Superhot Team has returned with a new standalone expansion called Mind Control Delete, and after slicing and dicing my way through its heart-stopping procedurally-generated campaign as if I was John Wick incarnate, it's time to unpack all the unique strangeness that has been added to this eye-catching shooter.
If you've not come across Superhot before, please allow me to tell you a bit about the original, as it nicely explains the core aspects of Mind Control Delete too. Superhot is a visually-striking shooter with a stunning red on white art-style where time stands still when you don't move. When you move, so does time, and the faster you go, the more quickly time passes. It's a simple setup that Superhot Team managed to spin into a great debut game, a VR spin-off, and now this standalone expansion.
In fact, Mind Control Delete was originally intended to be a free update, and correct me if I'm wrong but anyone who buys the original Superhot while MCD is in Early Access will get this standalone as part of that initial purchase. A nice touch.
For everyone else who isn't already aboard the good ship Superhot, I heartily recommend the original (I booted it up last night to see just how different MCD is in comparison - it's still a blast), however, it's a finite experience that's over all too quickly. The first game left you wanting more time-stopping gunplay, more crystalline enemies to shatter into pieces, and more jaw-dropping playbacks where your best moves are shown in a satisfying real-time encore.
The core difference between Superhot and MCD is replayability. The original stands as a complete experience that you can finish in a handful of hours. Mind Control Delete, on the other hand, has been built in a way that you'll get plenty more bang for your buck with an extended campaign experience that leads into an infinite mode. This has considerable benefits, which I'll get to shortly, but it also has a downside. For the most part, I like the new approach, but the carefully authored campaign of the original, which felt equal parts puzzler and shooter, has not carried over here in the same way and MCD feels less particular and bit more scrappy as a result. That's not necessarily a problem for most people, and if all you're after is a clever shooter, I daresay you'll hardly notice the difference.
The new structure of MCD ensures an extended experience, and I've played it for well over twice the time I spent on the original (according to Steam's records) and I still don't think I've seen everything it has to offer. In this expandalone, the environments are remixed time and time again, so you'll revisit the same locations frequently. They say that familiarity can breed contempt, but here they keep things fresh by changing the starting positions of both you and your enemies. Still, after more than ten hours I was starting to feel strong déjà vu.
My favourite addition is the new 'hacks'. These are unlocked as you play, with new areas opening up in the retro-computer system you seem to be navigating. Accessing a new area (or 'node') gives the player a string of missions, and at certain points during that string, you get a seemingly random choice between one of two hacks. These then stay with you until the end of that run, and the longer the run, the more missions it has, but also the more hacks you can layer on top of each other. Rather than the one-hit-kill missions of old, over the course of each run, you have hearts that carry over between stages and deplete as you take damage. Run out of hearts and your progress in that self-contained run is lost and you have to start again. It's not really a traditional roguelite, but rogueish blood still pumps through its veins.
Procedurally-generated levels, random elements, perma-death, soft progression across multiple plays - these are all well-known tricks deployed on smaller projects to bring additional value to the player. It works here and I happily played into the wee small hours, attempting run after run, yet at the same time, just like pretty much every roguelite ever made, something almost intangible gets lost in the procedural generation, and an AI-made level still can't beat a carefully designed and professionally balanced one. For the most part, however, MCD works a treat because of clever spawn point positioning and smart procedural generation.
Back to the hacks. There are several to unlock over the course of the campaign, and they have game-changing consequences. Boosting your health is a no-brainer if you're low on hearts, but if you've got health to spare then you can always increase your ammo, get random weapons at the start of each level, ricochet bullets around corners, or bring some finesse to the party by using the katana to send bullets back from whence they came. My personal favourite was the hack that let me turn every non-weapon in the environment into a grenade.
The challenge intensifies as you advance through the levels and unlock new abilities, including new classes/characters, such as one that lets you dash into your opponents, or another that lets you recall a thrown katana. These 'core' abilities and buffs dovetail beautifully with the signature Superhot gameplay, and it won't be long before you're trying to meld utility and finesse. It's all about paying attention to the little details, such as noting the red glow in a doorway that's about to spawn an enemy, waiting for the little bloom of the crosshair the lets you know that you can fire again, and having the spatial awareness to predict where your enemy is going to be in a second or two and adjusting your aim to compensate.
Before long you'll be side-stepping bullets, flinging everyday objects, grabbing guns from your foes, and thinking about every single step you make in order to maximise your effectiveness and avoid taking damage. As the game progresses, the enemies you encounter get progressively more dangerous, first with enemies that don't carry weapons that you can take, and later by reducing the surface area you can damage on their body (so, for example, an arm might remain red while the rest of the body is white and invulnerable). Later still you'll encounter smarter opponents with special skills more like your own and giant spikes on their bodies that explode upon death.
While I like the vast majority of what MCD is trying to do, there was a couple of things I noticed that I didn't always appreciate. One was how it could feel a bit cheap grabbing enemy weapons at times, especially when they're at the furthest extent of your range and they essentially just teleport into your hand - at those moments I felt too overpowered. It was also a little bit strange that you don't have to take out every opponent in a given level, and once you've killed the prerequisite number, the rest of them explode out of nowhere and it's on to the next.
We've all played shooter campaigns that have overstayed their welcome, where we laboured through endless grunts as we chased the next narrative carrot that dangles in the distance. Towards the end, as the challenge gets tougher, it can start to feel a bit like that here and everything can feel needlessly abstruse. Much like its predecessor, MCD is enigmatic, perhaps too much so, and at times I found it hard to really engage with the narrative wrapper. That said, it's very self-aware and the developers obviously have something to say, even if it's not always clear exactly what is being articulated.
Just like you, I'm not here for the story. Superhot is about condensing hours and hours of shooter action into those few seconds where you do something really cool and then bottling that lightning so it can be experienced again and again. To the credit of its creators, Mind Control Delete manages to deliver loads of exhilarating moments despite the structural changes that have been made, and while I probably slightly preferred the original format, MCD stands as a worthy companion piece. It's not quite as slick, but there's much more of it, and that's a sacrifice I'm prepared to make.
The finished version of Superhot: Mind Control Delete is heading to PC, PS4, and Xbox One on July 16.
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