[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
I’ll keep the opening short and spare you having to waste time reading a bunch of words you don’t give a darn about: Superhot VR is a fun game to play on the PlayStation VR and you should buy it. Now you don’t have to bother your time anymore with this review, but if you need a few reasons as to why this game is worth buying I’ll give you a few.
So first of all, you’re not going to be enticed with Superhot or Superhot VR on the PlayStation VR due to graphics. The game has a low-poly look to it with a literal whitebox environmental aesthetic that suits the game’s premise, which centers around testing a dangerous piece of software known as Superhot. Within the lore of the game, Superhot is a dangerous game in development that can literally take over your mind.
The game plays on VR mind horror concepts not unlike Videodrome or eXistenz. However, the actual gameplay of Superhot VR doesn’t bother with any of the philosophically psychedelic themes introduced in the original Superhot. Instead, Superhot VR is all about the gameplay and only the gameplay, and I can thoroughly say that this game was designed for having fun in VR.
Everything starts in a cruddy little cyberpunk apartment where players are instructed to use the PlayStation Move wands to pick up and place a disk inside of an old desktop computer. In between completing levels, the cruddy apartment works as the place where your game is saved, where previous levels can be played, and where you can generally get an idea of how far in (or how far from the finish) you are.
So you’re still probably wondering what makes the game fun? Well, what makes it fun is that it’s very intuitive and works particularly well within the confines of VR.
Unlike the main game you can’t move around in Superhot VR on the PlayStation VR, other than the minor room scale movement you can make, which consists of as many steps that your actual room will allow you to make within the fulcrum of the PlayStation Camera.
The premise is that time only advances when you move; any movement, any action, any fraction of a twitch will cause time to advance with said movement. Throughout each of the levels enemies will attempt to kill you using either their fists or any weapons they can get their hands on. The awesome part is that this gives you a perfect opportunity to perform some real life Matrix moves by dodging bullets by actually leaning, ducking and moving your body.
You can throw actual punches with your fists to destroy enemies. If you’re good enough you can also catch bullets in your hand, and you can even walk up to and grab the guns out of the hands of your enemy and punch them in the face with it.
Unlike the normal Superhot rendition, the VR version also makes it way easier to duck, dodge and block bullets. In one instance I grabbed a frying pan off the kitchen counter and blocked all incoming bullets from the side, while throwing a meat cleaver at the guy in front of me and swatting off the head of the guy attempting to sneak up behind me. This kind of intuitive control mechanism gives the game an incredible amount of depth and freedom when it comes to player actions.
Having the ability to use your left and right hand independently to perform actions also gives the game a near infinite amount of replayability given that you can play the same levels over and over again and find new ways to complete them.
This obviously doesn’t mean that the game is easy. Far from it. I got stuck multiple times on some stages for up to half an hour.
The way it works is that each main level is broken down into multiple sub-stages, usually consisting of three to four stages. If you complete all the stages you advance to the next level. If you fail any of those stages you have to repeat all of the stages in that level from the beginning. As you can imagine, this creates some super frantic moments as you attempt to assess each stage, find ways to defeat the baddies, and not die in the process.
The VR element makes where you can seriously exploit both the vertical and lateral movements afforded by the PlayStation VR headset. In one stage I jumped up and reset the default camera position while I was in the air. This started the stage where I was elevated quite high. I waited for the bad guys to shoot several rounds into the air and then proceeded to duck and reset the camera position again. This set me much lower to the ground, allowing me to easily dodge and weave and get closer to the baddies. I only came up with this tactic after dying about a dozen times beforehand.
It’s the emergent element of virtual manipulation that makes a game like Superhot VR fun. While there’s no native locomotion, the ability to walk around within the small play-space afforded by the PlayStation Camera means that you can at least do things like hide behind nearby pillars, duck behind crates a few steps away, or use computer terminals as cover while you blind fire from a cover spot.
I found myself both genuinely entertained and having fun, thinking about how to best play those levels again and ways that I could do things differently the next time around.
However, there is a major downside to this game being on the PlayStation VR as opposed to what you get when playing on something as advanced as the HTC Vive.
This downside I’m talking about is the PlayStation Move tracking. The motion tracking can be absolutely horrendous at times. This isn’t necessarily a fault of the game but a fault of the PlayStation Camera’s poor limited periphery and the lack of proper room-scale tracking.
Hence, the big difference between the Vive and the PSVR is that when it comes time to performing actions like reaching down to pick up a shotgun sitting beside a crate, or moving some ninja stars aside to pick up a pistol on a counter, you can do all of those actions with ease on the Vive thanks to the room scale tracking. With the PSVR about nine times out of 10 there will be some kind of jitter when making movements with the PlayStation Move, especially when it comes to vertical hand movements. Sometimes it’s small, other times it’s bad… real bad.
This sometimes makes throwing objects an impossible task, and oftentimes it’s best to not even bother for long range throws due to how shoddy the tracking is when it comes to quick vertical motions.
When making lateral moves in short distances it’s tolerable, but when you have to make complicated z-depth movements – such as reaching down and behind an object where you may move closer or further away from the PlayStation Camera – the tracking will get wonky. In a game where movement forces time to advance, you can imagine what kind of frustrations spawn from having to make unnecessary movements to re-calibrate the position of a wand that might leave the play area or stop tracking due to being outside the view of the camera.
There are some rage-inducing moments where the lack of tracking will cost you some rounds, and this is all due to the fact that the PlayStation VR just fails hard when it comes to tracking depth.
Even still, I had so much fun with Superhot VR unlike so many other tech-demo style offerings for Sony’s VR headset. Most games either feel unfinished or are just poorly thought out, making them less than ideal for virtual reality.
Also keep in mind that Superhot VR on the PSVR still suffers from the low resolution and chromatic aberration that other PSVR titles suffer from. It’s just a standard technical limitation of the hardware at this point, and it’s something you’ll have to accept if you plan on keeping Sony’s VR solution in your possession. Recognize that the PSVR will never produce a game on par or in any capacity that measures up to the quality you will get from the HTC Vive.
Now Superhot VR is a fairly short game. I was able to beat it in just under four hours. For $24.99 it’s a risky proposition to dive into a game with a four-hour campaign. However, Superhot Team was smart enough to raise the value by making it where you can unlock a replay mode once you beat the game, and you can also unlock the Endless Mode, which features a handful of levels you can play over and over again that offer a wide variety of different challenges to overcome in some pretty cool, and well designed levels.
Due to the lack of locomotion, the Endless Mode sports a wave-based teleporter you can use that repositions you around a level, if you choose to make use of it. It’s an inventive way to get around being stuck within the small walking confines of the PlayStation Camera.
The Endless Mode is also an endless bastion of both challenge and fun. They managed to squeeze a lot of mileage out of the Unity 3D game on such a simple concept. It’s also one of the few VR games where I felt compelled to go back and just play the game for fun instead of having to play the game for work reasons. Very few games get that sort of wear and tear out of me, and for that I can say that if you have the HTC Vive you should definitely get Superhot VR for it because it’s the far superior version, but if you’re stuck with the poor man’s VR solution in the form of the PlayStation VR, you should definitely…