So did a lot of video game creators, apparently, as they’ve tried to weave so-called bullet-time effects into action games ever since. From John Marsden in Red Dead Redemption to Max Payne in, uh, Max Payne, plenty of video game heroes have been spewing hot lead in slo-mo as a way of giving the player virtual superhuman reflexes.
But what if an entire game was in bullet time? Or rather, what if time only moved when you, the player, moved? And what if the game was presented as a cyber-cool, bite-sized collection of familiar action scene templates, set in a world where everything is coloured in shades of white, except for the glowing red dudes you must murder by the hundreds?
That would be kind of hot. Superhot, in fact.
Developed by a fledgling indie studio in Poland, Superhot is a first-person shooter built around a gimmick so novel that it successfully carries the entire experience: whenever your avatar isn’t moving or attacking with a weapon, time slows down to a fraction of its normal speed. This lets you size up the situation, plan your next move and even carefully sidestep bullets as they trundle by at a snail’s pace. It’s incredibly empowering and oddly beautiful.
This clever time-warping feature transforms the game from a twitchy shooter into a series of strategic, almost puzzle-like set pieces. Many of the 30-odd levels begin with the player in some sort of dire jeopardy – unarmed in an elevator with three gun-toting red dudes who will immediately try to kill you, for instance, or tumbling backwards through a breaking window – and you have to out-think your opponents instead of merely out-shooting them.
The super-slow time mechanic opens up a ton of action movie abilities, like grabbing a bottle off a bar and hurling it into a baddie’s face, snatching his shotgun out of mid-air as he staggers back and spinning around to give another foe both barrels to the face. Stringing these sorts of moves together throughout each level – ranging from an office tower to a moving train to a mysterious computer facility – is a huge, giddy rush. When all the enemies in each area are eliminated, your actions are replayed at regular speed, as you watch yourself dart around like a superpowered cyber-ninja.
Superhot’s futuristic visual vibe is wrapped inside an intriguing game-within-a-game, casting you, the player, as someone tinkering with an archaic DOS-like computer, snooping through its files and chatting with a mysterious entity who is none too pleased with your intrusion.
While it only takes two or three hours at most to plow through Superhot’s thin campaign, completing the game unlocks a wide set of replayable challenge modes, ranging from “katana only” levels (and yes, you can slice bullets out of mid-air with your sword) to a very difficult endless mode that requires you to kill 20 baddies without getting hit. I can see myself going back to the game again and again for quick bursts of digital mayhem.
I do wish Superhot dug a little deeper into the potential of this gameplay mechanic, and as of right now the aptly named Killstagram feature, which allows you to save and share your replays, is a bit barebones and kludgy. The game’s $ 32 price (or US$ 25) might also frighten away people who equate a game’s length with its value, although that’s always been a foolish way of measuring the worth of any sort of entertainment.