demo, First Person, first person shooter, FPS, game, game design, gameplay, lang, LangsEnd, mechanics, prototype, Puzzle, reaction, review, Shooter, Superhot, time mechanics, time moves only when you move, times only moves when you move
So I recently stumbled upon SUPERHOT, a KickStarted FPS game with a neat mechanic. Time in the game only moves forward when the player moves. A prototype which I played is available here, and I’d like to give just a few opinions and suggestions on the game. Unfortunately I don’t do video capture and had trouble getting screenshots of my own run through the 4 demo levels, so I’ll show the game’s recent trailer down below. Given that it shows significantly improved graphics over the prototype demo anyway, it’s probably for the best.
Now, SUPERHOT’s selling point is in its time mechanic gimmick. I don’t mean that in a bad way, and don’t think “gimmick” should be considered a dirty word by any means. All I mean to say is, this SUPERHOT cannot be judged by a standard FPS format because it’s not a standard FPS. In fact, it’s more of a puzzle game than anything else. The game isn’t so much about split second precision and a responsive trigger finger, as it is about keeping a cool head and thanking through every move carefully. If you jump every time you see a bullet coming at you, you’re only going to die faster.
In the prototype, I was dropped into a seemingly random strong of levels, and had to eliminate all the enemies. First, I had to get a gun by killing the first enemy I’d see using some kind of melee attack. Then the FPS mechanics kicked in. Every character dies in one shot, including you, but you have control over time.
Despite the “Time moves only when you move” tagline, time in SUPERHOT never fully stops. At least not in the demo. You you stand still time is slowed to the point that faraway bullets aren’t any kind of concern, but they still move. This puts pressure on the player’s decision making. You can’t stand around thinking every move through; you have enough time to think, but no time to waste, and this does keep you on your toes. Several times in my playthrough, I would turn around to see an enemy has already shot at me, and my first reaction was to shoot back, rather than dodge the bullet. Of course, since shooting speeds time up, this just made me die faster.
That pretty much covers the mechanics as they are in the prototype, but what about the execution? This is where the game most disappointed me, and what I think needs to improved on in the full release.
First, there’s the aiming. While bullets will go where you shoot if you’re out in the open, there were several instances where I was shooting through a window, and while my gun was clearly pointed out the window, my bullets seemed to spawn already colliding with the wall next to it. In a game where taking each shot is dangerous, and ammo is sparse, this was really frustrating.
My bigger issue with the aiming, though, is the enemies’. Like in most FPS games, there is some bullet-spread, and the AI aims more at the player’s general vicinity than it does at the player themselves. The problem here is that this isn’t much of an FPS. Like I’ve said, this is a puzzle game, and manipulating where the AI aims is part of the gameplay.
In one of the demo levels, I found myself spawned without a gun, in a narrow hallway. Three armed enemies were at the other end of the hall, and a gun I could pick up was in the middle. I had to run into their fire, dodging bullets in a game of Red Light Green Light, to get to the gun and take them out. The problem was, I wasn’t able to keep any round of their fire concentrated towards either side of the hallway. The bullet-spread was so wide that even when I was pressed up against the left wall, there would be shots going along the right wall, leaving me no safe place to stand. Int he final game, this should be tightened up for better AI manipulation gameplay.
The second execution problem is the level design. I already explained the hallway, which is a nice puzzle, but the other levels are far more open ended. Again, this is an FPS design approach, not a puzzle design.
The way something like this should work is by moving from location to location, scouting out a scene before hand, then progressing through it a methodical way, actually a lot like the enemy rooms in the Arkham games. Instead, I was walking into the action blind, and seemed to be expected to run and gun in a game the explicitly discourages running. This was compounded by the third problem, which is…
the AI is too unpredictable. Both in spawning mechanics and behavior, the AI would be different each time I replayed certain levels. In one level I could see a guy who I could get a gun from right away, but there was a 50-50 chance on whether he would be walking towards me or away from me. Even after several reties, I couldn’t effectively plan a route through this level because I was constantly having to switch tactics against the first enemy.
In this same level, you have to kill 10 enemies to move on, but only a handful are alive from the start. As you kill them, more spawn, but they don’t spawn in particular preset locations. There are several points around the map where these enemies can spawn, and the game seems to pick one based on the player’s location. Again, this makes it very hard to plan roots, but at least the game flashes a big red light around newly spawned enemies, so you always have some idea where they are and they can’t sneak up on you.
Let’s end this off one the story. Obviously we don’t know much about it at this point, considering we just have a demo, but the game’s website and KickStarter page describe it as “story-driven”, and the last level of the demo does have some interesting stuff going on.
In the last level, you’re dropped into yet another short level, unarmed, and are told to kill the CEO. Walk through a few hallways, and you find a random dude standing with his back to you, presumable the CEO. Take care of him, and the guy who instructed you to kill the CEO will then tell you jump out a window into certain death, and here’s where the game gets a little Stanley Parable-esq.
Give that I was, for the most part, actually enjoying myself while playing, suicide didn’t seem very appealing. So I doubled back and went to see if there was another way out earlier in the map. As I walked back towards my spawn, words started appearing on screen; things like, “Are you a coward?” Clearly, I was being chastised by some sadistic narrator for not doing what I was told.
Of course, this only made me more interested in going back, because the developers had obviously prepared for the event of a player doing that, and I wanted to see what else they had come up with. Unfortunately, there was nothing else. I reached a dead end back where I spawned, and the narrator continued to chastise me, but that’s all there was to it. If I wanted to finish the demo, the only way out was jumping out the window, so I did that instead.
Overall SUPERHOT’s prototype demo showed me a promising concept that needed some work. It’s main flaw is that I does seem to consider itself too much of an FPS, and uses traditional FPS mechanics, rather than the puzzle focused design that it’s more suited for. What really disappoints me is that trailer above, which only further focuses on this fast paced action, running and gunning, and looks to appeal to a non-puzzle game demographic. Hopefully that’s just to garner more excite for the game’s release, but this is definitely a product I’m going to wait for reviews for.