Game jams introduce a sort of Dogme 95 spirit to video game development – the idea of imposing harsh limitations on yourself that, ideally, spur the creative process. It's usually just a few days, based on a prompt, and you have to figure out what you're doing in that time. You start the development of a game from scratch, literally nothing, not even necessarily knowing what engine you'll be building it in.
The 7DFPS jam is a little looser than that – you get 7 days to build an FPS, but from it you can basically do whatever you're able to come up with and prototype a first person shooter. Of sorts. Even their site mentions how some of them don't even have shooting, the FAQ being as follows:
There is no theme.
Q: Can I -
A: YES.. "
Compare that to something like the Ludum Dare and its much more complicated rules page and you really get to see how loose this is. But the 7DFPS still imposes limits that force a sort of "art from adversity" atmosphere to development. You have 7 days to build a thing in one of the most popular genres on the planet. Where do you take it?
The team behind Superhot hit upon a great idea. FPS games are lousy with bullet time mechanics, but even though it's so overdone, that kind of slow-motion ballet of bullets is still exciting. Fire off some shots, slow it down, laugh as your enemy is struck down in a ridiculous parade of violence. Games like Max Payne and, uh, Enter the Matrix (just me?) have filled us with an expectation of and understanding for how bullet time works, and Superhot finds a cool way to flip it on its head.
TIME MOVES ONLY WHEN YOU MOVE. It explains it in a quick flash within the game, and as the first enemy you see explodes in front of you, it gives you a great place to actually test it. Moving back and forth, you see the pieces of them shattering into the air faster, slowing down as you do, the sound of shattering glass as the enemy falls apart behaving in the same way. It's one of those simple introductions that makes you go "ah, ok, I think I get it" just from a few moments of walking and waving around, watching how enemies react to it. Soon you're dodging bullets, throwing guns around, snatching weapons out of the air, and dispatching foes with ease.
What's great and impressive about Superhot is that it almost always feels awesome. Even when you're put in a situation where you don't quite know what to do, and you flounder around and throw guns and punch people because that's the only way you can think of to fix things, at the end of the level, it all plays back in real time. Suddenly you look less like a clumsy guy who took 2 minutes deciding between a shotgun or a pistol and more like John Wick, rushing in, dodging bullets, beating people with baseball bats in a whirlwind of violence.
Plus you can then upload any of these full-speed replays to Killstagram, their front-end for watching replays. You can watch almost anything there and see something awesome happen. See how this guy sidesteps a shotgun blast as he throws his katana at the guy, slicing the guy in half. Look at this guy cut all of the bullets in the air and cross a hallway safely. It's awesome.
The main game takes your character through about 2 or 3 hours of story. Superhot is a short game that doesn't overstay its welcome by any means, teasing out cool things, introducing new weapons and abilities as you go on. You unlock endless modes after you beat the story, but what makes the story missions great is that they have that extra pizazz to them just by being tailor made. Trucks chase you down, you start in jail and 3 guys rush you with bats, you punch someone out a window as the screen flashes "MAKE HIM FLY." Endless mode is a lot of fun because they just keep coming, but the specific scenarios you go through in the story have a lot of polish to them. The extra thought in the specific positioning of enemies goes a long way.
Actual background details are kind of teased out – by the time you've hit the end you have some concept of what's been going on and what you're up to, but it's still a very nebulous "they" vs. "we" of you and the red guys and whoever is talking to you the whole time. It has a lot of fun with itself, too, coming up with metanarrative angles around the low-level OS of the in-game menus, and includes moments where you actually have to do things like exit the game to proceed. It gets a little silly and changes some of its messaging towards the end (at first you're not supposed to be playing and you're being locked out by the system, at the end it's asking you to invite your friends to play!), but the cool aspects of the way someone on the other side starts talking to you and ordering you around are pulled off superbly.
My biggest issue is that by the time I did reach the end of the game, it felt like I had a pretty sound strategy set up: punch guy, take gun, shoot him, throw gun at other guy, take their weapon, shoot him, repeat. The game does give another ability towards the end that gives you more interesting options, but this strategy works well enough that when you're facing down several enemies, it's easy to just fall back on this. The game's mechanics aren't exactly deep, but it still feels like I'm not using them to their fullest when doing something like that.
A stark and slowed down shooter that behaves more like a puzzle game, filled with neat out-of-game menus and secrets to find, Superhot is one of the coolest things I've played in a long time. I've been excited since their in-browser prototype hit, and they expanded and delivered on the promise superbly. While it definitely didn't overstay its welcome, as soon as Superhot ended I wanted to do it all again. It's fun, looks great, and is the best action movie simulator I've ever played.