One Of The Best Xbox Games Ever Just Launched And You've Probably Never Heard Of It
Ever downloaded a game illegally? Ever downloaded a game illegally, and then shared the file with your mates? You know, back in the days when Napster rather than iTunes was your first port of call if you wanted to secretly check out N'Sync's latest single (don't deny it). The pirating of games was rife.
Not just on PC either, but also on the original Xbox - if you were bold enough to buy a soldering iron in order to burn a chip onto its insides, that is. It's quite ironic then that a tale of a pirated game shared between friends should be arguably the best Xbox One game to hit the system in its near three year run. What's slightly surprising, however, is that it's doing so with virtually no fanfare whatsoever.
'Superhot' is a first person shooter, but not as you know it. In 'Superhot', your enemies - which are big, red, faceless silhouettes that smash into shards of glass when fired upon - only move when you do, which means you have time to think about what your next step is going to be before making it. Touch nothing and 'Superhot' only moves at a snails pace, though even the slightest twitch of the thumbstick or trigger to aim and shoot will cause the world to spring back into life in full speed.
It all means that every move you make must count - simply running around aimlessly or trying to hide will see you popped off time and again. It also means that, in true The Matrix fashion, you can also dance around bullets as they fly through the sky, playing the whole game as if flying by the seat of your pants.
If the ability to slow down your enemies at will sounds like it'd make Superhot rather easy, then prepare to have your arse kicked. Instead of focusing on speed and reaction time, Superhot pushes strategy instead, meaning working out which enemy to take out with which weapon and in which order becomes the game's signature. Each stage is typically very short, though the crimson crooks out for your blood tend to be plentiful. As a result, you die a lot. And then you die a whole lot more. And then, finally, you work out how the hell you're meant to take out a whole pack of enemies with nothing but a couple of discarded wine bottles to your name.
What makes success in Superhot especially cool is that, when you do eventually complete a stage, the game plays back your all-conquering run at full speed - a recap that, more often than not, makes you look like an utter god. Seriously, one second you'll be firing off a headshot before punching another foe in the face the next and swiping his weapon as he falls haplessly to the ground. In truth, it's less 'superhot', and more 'superhuman'.
Far more interesting than all of this, however, is the world 'Superhot' is set in. Rather than doing the obvious thing and shoving an opening menu screen in your direction and prompting you to 'Press Start', 'Superhot' kicks off with an Instant Messenger chat between you and a friend - the very friend who shares the Superhot.exe file with you in the first place.
Early stages are sandwiched by such IM chats, with your mate becoming more and more concerned with the amount of time you're spending in play. Soon it becomes clear that neither of you are sure whether you're playing the game, or whether the game is playing you.
Instructions barked at you in capital letters that fill the screen at the start of each stage soon shift from helpful indicators through to full on orders, telling you exactly what to do without rhyme or reason. It's almost as if you're a pawn in some grand, as of yet undisclosed plan, killing on command over and over. When the game itself starts telling you to stop playing, 'Superhot' ramps up from a fun little shooter to - dare we be so bold - a full on commentary on games where mass slaughter is the order of the day.
What if those soldiers you took out during that afternoon session on Call of Duty the other day were real people? What if your actions in a game had consequences in the real world? Can you really trust that a game is just a game? Yes, we're aware that all sounds a little wanky, but take on 'Superhot' in one sitting and you'll be right there in tossville with us.
This is a game that asks questions of you, all without the aid of any meaningful dialogue or helplessly indulgent cut scenes ('Metal Gear Solid', we're looking at you).
The only problem is, just when everything starts to heat up, play comes to an end. Yes, available in download form only, Superhot's one weak point is that it's rather short. It's possible to get through all of the game's main mode in a couple of hours if you're in any way proficient with a pistol in your pocket.
As anyone who makes it to the end will discover, however, the prospect of 'Superhot 2' hitting the console at a later date looms large.
You can download 'Superhot' on Xbox One or Steam now.
Words by Keith Andrew