The first generation of VR technology has been out for a year now, and take-up by gamers has been relatively slow. Part of that’s due to the high cost of entry, as well as the stuffing around required to re-arrange your playing space to accommodate VR. However, I feel the apathy is mostly due to the games on offer, as potential buyers are looking for what’s unique about VR gaming that can’t be found anywhere else, to justify the purchase.
Developers are still looking for the answer to that question, which is why we’ve seen so many tech demos dressed up as games hit every VR platform. However, the team behind indie sensation Superhot are definitely onto something with their latest title, Superhot VR. Despite being a spin-off and semi-sequel to their original game, the formerly Oculus-exclusive Superhot VR doesn’t feel like VR has just been bolted onto the existing gameplay, called ‘immersive’ and then shoved onto the PlayStation Store. It genuinely feels like its been designed, from its initial concept, with VR in mind as an essential part of the experience.
Superhot VR is all about making you feel like an action movie star. And I don’t mean in a roundabout, here’s-a-bullet-time-button way. The game is comprised of a series of short staged action scenes, any of which would be right at home in a Matrix or old-school John Woo movie. In one level, you might find yourself flanked by bad guys, waiting for you to quickly deal with them with your dual knives. In another, you’ll be dodging gunfire in a kitchen, using pots and pans to block incoming bullets as you try to look for an opening. And it all works – really well. I can honestly say I wouldn’t get the same feeling of power and and just plain cool from this game if it wasn’t in VR. Making you be the one who has to physically perform these moves, dodge bullets, throw knives and fire shotguns makes it all tangible in a way that traditional games can’t quite compete with. The unique, clean aesthetic of Superhot’s visuals is supercool, and translates well to the lower-resolution screen of the PlayStation VR. The audio design too is top-notch and exceptionally immersive, as you’ll more often than not catch yourself flinching from the sound of bullets whizzing mere centimetres away from your ears.
Of course, not all of us are a Chow Yun-fat, a Keanu Reeves, or even capable of mild exercise for 15 minutes a day. The way Superhot VR empowers players is through its manipulation of time. Time will only move if you move, meaning you can assess the situation in front of you and strategically work out the best moves to handle it. See an enemy running towards you with a handgun? Start moving to dodge his attack, and when you have an opening, you can quickly grab it out of his hands and turn it against him. Moving slowly enough allows you to move around bullets mid-air with precision, and even cut them in half with a knife. Larger actions, like firing a gun or picking up a weapon, cause time to move swiftly in short bursts out of your control, meaning that they must be carefully considered.
Essentially, Superhot VR plays like a First Person Shooter meets a Puzzle game, and it’s a pretty genius formula. While you can more or less wing it in earlier levels, later ones require a good degree of forethought and awareness of your surroundings. However, it is a pretty short game, with a total playtime of only a handful of hours (although, Superhot VR does provide a nice range of post-game challenge modes to encourage replays). Despite this, repetition sets in as the difficulty increases. Checkpoints occur every five levels or so, which means if you get stuck on a later section of a certain chain, you’ll have to keep playing through the the entire sequence until you get it right.
This sounds fair, and wouldn’t be a major problem if the tracking on the PlayStation VR version of Superhot VR wasn’t so hit and miss. For a game that hinges on precise movements in short bursts of action, not knowing if the gun you just aimed and fired is actually going to hit its target is an issue. In most cases it’s fine, the tracking on the VR headset itself when dodging bullets is generally rock solid. Punching bad guys, swinging melee weapons or firing large-range weapons like shotguns are generally all fine too. But when trying to throw a ninja star at a specific target, or fire a bullet at an enemy on a distant balcony, the PlayStation Move controllers’ tracking wobbles far too much for you to do so with any certainty of precision. On a game that relies on you staying still to freeze time, it’s also very annoying when the camera loses tracking of the controllers momentarily, causing them to wobble on-screen and speed up time without your control.
Despite these issues, Superhot VR is one of the best VR games out there right now. It’s an actual kick-ass action game, where you become the ass-kicker, resplendent in your oversized VR goggles and moist sweatpants, rather than just a slob on the couch yelling obscenities into the void. I would imagine the tracking issues would be lessened on other platforms such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but the PlayStation VR version is still hugely enjoyable, if mildly frustrating from time to time.
- Conceptually, a perfect fit for VR - Beautifully plays like the lovechild of an FPS and a puzzle game - Clean, unique aesthetic - Immersive sound design
- Tracking issues on PlayStation VR hurt the precise gameplay - Repetition sets in early, and the game isn't very long