Gaming has long struggled with how to simulate truly cinematic fights. Fighting games have a mess of choreographed moves and buttons, RPGs have cutscenes, and FPSes have had everything from bullet time to scripted executions. Some of these have come tantalizingly close (thank you Max Payne) to those magic John Woo moments, but nothing has nailed it quite like SUPERHOT.
The key is the whole “time moves when you do” thing. It turns the game into a strategic first-person shooter, giving you the chance to plan your moves with pin-point precision. Enemies can be armed with pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, swords, and even just their fists, with one hit being deadly. You, on the other hand, have the temporal freedom to weave between bullets, catch weapons out of midair, huck bottles and telephones at people, and yes, cut bullets with a katana. The interface is simple and crystal clear, changing your crosshairs based on context (it rotates when reloading or changes to a fist when someone is in melee range) and highlighting enemies in range of certain effects like sword swings. At the end of each round, the game shows you a replay of your spree with all the pauses removed, turning it into a perfect ballet of Matrix-style murder. You can even upload it with a single click to the game’s adorably-named KILLSTAGRAM for the world to see.
When you first load the game you’ll be thrown into the story mode, presented as a mix of levels designed to ease you into your abilities and terminal chats between you and others. The interface for the game deserves special mention, a 100% ASCII terminal system with its own fake file structure and side .exe files. Story mode makes the most of this presentation, messing with the interplay between game and user interface in clever ways. Though the 2-hour story treads some well-worn cyberpunk themes, it does so with a certain confidence and flair that few games can manage.
Two hours might sound short, but the story is really a primer for the modes unlocked after you beat it, split into endless and challenge modes. Endless is a progressions of arenas, each with a proper go nuts mode and then bonus versions with time limits or kill targets. All you need to do to unlock additional arenas and modes is to rack up kills wherever and however you want. Challenge breathes new life into the story levels, imposing new gameplay rules for you to learn. The first challenge is katana only but it quickly spirals off into ghost modes, speedruns, one-punch styles, and more. Even the art style of the game changes for a few of them.
In the end it’s important to note that SUPERHOT is more of an arena game than a story-based one, and that means your enjoyment will hinge on how much you like shattering red dudes in different ways. However, even beyond the wealth of modes and challenges, the game is a visceral delight. Killing enemies makes them shatter with full-bodied glass scattering effects, your guns sound robust and threatening, swords bisect enemies in fine Metal Gear Rising tradition, and so on. The art style keeps everything clear and fresh, and the sound design is just as poignant as it needs to be. Adding to that the clever terminal interface with all its little minigames and secrets and you have a package that can keep you busy for dozens of hours. You have no idea how addictive killing the same dudes over and over can be until you do it with such style as SUPERHOT is built for.