‘SUPERHOT’ a Minimalist Take on Shooter Genre


Photo Courtesy of Avi Vogel

Polygonal enemies fire at the player in the videogame SUPERHOT. The minimalist aesthetic and incorporation of aspects of puzzle games make SUPERHOT truly innovative.

Avi Vogel, Columnist

I pop into a level. First things first — get to the enemy at the end of the hall. I weave through a hail of bullets, swinging my sword to cut through the occasional one I can’t avoid. I throw my sword at the enemy, shattering his polygonal frame and causing his gun to fly towards me. I snatch it from mid air and crack off two shots, perfectly aimed at the enemies still behind me. Out of ammo, I throw the handgun against the final katana-wielding enemy before he can slice me. The gun shatters and the enemy drops his sword. I take it from the air and finish him off. Across the screen flashes the phrase meaning that I’ve succeeded: SUPERHOT. SUPERHOT. SUPERHOT.

The breakneck pace and wild running of the level I just described is the norm for SUPERHOT, a first-person shooter game made by an indie studio called SUPERHOT Team. The game’s developers are similar to those of other games I’ve been drawn to these past few months: a small team funded by individuals passionate for the project. SUPERHOT was originally made in 2013. Released onto the internet, it found great popularity and acclaim, eventually getting crowd-funded for a full-scale console release in February.

In this day and age, the first-person-shooter market is saturated with Call of Duty clones and Halo rip-offs. So what is it that made the world go crazy for SUPERHOT? It’s the game’s core mechanic: Time moves when you do.

The slowness of bullets and ability to take in the environment before planning your next move transforms SUPERHOT from a simple shooter into something more akin to a puzzle game. How do you guide yourself toward a safe alcove amidst a flurry of bullets? Which enemy gives you the most problems, and what’s the quickest way to remove them from the level? Each main mission is a meticulously crafted maze for the player to navigate through. The best part is that there isn’t a single answer to any mission. Sure, there might be a most efficient way: grab the gun, rain bullets, clear the enemies and stand by the spawning points to take out people before they even have time to line up a shot. On the other hand, you could pick up a katana and try to cut every bullet before it hits you. This approach, although more difficult, never feels impossible. Instead, it simply requires more skill. If you want to finish every enemy with only your fists, even that would be a viable option.

To complement this core mechanic, the developers chose a minimalist aesthetic. The entire game consists of two colors that only vary slightly in shade: red and white. Enemies are red, bursting upon a single hit from any weapon; weapons and interactive objects are shades of gray; and everything else is completely white. That’s not to say the game is bland. Instead, the environments contrast in an artistic fashion and every movement looks crisp. This design choice also lets the game run quickly on almost any computer, as the graphical requirements are relatively low.

One category that isn’t entirely satisfying in SUPERHOT is its story. The game’s main menu is basically an old school file explorer, and chat between disembodied individuals takes place through an instant messaging system. At first, this alienating presentation seems unique; there appears to be a story that can just barely be seen below the surface. But the story emerges too quickly and doesn’t have much staying power. However, considering the length of this game, the story issues don’t really detract from the experience.

At $25, this game, which features around two hours of campaign and some small, randomly-generated survival levels, might seem to not be worth the cost upon a first glance. However, SUPERHOT is a unique shooter. Those two words rarely go together in this day and age.

So say it with me: “SUPERHOT is the most innovative shooter in years!” If you let yourself fall into the game, despite its brief length, you’ll see exactly what I mean.