When Superhot was initially kickstarted, receiving just over $250,000, I imagine pledgers opened their wallets for the innovative, brilliantly fun and deviously hard gameplay shown in the prototype, not the short scene that closed the early form of the game where a static image of an angry european man demanded that the player dispose of themselves. As our own Robert Edwards described in his review, the actual narrative that drives Superhot is definitely deserving of criticism, dragging the player away from the game to recite overdone “no free will” tripe. However, while playing game the (semi) meta-narrative got me thinking quite deeply about the role of the player, and where their place actually is within the confines of the game. Bear with me here, this might get a bit confusing. Oh, and expect heavy spoilers for the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.

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Upon launching Superhot, the player is presented with the display of a basic terminal. Before long, they receive a message on a minimal chat service dubbed “guruCHAT” from somebody who is assumed to be a friend of the player. When given the option to reply, the game automatically filled in text for me. At first I thought that this might be a method of the game “censoring” what I’m actually saying, however after a few conversations with this nameless ally it seemed all more likely that Superhot Team intended for this to be the voice of a character the player is in control of. So, from this I concluded that Superhot doesn’t intend to talk directly to the player, removing the idea of a meta-narrative by addressing an unseen character the player is in control of. Just to be clear, you’re playing as a character who is playing the shooter we’re all familiar with.

But who is this character? Well, I think Superhot Team intended for this character to be a hyperbolic representation of the average player. About mid-way through the story, our protagonist begs to be let back into the game after being locked out as shown in the screenshot below. The reality of Superhot’s development parallels this. Reading some of the early comments on the Kickstarter page revealed that even the cheapest of pledgers turned out their pockets for more of the game’s legitimately addictive gameplay, begging to be let back into the game in the same way that our protagonist was. And I should probably say that this is presented in massive excess in the game, the player ultimately disposing of their own body in order to give themselves completely to Superhot – which comes across to me as a tongue-in-cheek representation of the average Superhot player’s love of the seamless and enjoyable gameplay.

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And then, the game delves deeper into themes of free will. In one instance, the player finds themselves locked in a cell, being shot at by a circle of red guys just out of their reach. The game flashes a screen of text demanding that the protagonist dies while also calling them a dog – to which the player has no choice but to allow the red dudes to shoot them. Instances like this are when I feel in total agreement with Robert’s review – there is nothing particularly clever or nuanced about a linear game like Superhot prodding the player and daring them to divert from the only possible path to follow. In Spec Ops: The Line, this minor piss-off of mine was executed with much more style, commentating not on the idea of having no free will but rather highlighting the often evil actions the player is forced to commit in linear shooters to progress through the game. Where in Spec Ops, a world beyond that of the game was referenced, Superhot merely provokes the player character for nothing but the sake of it.

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Towards the ending of the game, the protagonist has their mind downloaded into the Superhot core, where they become “one of us” – assumedly one of the many, featureless red guys they’ve slain throughout the game. There is a final discourse between the protagonist and the game before the final curtain is drawn – Superhot requests that the protagonist spreads the game, and coaxes other players into launching the title where they, too, can be downloaded into the Superhot core. Their identity is shaped by the game, their sole purpose revolving around spreading the word of Superhot – one of the most innovative shooters they’ve played in years. Obviously this is a little hyperbolic – I do not expect that anybody was that impressed by the prototype – but does reflect on the mindless promotion of games.

Of course, on the flipside, this ending can be taken at face value, which surprisingly has much more sinister implications. If my far-fetched theory is incorrect, and Superhot is indeed just a meta-narrative describing the player’s supposed descent into psychological slavery, the ending is nothing more than a means of self-promotion. We’ve got to remember Superhot is a game developed by people, not the artificial intelligence shown in the game. The game demanding the player to spread the word about how great the game is to create more “slaves” would be nothing more than an attempt to create a meme that, if properly culminated, can only lead to Superhot reaching immense commercial success. Of course, neither I nor anybody expect people to buy the game on the basis of nothing more than a meme, but the principle alone is pretty slimy. And that’s why I chose to believe that Superhot is not driven by a meta-narrative as it might seem, and rather comedically comments on the average, enthusiastic Superhot player.