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MORE, but is it ENOUGH?

First off, I’d like to establish that I’ve received MCD for free due to having owned SUPERHOT (2016) before its release. I’ve been following the SUPERHOT ever since its 2013 prototype, so this review is written in the context of someone who has quite a bit of experience with the game. I really do love the series, and have spent upwards of 700 hours across both SUPERHOT and its 2015 Beta. This review will also be targeted to those who’ve already played SUPERHOT – I won’t be explaining any of the fundamental game mechanics, but rather comparing MCD against SUPERHOT, from the story down to the nuances of advanced combat mechanics.

Honestly, I see no reasons not to give this game a positive review. The developers stuck to their promise of making it free to all prior owners of SUPERHOT, and the new rogue-like elements introduce offer a much-welcome increase in combat variation. That being said, the game isn’t without its flaws for sure, and I’ll try my best to judge them in accordance with the asking price of $35.

MIND

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I’ll start with MCD’s story, which I believe many will agree is one of its weaker elements. My critique on the story kind of bleeds into gameplay as well, so I guess it’ll serve as a neat segue. My gripes with MCD in this department echo those I had with DOOM Eternal. I do feel strongly that DOOM Eternal loses out in story immersion compared to DOOM 2016 due to it focusing too heavily on its almost arcade gameplay elements. For example, while in DOOM 2016 you’d pick up new weapons off of dead soldiers lying around in the environment, and then get to test them out on enemies in just another gameplay level, DOOM Eternal had you pick weapons up as levitating, glowing items just floating around in the world, with you being teleported into a virtual simulation to test them out afterwards. I didn’t see many people mention this, but personally it really took me out of the game as a singleplayer experience with an attempt at a proper story. MCD suffers from the exact same issue in comparison to SUPERHOT. Maybe there’s come curse for 2020 sequels of 2016 video games or something.

MCD’s roughly 3-hour campaign comprises of 5 ‘floors’, each with a dungeon-crawler layout that has you complete gauntlets of levels on a path towards the exit to the next floor, unlocking lore and upgrades along the way. Make no mistake, though, this 3-hour campaign is not one of equal quality as SUPERHOT’s 1-hour one – the gauntlet structure in MCD is another one of its weak elements. The structure of the gauntlets has you go through multiple levels in order to reach the end and unlock the branching paths to other rooms on the floor. These levels are exactly what you’d expect from the ones back in SUPERHOT, but unlike those in SUPERHOT’s campaign where enemy spawns are scripted, the spawns in MCD are completely random – the order of levels that you’ll have to play through per gauntlet is random as well. Accompanying this, you complete levels in MCD by killing a certain (I’m not sure if it’s told to you) number of enemies, after which the level is immediately completed and you’re booted into the next one. This gameplay loop is where the bulk of the problem lies. SUPERHOT’s campaign felt like it had a direction; like it was a proper linear singleplayer experience where you were making progress through the story with every level completed. But in MCD, that’s all gone. Levels are really just that, levels. You kill a bunch of guys, unlock the next rooms, and that’s it.

Lore is provided entirely through dedicated lore rooms. The lore is exactly what you’d expect from a SUPERHOT title, too: It’s a bunch of edgy poem-like snippets of text that comes off as kinda pretentious. But hey if you’re into that stuff and enjoyed it in 2016 then I’m sure you’ll dig it. There’s also some attempt at telling a story through the design of dedicated levels for the MINDs, field bosses which I’ll get into more detail on later on in gameplay. This is the one part of the story that really stood out to me and impressed me. The example that comes to mind is that for the Dog MIND, who charges at you, you release him by interacting with a dog bowl and later on in the game find him in a wheelchair. While it isn’t explicitly stated, my interpretation of this is that the program has provided him with the mobility he so desired, with the dog bowl suggesting how his handicap had reduced him to the state of an animal. But outside of that, MCD offers nothing more apart from the overarching theme carrying over from SUPERHOT of relinquishing control. In my opinion, the binary gameplay-to-story ratio just isn’t quite right, and often times it feels like MCD just isn’t respecting the player’s time. This is no more evident than in the final gauntlet that has you go through like 50 levels, and [spoiler] the game locking you out of gameplay and making you wait a full 8 hours to get the final core [/spoiler].

CONTROL

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Here’s where MCD truly shines though, and that’s in gameplay. The most fundamental change in gameplay is the default number of 2 lives, as compared to 1 in SUPERHOT. You recuperate a lost life if you’re able to pull through 3 levels without dying.

MCD adds a fourth gun, a sniper rifle, in addition to the classic repertoire of the pistol, shotgun and assault rifle. Not only is it effective at long ranges, it also pierces through interactive objects such as glass and enemy bodies. The shotgun has also been tweaked slightly to convert into a melee weapon after it’s out of ammo.

