SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE Review
If you had the ability to stop time, but the time stopping only worked when you were standing still, what would you do? Would you become the world’s best stop-motion videographer, become a soldier who could do millions of push-ups without getting tired, or would you simply become an office worker until you talk with Laurence Fishburne and turn into a god? Assuming you grew up in the ‘90s and opted for the last choice on that list, what would you do once you became Keanu Reeves? How would you save the world, which gun would you pick to kill Mr. Anderson and how would you deal with all of the white girls with dreadlocks in the future?
It’s clear that these questions have kept the developers behind SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE up at night just as much as they’ve kept us awake before our morning shifts, because entering the Matrix has been the set-up for their innovative franchise. In the SUPERHOT games, you take on the role of a nerd with a VR headset that’s thrown into the not-Matrix to kill not-Mr. Anderson until a mysterious overlord determines that you’ve killed enough to progress to the next level. The catch is that unlike in The Matrix, time only moves forward when you do and there’s no rave to return to once you finish up each mission.
This strange lack of context is what sets up every encounter that you’ll play through in SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE. You select a node from the in-game CRT monitor, choose one of a small handful of power-ups and spawn in. From there, you grab whatever weapon is closest to you and get to killing. Once you’ve killed enough enemies, the level is completed and you move onto the next one. As soon as you beat around five of these two-minute long incursions, the node is completed and you’re able to select another thing on your monitor to start the process over again.
Although the introduction for the game’s hundred-odd mini-campaigns aren’t exactly The Last of Us, they do a good job at making it clear what the game is about. In between levels there is a story that’s told by way of fragmented text documents and the occasional playable level that will allow you to uncover what’s going on in the game’s world, but after all is said and done these only exist to provide some light motivation for you to get invested in the game’s focus.
That focus is on gameplay, and it’s a good thing that it is that way, because it’s nothing short of amazing. Each level features the same ruleset: time only moves when you do, enemies die in a single attack from a weapon or three attacks from your fists, throwing anything at an enemy will stun them and each attack you receive will take one of your very limited number of hearts away. With these mandates, which have been balanced to the point where they’d put a scale to shame, the gameplay is the embodiment of easy to learn but hard to master. You’ll likely be able to survive each encounter from the get-go, but it takes hours of practice and memorisation to pull off the ninja-esque moves that are shown in the game’s trailers.
Like in the original SUPERHOT, once you truly master the game, then, it’s a feeling like no other. You’ll be able to pull off moves that look like they’re straight out of Bollywood action flicks: you can cut bullets in half while sending the other half flying back at your enemies, perform effortless headshots, jump around the map with impunity and dodge shotgun blasts like they’re nothing. Mastering these moves actually feels like you’ve accomplished something, too, instead of the sensation of domination being handed to you like in most other first-person shooters. At the end of each level you’ll be able to see all of your actions take place in real time, and seeing something that took minutes to accomplish being showcased in a matter of seconds is an amazing dopamine rush.
Once you turn into that samurai, too, the game is able to retain its entertainment value by way of modifiers for each set of levels. After beating a few stages in one of the aforementioned nodes, you’ll be given a roguelite-esque selection screen where you can choose one of two modifiers to enable for the remainder of your run. Although new players can always opt to refill their hearts meter, there are always more interesting options available that can help or hinder your journey to get to the next mission selection screen. Things like starting each encounter with a katana can help you get by in the game’s most difficult situations, but more fun options like throwable objects exploding on impact can make or break a perfect run. These options add some nice variety to a game for players already familiar with the SUPERHOT formula while also adding some enjoyable diversity to help keep newer players engaged.
These things are all further enhanced by the game’s simplistic art and sound direction. Like with the gameplay’s rule set, each level in SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE follows the same sound effects and color palette regardless of its setting. White is the colour of background objects, red is the colour of the body parts of enemies you can hit and black is for weapons you can grab. When you hit something red, it makes a distinct sound effect, and when an enemy is about to fire their weapon it makes another sound that can give you just enough time to get out of the bullet’s path. Although the general lack of background music and any real colour may be initially off-putting, these things merely exist to help you master the game and get that sweet aforementioned gratification of becoming John Wick.
It should go without saying, then, that SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE is a game to behold. With its innovative and enjoyable gameplay, clear but striking art design and enjoyably simplistic meta story, there are virtually no flaws in a game that’s unlike any other that you’ll play this year. While many games try to make you feel like an unstoppable force of nature, this is the only one that truly makes you earn that feeling.
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