25/02/2016 at 09:40       Chris Grapes       1 COMMENTS. - Score 5/5

You wake up. You shower, change, eat. You head to work. You sit at your desk. You go home. You eat, change, sleep.

You wake up. You head to work. You go home.

You wake up. You head to work. You go home.

You wake up. You head to work. You go home.

This is future and past tense. Your actions are the choices you’ve already made, perhaps because, in some unconscious way, you’ve been told that’s what you have to do.

You go home. You open up SUPERHOT. You kill the red guys.

You open up SUPERHOT. You kill the red guys.

You open up SUPERHOT. You kill the red guys.

You open up SUPERHOT. You kill the red guys.

This again is future and past tense. You kill the red guys because that’s what you’re supposed to do, what you’ve (maybe unconsciously, maybe explicitly) been told to do.

SUPERHOT is Braid meets Hotline Miami. An action game disguised as a puzzle game disguised as an action game. The stunningly simple premise - time moves only when you do - allows you to build your own action setpieces - dodging bullets, using a katana to slice a bullet in two before throwing it at an assailant, grabbing his dropped gun in midair to headshot another behind you, etc etc - with careful consideration. On completion, the results are played back in in-game realtime, showing your two minutes of choreographed planning in a few scant seconds of hyperkinetic combat (with the replay editable and saveable).

There is subtleness to it. Time doesn’t truly stop when you do, instead just moving very very slowly. Bullets still crawl inexorably onwards. Committing to action commits to those bullets moving in realtime. Your actor will die, over and over and over again, until you find the choreography that fits. Instead of struggling through on raw luck and perseverance, you refine the process bit by bit, life by life. This time, maybe you’ll try throwing the bottle before you jump the table.

All of this presented in an array of meta-narrative. The story of you, the physical player, at your desk, on your computer. The story of you, the protagonist, at his desk, on his computer. The story of you, the actor, shooting red guys and following (or not following) orders. 

Story spoilers exist beyond this part, and I advise you to go on faith and a promise of a five star rating, then come back here afterwards to finish reading. It is a game best played blind.

SUPERHOT is a game within a game, a file sent to you by your nameless chat buddy and placed in your DOS-esque menu system as superhot.exe. Other files and folders in the OS reveal ASCII art, minigames, perennial hacker favourite Conway’s Game of Life, and no doubt countless secrets that will be torn apart by devoted Redditors. As you play through SUPERHOT.exe (supposedly a link to some secret company’s server), the game actively resists you, dropping you back to DOS until you download an update, sometimes giving you bizarre glimpses of broken environments, cryptic messages, and even your virtual self, sitting at a desk wearing a VR helmet. The story pushes through the fourth wall, challenging you, the player, as to whether you understand what you’re doing, or if you’re going through as point of habit to complete the game.

Take, for instance, a midway point in the main campaign. You are forcefully told “never play this game again” and dropped back to your real world desktop. Of course, OF COURSE, you disobey, you make what you perceive as the conscious choice to double-click the SUPERHOT icon and launch the game. 

You may make the choice to never go back to the game. Never walk up to your virtual self and pull the virtual (yet implied, in the in-game narrative, to be real) trigger. But it’s ultimately a non-decision, only putting the choice on hiatus. 

The brain is software, says the game.

Then it demonstrates that concept by suddenly giving you the ability to jump between bodies. The implication again is that these faceless generic red avatars are real people you’re possessing. The brain is software. The idea of the protagonist and the actor blur. You control the bodies, but who’s controlling you? Who makes your choices?

It does get a little muddied towards the end, mixing itself up in ambiguous threads of secret organizations, enemy hackers, and vague allusions towards becoming one with the machine. But it’s still an excellent, thoughtful ride, easily standing out as an example of games (and game mechanics) as a literary form.

The fear is that this excellent narrative will be lost on the gaming masses, who will ironically play just for the action, just for the challenges and speedruns and high-score leaderboards. Who will parrot the game’s Pavlovian mantra “SUPER HOT SUPER HOT SUPER HOT” in endless memes, believing themselves to be the game’s primary audience while ignoring (and thus proving) its ultimate point. You kill the red guys, unquestioningly, because you’ve been told to.

Such a fear is, of course, horribly elitist of me. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with bashing through the game with nary a care in the world to the metafiction/fourth wall narrative. I was the same way with Hotline Miami. The story didn’t grab me, but the gameplay mechanics did. Hours were spent finding the optimal route from one bad guy to the next. SUPERHOT may not last quite as long (the main campaign was clocked in little under two hours), but a multitude of secrets and challenges lengthen play beyond the story. What about completing the entire campaign in one life? An endless mode? Speedruns? Katana-only levels? Completionists will find myriad life in the title, uploading the best moments to for the world to see. I anticipate new levels and mods, with recreation of famous action movies appearing perhaps only days after release. 

I wake up. I go to work. I come home. I open SUPERHOT. I kill the red guys.

I wake up. I go to work. I come home. I open SUPERHOT. I kill the red guys.

I wake up. I go to work. I come home. I open SUPERHOT. I kill the red guys.


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