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Polygon’s 2016 Games of the Year #5: Superhot

I make a living from words, so I like to think of media in terms of vocabularies.

The vocabulary of film is well-established after 120-plus years of cinematic history. We can understand, for example, that a montage shows related incidents over a length of time. The vocabulary of gaming is comparatively nascent.

It’s a younger medium, that’s part of the issue. But we’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time codifying the vocabulary of killing things on screen, specifically shooting stuff. Games are great at that.

They’re so great, in fact, that you wouldn’t think there was much to add to the vocabulary with which games can “discuss” killing and shooting. Superhot proves that you are terribly wrong.

Almost without exception, shooting in games is about reflex. There are a seemingly infinite number of enemies to dispatch, and you need to get them before they get you. By slowing time to a crawl, Superhot makes shooting and other types of violence about cunning, planning and awareness.

Games have slowed down time before (Max Payne, Stranglehold, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, etc.) but that was always about lowering the difficulty curve to provide an instant feeling of power.

Superhot, by contrast, is content to wait on the player. It waits as you analyze the wireframe humans coming to kill you, it patiently lets you look at evaluate their weapons, to consider how the situation could be turned to your advantage.

Counter-intuitively, this doesn’t make Superhot feel slower than other action games. Instead, it shaves away all the cruft and leaves only the moments where you are doing the raddest possible thing in any situation.

We don’t know each other but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you are almost certainly not a perfectly-trained killing machine. Other games try to give you the thrill of that sensation though a vocabulary of overpowered weapons, a thumping soundtrack and buckets of gore.

Superhot eschews all of that, even going so far as to stop the world around you to give you the breathing room to actually do all of the cool shit that other games just let you pretend to do.

By the way, if you haven’t tried Superhot VR, you must at the earliest opportunity. Letting you perform these incredible feats of surgical mayhem is approximately 100 times cooler when you’re fully immersed in the world.

When compared to Superhot, other action games feel like stationary bikes. You’re pedaling, you’re going through the motions, but you’re not going anywhere really. Superhot, through a frankly brilliant reinvention of the vocabulary of shooting, gives you training wheels and lets you actually ride for yourself. Nothing else comes close.

Polygon is counting down our favorite games of 2016. For more on the process behind how we choose our top 10, read this guide to our voting process.

More 2016 Games of the Year