Throwables have been improved, with sharp objects like screwdrivers now lodging themselves into enemy bodies as well as only being a one-hit kill on headshots. Disc-shaped objects like shurikens and sawblades are an OHK on any body part, and stun the new enemies which only have a single limb vulnerable. 

Yeah, there are 2 new enemy types.

One of them only has a single limb vulnerable, but never the head, which I felt was an odd design choice.  The other sports spiky growths, and explodes into a flurry of bullets when killed. The katana-wielding enemies have gained the ability to deflect throwables and bullets fired at them from the front, save for sniper bolts, but are unable to deflect bullets aimed at their legs. Likewise, melee-wielding enemies are able to deflect non-lethal throwables such as guns from the front.

In addition to this, there are field hazards and field bosses. Proximity mines are now present on the walls and ceilings of levels, and 1 of 3 field bosses (called MINDs) occasionally spawn into a level. These MINDs are completely invulnerable, and have to be avoided until the end of a level. The Dog MIND dashes at you after a wind-up where it’s immobile, the Katana MIND throws a katana at you which it is then able to recall to it a la Captain America, and the Addict MIND is able to hotswitch with you. While the MINDs do shake up the enemy dynamic, I do wish that they were killable. The field bosses in the MCD Beta were simply protected with rubble and ended the level once killed, and I can’t help but see potential for that being carried over into the official release. Perhaps the Dog MIND would become vulnerable briefly after a dash, or the Addict MIND only killable by firing a shot into its face when it engulfs the screen to hotswitch with you. In their current state, the MINDs just feel like a chore more than anything else, and not the good kind like the Ubermorph from Dead Space. The bad kind, like slogging through the final gauntlet of MCD.

The real game-changer that MCD offers are its rogue-like elements of cores and hacks. Both are unlocked by reaching certain rooms in the game.

Cores function just like your starting character in a rogue-like. The 4 main ones are the MORE core, giving you 3 lives instead of 2, the CHARGE core, giving you the ability to charge towards an enemy and immediately punch them in the face, the RECALL core, which makes you start levels with an indestructible katana that flies back to your hand on command, and the HOTSWITCH core, which is self-explanatory. With the hotswitch core functioning identically to its original iteration in SUPERHOT, cores as a gameplay mechanic are a straight improvement for MCD, and a welcome addition.

Hacks, on the other hand, are passive upgrades. They’re reminiscent of the endless mode modifiers that I so dearly missed from the 2015 SUPERHOT Beta. There were modifiers that stopped time from accelerating due to camera movement and modifiers that gave all the enemies big heads and tiny bodies – the selection really was rather diverse, and extremely fun to play with. In SUPERHOT’s full release, these modifiers were replaced with the challenge modes, which weren’t nearly as fun. While none of the hacks in MCD are purely for entertainment like the big head modifier from the 2015 SUPERHOT Beta, they do accommodate for a wide range of playstyles and may even force you out of your comfort zone regarding them. After unlocking a hack and permanently adding it into your pool of hacks, you’re able to select one from a randomised selection of 2 hacks every couple of levels. Hack choices are signified by patches of static along the gauntlet, in contrast to levels which are denoted in red text. They range from allowing your bullets to automatically ricochet in the direction of a nearby enemy if they miss, a la My Friend Pedro, to making you invulnerable when you’re engaged in close combat. There are also 2 dedicated hacks per core – For example, the HOTSWITCH core gets perfswitch, allowing you to retain the weapon held by a hotswitched enemy without needing to do the stun tech, and ultraswitch, which allows you to chain multiple hotswitches in a row.

Veterans may be interested in some the more subtle gameplay changes. Here’s what I can recall off the top of my mind:

  • Throwables no longer stun enemies if they simply shatter close to them.
  • Enemy corpses no longer interact with projectiles after death, which is quite a shame.
  • The predetermined paths that some enemies take to station themselves at certain points in levels have been retained, with it still being just as silly watching enemies completely ignore you as they run along said paths.
  • Jumping onto enemies is no longer an instakill, with that ability being converted into a hack.
  • Katana range has been shortened significantly, and slicing a bullet now sends it back towards an enemy instead of just cutting it in two.

As for bugs, I haven’t noticed many. I’ve had a single corpse clip into a wall and launch itself into space, but apart from that there has only been the almost game-breaking bug of hotswitching into an enemy that’s still in its spawn door instantly taking all of your lives and sending you back to the start of the gauntlet.

There are 2 variations of endless mode, a returning stalwart still with all of its former glory and more. In one of the variations, you select a core and a single level to play in as per usual, and earn hacks after you kill certain numbers of enemies. In the other, you select a core but progress through an endless gauntlet of different levels, earning a hack every couple of levels. It’s more fun than it’s ever been, and is definitely the one thing most players will be sinking a lot of their time into as far as replayability is concerned.

