by Jake Doolin
This review is based off of the Mac edition
The complaint of “style over substance” is usually leveed at media that really doesn’t desrve it.
Often it’s the media with the most defined aesthetics, films like Drive or the work of the PC Music collective come to mind, that gets lumped into this category. Doing so fundamentally undervalues the deeper themes games like these present under the well-defined looks and sounds of their exterior.
Hotline Miami comes to mind when thinking about the “style over substance” trend. Where many put that game into a box because of its style, those who dove deeper found a thoughtful narrative about the implications of violence.
For any media to truly be defined as style of substance, it needs to have nothing going on for it outside of its core aesthetics. Superhot is unfortunately one such game, offering a compelling look and feel but offering none of the insight to make it truly memorable.
Real Human Being
A promising start to the game’s narrative had me hopeful, but as it continues along its two hour runtime it becomes clear that developer Superhot Team has no idea what they were doing. Going from a fairly interesting plot about two acquaintances hacking their way into a company’s servers to play an unreleased game to a lame conspiracy thriller that attempts to bring out the same thematic points as Hotline Miami give the game tonal whiplash.
For every moment of brilliance, such as a sequence where the palyers visit themselves playing the game, there are two or three that make you shrug. A good example of this is when the game force quits around the halfway point in an attempt to startle the player. This could have been a powerful moment if it hadn’t been done more successfully by other games in recent memory, like Undertale. So instead of being frightened I was merely annoyed, as I had to wait five minutes for the game to boot back up again.
I almost wish the game hadn’t tried as hard because, when it’s not shoving conspiracy and faux-deep ideology at the player, the game can be pretty immersive. It’s easier to connect to a game narrative like Hotline Miami’s, which gives the player scattered pieces to the puzzle, over Superhot which gives you the whole box.
Under Your Spell
If there is one thing that will keep me coming back to Superhot, it is the gameplay and design of every level. Superhot‘s core mechanic of enemies moving only when you do makes every level feel like a John-Woo style action film. Jumping in slow motion into a group of thugs while carefully disarming them gave me a real feeling of being powerful in this world. Even with a limited supply of weaponry, an assortment of guns and melee tools, the game never felt stale when it came time to make some folks dead.
The inclusion of an endless mode as well as a selection of level-specific challenges gives you even more reason to continue playing for hours. It also helps that the design is so unique. Every level presents a white concrete jungle of obstacles populated by crystalline baddies. It can’t be overstated what a treat it is to blow up an enemy and watch them burst into a collection of crystals that move and crash in slow motion. More than once I had to stop my carnage to just marvel at how beautifully the game rendered that destruction.
Sadly, however, it’s not uncommon to experience total game crashes during these moments. Over ten different times I had to restart the game after a crash during the challenge mode which left me more than a little sour. When it does work, the gameplay and design of Superhot offer a beautiful look at utter devastation.
More than likely I will be returning to Superhot over the next couple of weeks. While its story and deeper themes are muddled, its gameplay and design work well enough to keep my interest. It’s hard to say how long I’ll be invested in Superhot, because, like all style-over-substance media, it’s fun in the moment but once the next piece of vapid media comes out, it’s quickly forgotten.
+ Gameplay is a unique twist on the shooter genre
+ Design mixes well with gameplay
– Narrative that tries too hard
– Frequent crashes
Originally posted on February 29, 2016