Superhot: Mind Control Delete Fumbles, But Can't Detract from a Brilliant Premise

By Alistair Jones on at

I plunge a knife into the face of the crystalline red figure bearing down on me and pluck it back out before he hits the floor. I pivot and fling it towards another enemy, grabbing his pistol out of mid-air after the blade hits home. Ducking in and out of cover, I line up shots and foes fall, one by one. For a moment it’s like Superhot never went away, but then my final shot lands, the remaining enemies shatter, and the simulation abruptly spits me out before I feel like I’ve really won.

Standalone expansion Superhot: Mind Control Delete builds on the same premise as its excellent predecessor: time only moves when you do, letting you plan out your approach and pull off acrobatic feats of combat that would be impossible in real time. While a narrative thread held Superhot together, however, Mind Control Delete strips much of that concept away, replacing it with a roguelite approach.

Rather than a single life for each level, MCD grants the player three lives at the start of a series of connected levels. Powerups, such as the ability to move faster or start each level with a weapon, can be gathered as you go, but are lost if you run out of lives, and your arsenal is reset at the start of each gauntlet. It’s a framework that, while not wholly original, does do enough to keep the player moving forward – but not entirely to the benefit of the game itself.

Superhot might technically be an FPS, but each level in the original game is in reality a puzzle, asking you to derive a solution to a scenario with just a handful of pre-determined tools and almost no margin for error. MCD undermines that idea. It seems faster, more immediately violent, each gauntlet starting with two goons in front of you who have to be dispatched as quickly as possible. Success still looks good but feels less calculated – it’s not about working through an entire room, but simply outlasting enough bad guys that everyone left simply explodes, granting a somewhat hollow victory, particularly when you’re in the midst of tense gunfights.

Granting the player three lives is necessary for the introduction of the roguelike elements, but detracts from the player fragility that pervades the original. If a single stray bullet no longer means death, there’s no need to play quite so cautiously as before, and the introduction of a powerful new gun and a number of other abilities can often make it seem as though you’re utilising a whole bunch of superpowers, rather than working carefully around one central premise.

There are a few new ideas sprinkled in, some of which go a decent way to helping combat your new survivability. The addition of a couple of new enemy types, in particular, force very different approaches; armoured enemies require either extreme sharpshooting abilities or close-quarters combat; other foes don’t drop their weapons when hit – I once lunged forward at a staggered enemy, only to realise a little too late that the shotgun I assumed would be arcing gracefully through the air was still pointed straight at me. Levels are larger, creating spaces that are more interesting to move around, but also force you to remain constantly alert, as it’s impossible to be holding every sightline at once.

Despite its efforts at balancing out the experience, however, Mind Control Delete doesn’t quite match up to the perfectly-sculpted vignettes that made up the original game. It’s a little too big for its own good; new weapons and abilities create levels that feel more like toyboxes than the desperate, back-to-the-wall scrambles that formed the original’s most memorable moments.

For all that the increased scope doesn’t quite work in MCD’s favour, however, it can’t detract from how good Superhot remains. The original premise remains, to my mind, one of the most achingly cool, action movie-esque experiences out there, and it’s so central that even MCD’s well-meaning missteps do little to diminish that experience. It’s easy enough to ignore the powerups and focus on how good it feels to line up a shot and watch an enemy shatter as they run into it, to dodge past a hail of gunfire and send a dart (or a cinderblock, or a fish) careering into an enemy’s face, to slice a bullet out of the air with a katana. Mind Control Delete is a slight overreach but, at its core, this is more Superhot, and that's just fine with me.