DELETE

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As of writing this review, I have 25 hours in MCD. Applying some spoiler-ridden calculations, that puts me at 14 hours spent on finding the 32 secrets hidden in the game across 32 levels without using a guide. I savoured every single second of those 14 hours.

Level secrets are a returning feature from SUPERHOT, consisting of consoles hidden in levels that provide small lore titbits upon interacting with them. In SUPERHOT, there were 27 secrets with one being in each story mission, but as you’re unable to freely replay the story in MCD, there’s one secret in each endless level instead.

I will admit that going for all these secrets may not be an appealing endeavour for some, but as someone who’s spent over 100 hours on The Witness and probably went through an entire forest worth of paper in order to complete it, searching for the secrets was by far the most enjoyable part of MCD for me. Searching every inch of the levels for them also gave me a lot of insight into some aspects of the level design of MCD, which I’ll end this review on.

Without spoiling anything, the secrets in MCD are greatly improved from those in SUPERHOT in that many of them require special interactions with specific items in their levels, while in SUPERHOT the secrets were reached purely through locomotion. While the locomotive secrets are still present in MCD, the interactive ones really shined for me – they ranged from funny to logical, but all managed to incite a gasp of surprise and satisfaction from me whenever I found one. I would highly recommend against the use of a guide for the secrets, as the lore they unlock is not anything particularly relevant anyway. For you achievement hunters out there, don’t worry about having to find all of the secrets to get the related achievement like you had to in SUPERHOT. For MCD, you only have to find a single one to get the achievement, which shouldn’t be too difficult especially in the first level, LAB.

My final assessment will be of the level design of MCD. While there are returning classics such as OFFICE and BREAK (titled LAB in MCD), for the most part you’ll be playing through new levels that adopt a much evolved design philosophy from those in SUPERHOT.

The levels in SUPERHOT shared a commonality of containing wide, open areas with a small amount of obstructions, if any, within them. There were few exceptions to this, the ones I can think of being the returning levels of OFFICE and BREAK as mentioned before as well as the endless level LAB#18. Even the level PWRPLANT, which had a pretty complex interior building, had a comparatively empty outer perimeter.

MCD’s level design is far more complex and convoluted, playing around a lot more with sightlines, interactive objects and glass. This marks a significant departure from SUPERHOT in that the level design really does send a message to the player to encourage them to play around a lot more with the numerous new tools they’ve been provided. The shurikens embedded all over the DOJO level would have been viewed as just another convenient stun in SUPERHOT, but in MCD due to the improved throwable interactions each shuriken really does feel like a proper, lethal ninja star that you can appreciate killing enemies with. Departure in level design philosophy is no more evident than in the level TOWER, which echoes the level STAIRS from SUPERHOT. The two are fundamentally identical, comprising of a spiralling tower of stairs. However, STAIRS had only that – a flight of stairs with a vast empty space in the middle to jump and shoot enemies through. In TOWER, environmental detail has been greatly improved, with gameplay variation following suit. The level much better conveys its under-construction nature with wire meshes covering the sides of stairs and a jury-rigged wooden plank walkway cutting across the empty middle serving as the only means of moving from one incomplete fight of steps to the next. On the plank, individual nails can be pulled out and used as throwables. Oh, and they added a proper floor to the level.

This is just one example of the improved level design, but there really are many more like the KITCHEN level where hanging throwable pans obscure sightlines and block shots while hanging carcasses in the meat freezer serve the same purpose. The level design in MCD truly is a thing of wonder, and improves greatly from its predecessor whose level design I already loved studying hours on end. It really was enlightening when I read up on how the SUPERHOT Team utilized unique, sometimes obnoxious objects to make sure any angle of a level was instantly recognizable despite the environment being completely white, and it’s just as enlightening to see how they’ve built upon this fundamental skill to do the same for MCD while simultaneously making its levels killer playgrounds befitting of the much expanded gameplay mechanics.

SUPERHOT MCD IS THE SECOND MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER

SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE is a definite recommendation from me. All of the negative critiques I’ve made only really apply to those who’ve already played SUPERHOT (2016), and for them MCD is free. If you’re planning to get MIND CONTROL DELETE as your entry into the SUPERHOT games, I would highly recommend it even at full price as you’ll most likely be able to stretch your dollar with the endless mode if you haven’t refunded it due to disliking the gameplay. The game has gone on a 40% sale just on release, though, so it’ll be worth waiting for a sale to pick it up as well.

What can I say, I had an absolute blast playing through MIND CONTROL DELETE when I could, and it might even be the second most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.

SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE gets an SSS from me.

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