didn’t they abandon the story (and the obviously significant development required for its presentation) and focus on the fantastic premise?

Secondly – and this is perhaps a bigger issue – is the spawning enemies. In order to increase the difficulty of some levels they just spawn a lot of enemies from a lot of different directions. And this very nearly de-rails the experience.

There’s a joy in being the choreographer of the violence – creating the most elegant series of kills you can – not one wasted movement. And then you find yourself in a position (you can do nothing about) where your only option is to search for the next enemy. Your ballet temporarily turns into a fumbling search as you search this way and that for the next enemy. The light and sound that guide you to the next enemy do half the job required. And rotating incurs a penalty (i.e. time progressing) and it’s deeply frustrating. You end up just learning the spawn sequence through tedious retries and then perfecting on that basis. The issue is that it’s just no fun finding enemies. It’s great to spin round 180 degrees and shoot someone in the forehead and watch then shatter into crystals. It is zero fun being shot in the back by an enemy you didn’t know was there. Sadly all too often you have to do the latter before you experience the former. And it’s something that could have so easily been fixed.

I can only imagine that it was a deliberate decision on the part of the developers. Maybe they tried a radar and the levels became trivial.  Maybe there’s a key issue I have missed with providing the player with this info. Maybe they tried a number of different ways to present the information and none of them worked. Maybe it was just a choice. But, as it stands, I still feel there is something missing. Some extra avenue that could have been explored that would have elevated this game from great to amazing.

As it is. It is great. Buy it. You won’t regret it. But maybe like me there will be a nagging feeling that it could have been something greater.