Honorable Mention in Horror: SUPERHOT
Meta-games are quickly gaining popularity as of late, with such titles as Undertale and Pony Island doing exceptionally well critically and commercially. And as far as meta-games in the horror genre goes, Calendula, the game that “doesn’t want to be played” recently struck my fancy. Each of these accomplished some interesting things, but sometimes I just want some more meat between a good old “that’s so meta moment” in my games. In comes SUPERHOT, Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight darling. It’s the game where “time only moves when you move”, tasking players with killing waves of “Red Guys” in stylish and strategic ways. Upon suspicion that the game may feature an interesting narrative due to its indoctrination-ish overuse of the phrase “SUPER HOT” I aired my suspicions to its PR team and was given the go-ahead to check it out. I’m glad I did.
Also check out the video version of this Honorable Mention below.
A brand new game has leaked onto the internet; its name is SUPERHOT. It’s sometime in the near-future, and you play as a no-named gamer at their computer when a friend instant messages you about SUPERHOT. They urge you to check it out and they send you the files to do so. The player character downloads the game and runs it, where they are then dropped into white room where time is slowed to a crawl, only approaching real-time when they move. Large text flashes on the screen explaining the scenario in a handful of bold words. You know what you must do.
As the main character plays and completes new seemingly-disconnected levels, SUPERHOT’s creators continue to lock the game from the prying eyes of the internet by updating it to patch security holes. But as in real life, cracks are speedy and plentiful. SUPERHOT shows its true colors when the game’s creators detect the player character and attempt to scare them away from playing any further. It is here where SUPERHOT claims its title of an honorable mention in horror as this strange meta-narrative is surprisingly unsettling, harnessing existential fears through a lens of technological dependency.
SUPERHOT toys with the idea of one being totally consumed by media and forgoing the flesh for a digital existence. While it’s not as visually gruesome a motif as say in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome – which is still no doubt an inspiration for the game, the scenes tying SUPERHOT’s levels together are absorbing and delightfully cyberpunk. Later scenes in the game also comment on the rise in relevance of VR as a mainstream technology – a technology that has incredible potential to become highly-addict due to its immersive and perception-altering capabilities.
The mind is software. Bodies are disposable. Phrases such as these, coupled with the antagonistic, domineering voice at the other end of the internet contributed a surprising level of unease to the SUPERHOT experience. It’s gameplay too can easily be seen as a type of psychological conditioning designed to indoctrinate the player into a lifetime user. And because it’s just a really fun game, it succeeds at that. See? So meta!
At the end of the game players are event prompted to enlist their friends by offering them access to the game at a discounted price via a unique URL. This is actually a real function and takes off 15% from the Steam price when shared with friends.
Mechanically, SUPERHOT is very simple: kill all of the Red Guys while strategically thinking your movement as time will speed up when you do. Dodging bullets is something you’ll do a lot, either by moving out of the way or tossing an object in its path. Once a gun is in hand, lining up the shot means factoring in enemy movement and whether or not any movement on your part will result in an enemy striking you. Simply picking up a weapon and turning around could give an enemy the half a second (in game time) needed to hit you.
SUPERHOT combines Hotline Miami’s addictive trial and error gameplay with incredibly stylish combat that, when executed, is immensely satisfying. As the player, you’re essentially choreographing a John Wu-esque fight scene from the POV of the action star, disarming foes with a empty guns, tossing objects to stun, and performing slick headshots while dodging bullets. Not once does the game’s difficulty feel unjust; each time I failed I felt fully responsible for my failures. And when I failed repeatedly, the gameplay is addictive enough as to not cause frustration. I actually beat it in two sittings (well one, but I took a break).
SUPERHOT is pretty cool. You have to play this game. It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. I’m not just saying that because they game told me to. Help. Honest! Bulletime hasn’t been this fun for a good long time, and no game has really made me feel like I’ve accomplished an awesome fight scene on my own without QTEs like this one. Factor in the game’s minimal but effective meta-narrative, and you’ve got yourself a sure fire recommendation from me.