I remember the first time I saw the Matrix and seeing that “bullet time” effect. That scene where Neo moves so fast that time slows down, and he watches in amazement as bullets whizz past him. Now, thanks to the small independent SUPERHOT Team and the invention of VR - we can finally have our own ‘woah’ moments in our very own living rooms.
While the original SUPERHOT has been around for a while, this VR version first appeared on the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive at the end of last year, and in May this year respectfully. I’ve never played the non-VR version, but it’s hard to imagine this game without it. It seems custom-built for VR technology - like it’s designed for an immersive experience rather than a standard first-person shooter.
SUPERHOT doesn’t attempt to weave a proper narrative into the experience. Instead it simply chucks you into the middle of random scenes, often inspired by action movies, pitting you against a number of enemies with varying degrees of difficulty. In between each sequence of action you are spawned into a tiny room filled with old computers, each with retro floppy disk drives and DOS prompts. It’s here that you load up disks (accompanied by a nostalgic disk-whirring sounds) and put on a virtual VR helmet to enter each simulation. Yes, it’s a VR game, inside a VR game.
Inside each simulation, you’ll be stationary, allowing you to look around in 360 degrees and take a small step in any direction to examine your surroundings. Often there will be objects within reach, such as bottles, or perhaps weapons including hammers, throwing stars, pistols, or shotguns. Enemies will then appear from any direction, where they will start shooting at you, or they might just advance on you with melee attacks. You have to clear the stage without being hit, and if you’re successful, the next one begins.
It all sounds pretty mundane, until you see the core mechanics in action. Time only moves when you move, and the faster you move, the faster the world moves around you. It’s trippy to explain, but essentially it means that you can observe your surroundings while time stands still - and once you start moving to dodge or pick up a weapons, everything speeds up.
Firing your weapon or throwing an object speeds up time to realtime, so you need to line up shots slowly and also see whether you are in danger before pulling the trigger. Sometimes there are environmental hazards such as moving vehicles, or if you’re lucky - cover to crouch behind, requiring you to physically kneel down and peer over the top to fire back.
SUPERHOT is instantly recognisable for its minimalistic, rough polygon art style which is still effective, despite the lack of detail. The maps are multileveled and geometrically detailed, but everything in the environment is plain white, giving the game an unique futuristic vibe. Imagine Mirror’s Edge, but with all the textures turned off. Enemies are vivid red to not only show threat, but so they stand out visually – and once hit they shatter with a satisfying glass-like effect.
Levels are interconnected too, with the environment you just cleared taking place near the next. This means that often you’ll see fragments of enemies still falling when you spawn in the next map, and if you’re particularly efficient you can actually throw weapons from the end of one map into the next, allowing you to catch it and give you an extra advantage. Plus it just looks bad-ass.
SUPERHOT VR is a fun mix of strategy, situational awareness and concentrated action. It requires two PS Move Controllers, which act as your hands in the game; pulling the trigger picks up weapons, and naturally fires them like a gun. Throwing objects takes a lot more practice to get the trajectories right, but you throw or drop things by pressing the large Move button and flicking your wrist. Even without anything in your hands, you can punch enemies – just make sure you have at least a metre around you so that you don’t uppercut your loved ones in the heat of the moment.
There aren’t many things to fault about SUPERHOT. The unique visual style complements the unique gameplay perfectly, and everything was about as responsive on PSVR as I remembered it on the more technically impressive Oculus Rift. You’ll need a bit more space than other PSVR titles, and 2m away from the camera is suggested for when you’re crouching or leaning left or right. The only real complaint about the game is the severe lack of menus, so that even quitting the game proved impossible without crudely closing the game, leaving you to wonder whether it’s saving or not.
The other minor issue was I always found putting on the in-game “virtual” VR helmet (to start the next level) infuriatingly difficult to do. Your floating hands will fumble and flap about trying to grab the headset, often resulting in stupid luck as to how long it takes you to put it over your head. The control setup for activating your “special power” (I’ll leave this as a surprise) is a bit flakey too, but it doesn’t negatively impact the game.
Once you get into the rhythm, SUPERHOT is beautifully addictive. You’ll be dodging bullets, juggling weapons, and performing jaw-dropping headshots with finesse that wouldn’t look out of a place in a perfectly choreographed John Woo film. The difficulty flip-flops a little bit, but with practice and experimentation, I got through the whole game in around three hours. Which isn’t too bad for a VR experience, especially one as entertaining as this. But it’s definitely replayable; with endless modes and challenges, along with hidden trophies to reward you for any extra stylish flair you successfully pull off while clearing a room. For example you can earn a trophy for not using guns, or my favourite was “Butterhands,” which I got for desperately throwing every available object in the level.
Every time you fail, you will need to start at the last checkpoint - and considering there are around 4 - 5 challenges per checkpoint, you will find yourself replaying the same ones over and over. While it was a bit frustrating, it never felt repetitive or boring – instead it makes you experiment, or fine-tune your technique with each play-through.
SUPERHOT has been talked about a lot since it debuted on Oculus, and for good reason. Now that it’s finally available for PSVR owners, it’s a must have for anyone who wants to play a VR first-person shooter with a twist.
Angus received a digital copy of SUPERHOT VR from the developers for review.