SUPERHOT is a game that — like a rapper with the best featured verses in the game today — constantly reminds you of its own name. When you complete a level, the game quite literally screams SUPER HOT at you, over and over again, until you move on to the next level.
The name is never explained in a meaningful way, but SUPERHOT‘s concept is simple: you’re in a simulation where everyone wants to kill you and has various weapons to do it — a handgun, a shotgun, maybe a baton. Your job is to kill them first, either with your fists or their own weapons. The rub is that the red guys only move when you move, either to turn your head or move your body. Otherwise, you’re in Matrix-style Bullet Time, frozen in place debating how best to survive. There are endless possibilities, and punching someone or throwing something at them sends their weapon flying, often into your own, suddenly-deadly hands.
If it sounds fun, that’s because it absolutely is. Each level is a fight to the finish, with new bad guys appearing through different doors until you’ve taken them all down and avoided getting shot or hit or punched. And as the game moves forward, you explore some of your favorite scenes from action movies you’ll never actually get to live out without a funeral.
All of your favorites are covered here: There’s a fight at a bar, an escape from a bathroom, and a close quarters scuffle inside a prison cell. The longer the scenarios go, the more you’ll hope to hear the modified voice yell SUPER! HOT! at you as the game shows you a replay of you besting faceless red dudes. And how you get there is up to you. Do you grab a bottle and smash the bartender? Jump over the bar for cover? Do you worry about the guy with the gun reloading or the red man charging at you, unarmed?
“It’s just kind of random. No plot, no reason for anything. Just killing red guys,” your character tells a friend at some point, and the game does its best to flesh it out past that self-criticism. SUPERHOT does that by positioning you as a gamer digging too deep into its simulation software, getting addicted to the levels until you can’t stop playing. Once you start SUPERHOT.exe, it constantly talks to you as you go through the various scenarios, making jokes, vaguely threatening you and adding a bit of uneasiness to the whole experience.
There are fun easter eggs in the MSDOS format of the game’s menus and the text conversations you “type” without any real input. But the levels, tethered to a believable narrative or not, are what really shines here. There is no one perfect way to play through them, and small variables appear each time depending on how you play it out or restart a level after a death. Later in the game, a new mechanic truly opens up the possibilities and strategy to new depths, upping the ante even more. There are real choices to be made in which weapons you hang onto, how you juggle fending off enemies and where you need to move to stay alive.
The urgency I felt playing SUPERHOT is pretty impressive for its size and relatively small scale. It’s stressful, but beatable in a day or two. It’s only truly frantic if you move too quickly. And adding in the motion controls (I reviewed it on the Nintendo Switch) makes it all move a bit faster if you are too nervous to keep the controller steady. SUPERHOT pushes you through to the end. Taunting you, even. And once it’s over, it’s all there for you to survive again, which you’ll almost certainly want to.
“SUPERHOT is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years,” the game asked me to tell you. It didn’t want players to say much more. Perhaps I’ve said too much already. But sometimes, even when given a choice, it’s just better to do what they commands on screen say.