In 2013, a small team of polish game developers entered the 7 day FPS Game Jam Challenge. They came up with the novel concept of a game where time only moved when you did. Their quick build garnered enough positive attention that the team would later Kickstart a full game, followed by a VR version. They then set out to make an expansion to the original, only to have the project grow into a stand-alone game. The follow up would be released in 2020. And joined the short list of sequels that took everything good from the first game, and made it better.
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Superhot: Mind Control Delete is a first person shooter game where time only moves when you do. Or rather, time moves incredibly slowly. You’re put in a room with a bunch of people trying to kill you. Everyone dies in one hit, no matter where. And the time dilation effect means the space between 2 shots can open up opportunities that couldn’t exist in any other FPS. While reflex and aiming are important, it’s better to think of Superhot:MCD as a puzzle game. With situational awareness and threat management being critical to winning. MCD also keeps the minimalist art style from the first game. Rooms are white, enemies are red, weapons/throwables are black. Everything has a old style glass polygon texture, and enemies shatter with a satisfying sound.
You don’t start with a weapon, but you can find them in levels and grab them off enemies. Weapons are generalized, there’s only one pistol, one shotgun, one sword, etc. Though there are loads of improvised throwing objects, including the guns. You can throw whatever your holding at any point, and hitting someone with a thrown object will stun them cause them to drop their weapon. Because of the time delay between shots, it’s a common strategy to throw your gun immediately after shooting, grab the weapon of whoever you just threw your gun at, then use it. All rather then wait for the original gun to be ready again. Enemies do come in large numbers, and you can die in the “moments” between bullets. There is also a bat for melee, as well as a katana for both killing and deflecting bullets. You also have objects like pens and cds, which can kill if thrown at the head, but otherwise just stun.
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In the first game where each level was a room, nodes in MCD are treated as gauntlets. You have lives now (2 by default) and you beat a node by clearing the randomly selected arenas within it. You also have equipable cores you pick from before starting a node, each of which represent other people who’ve been integrated into the server. You start with the MORE core that gives you a third life, but can unlock others with active powers. Such as charge a target and strike, or start every level with a katana that can be recalled once thrown. Unlocking cores comes at a cost though. As the owners of these abilities can randomly spawn in an arena to hunt you down. These enemies are invincible, and use the power associated with them. The player character from the first game makes a return as “addict” from who you get the hotswap power.
The other major addition are hacks. Every few levels in a node you’ll get to pick between 2 hacks. These give minor powers, like damaging people by jumping on them, guns have more ammo, and deflecting bullets with your fists. You start out with a few of these, but can find others by clearing nodes and going off the beaten path in the level select. These are also the only way to heal during nodes, which is great for longer runs, or recovering from a bad start.
The original Superhot’s story was strange. The menu screen is styled off an old computer, and it starts with the player character getting a message from a friend containing a cracked version of SUPERHOT. Saying “Its the Most Innovative shooter I’ve played in years .” As you progress, you get sent more levels by your friend, and this is where it get’s weird. Messages to the friend get re-written before sending, much to the horror of the player character. A mysterious figure tells them to stop playing the game, and they agree. But since you, the player, paid $35 for this, you keep playing. Much to the chagrin of the mysterious man, and the distress of the player character. They want to stop, but they can’t. You see, you the player aren’t the player character. You’re a virus, slowly re-programing the mind of the player character. All building up to their surrendering themselves to the SUPERHOT server. Becoming a sleeper agent for an unknown purpose, and ending with a discount code for the game that you can send to a friend, along with the message “Its the Most Innovative shooter I’ve played in years.” It’s weird, and I understand why people didn’t like it. But it’s also the best example I’ve seen of player vs player character in gaming. With the only faults coming more from the difficulty of pulling such a narrative off.
The second game picks up some time after the first. You are a conciseness trapped in the server, who through unknown means seems to have regained a bit of their self-awareness. You then fight your way through multiple layers of the program in an attempt to free yourself, while being both supported and ridiculed by an unknown entity. The final fight requires you to give up all of your cores and hacks to undergo the longest gauntlet yet. A fight you must win using skill alone, and none of the power you’d gained. It’s a much more straight forward plot then the first game, but still manages to bring up issues like free will. Are you really rebelling, or is this part of the system? Is escape even possible? Would you want to? Of course this can all be ignored if you’re so inclined. But by doing so, aren’t you just proving the voices right?
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The technical improvements also deserve praise. The animation is much smoother in MCD, both in game-play and the real-time replays at the end of levels. Sound design is also incredible. Bullets have a perpetual whooshing sound, even when standing still. The enemies and environments also change the deeper you go. You’ll encounter units that only have specific weak spots, or who’s weapons are a part of them. Levels will have paths blocked off, and sometimes only load the environment within close range. This along with the hacks and cores means you have a lot of re-play value, without having to radically alter the core game-play loop.
Superhot: Mind Control Delete is a very satisfying and well made game. It takes a genera that’s normally action packed, brings things to a halt, and makes you really think about your current and next moves. Death just means a fast re-start, and victory makes you feel smarter. It’s a big system, fight your way out.