In a postmodern twist, the Superhot games are notable for mocking the compelling nature of their gameplay. In “Superhot” there is a chat room where characters emote about their addiction to the game while elsewhere the player is confronted by this message: “No plot, no reason for anything, just killing red guys.” The VR version adds a darker layer by requiring the player to shoot themselves in the head near the start of the campaign. And the latest entry in the series “Superhot Mind Control Delete” teases the player early on by awarding them a credit sequence after completing a small number of levels. At other times, taunting messages in big letters appear on the screen: “There is no meaning just a hollow sense of progression” and “No climax. No resolution. There is just more of the same.”
As much as I loved the first two games in the series, I was less than enthused with the beginning of Mind Control Delete. The meta references from the early part of the game seemed less nuanced than their 2016 counterparts. And performing the same types of maneuvers as in the earlier games — for example, throwing an item closest to you, like a bottle or an ashtray, at onrushing gunman to make them drop a firearm which you would snatch out of the air and blast them with — felt overly familiar. That said, I appreciated the layout of many of the levels from the first time I laid eyes on them. Throwing books at enemies in a library or a palette and paint brushes in an artist’s studio certainly tickled my fancy for the absurd.
As I played Mind Control Delete longer, I began to notice how it cleverly pokes fun at the fetishization of gameplay in game culture. If the narrative aspect of Mind Control Delete could be reduced to a question it would be, “Why do you keep playing through the same levels to unlock new abilities?”
This is a game that beckons the player’s id directly. The deeper you venture into its various “nodes” or levels, the more perks you unlock to significantly change the flow of the game. Perks come in two varieties: “cores” and “hacks.” Cores allow for such things as more health or the ability to recall a katana to one’s hands with the press of a button. They are perks you select before beginning a set of levels (the levels in sets reshuffle and cycle back to the beginning if you die before completing them.) Progressing through a set gives you the opportunity to activate different hacks, which change between sets. These hacks allow for things such as starting each level with a katana or making all thrown objects explode upon impact. Eventually, you unlock a powerful array of perks which allow you to do such things as seize control of an enemy’s body or ricochet a bullet from one enemy to another by performing a headshot.
At length, I fell into the groove of trying to acquire new perks to see what other novel abilities I might unlock. The creators well understand how inherently addictive it can be to run through levels over and over to surface new gameplay mechanics. So, I can’t say I was shocked when the game trotted out references to Ivan Pavlov and I began to see dog bowls appear at the end of long corridors. As I sank deeper down the rabbit hole and encountered messages such as “I don’t care about your warnings. I won’t listen to what you have to say. I want to play. And I will,” I felt the old Superhot magic begin to work its charms on me.
“Superhot Mind Control Delete” caters to and knowingly toys with the player’s thirst for something similar but different from what they already know and love. It does not feel quite as subversive as the earlier games, at least based on the dozen or so hours that I’ve spent with it thus far, but … there is more that I need to uncover.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.