18 years ago, the Wachowski brothers film ‘The Matrix’ was released and there is no denying the impact it had on the world of entertainment. From its successful portrayal of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi world, dipped deep in heavy cyber punk themes whilst being mixed with well choreographed martial arts, amazing set pieces and introducing the world to the magic of ‘Bullet time’ for the first time. For my 19 yr old self, this was the film I didn’t realise I needed in my life. I remember bouncing out of the cinema, riding the buzz of excitement and trying to remember every scene that left me stunned at how awesome it was.
Now, this is a good point to ask why the hell I’m waxing lyrical about my first experience watching The Matrix. Well, it’s all about that first time I witnessed The Matrix’s bullet time. That completely blew my mind. Having the camera orbit around a character whilst they gracefully dodged bullets and punches before effortlessly retaliating back, and As ‘time’ returns to normal, our hero stands tall, victoriously poised and guarded for the next dangerous event to tackle. I know, I know. Shut up and get on with it. But stay with me, this is all relevant. You see, Superhot VR finally let me experience what Keanu Reeves’ character, ‘Neo’, experiences every time he manipulates the Matrix to his advantage. I finally get to experience bullet time. And while many other games over the years have attempted to recreate that same cinematic ‘action’ experience that bullet time is meant to provide, nothing has ever truly matched how my mind imagined it to be, until now.
Starting off in a dingy, claustrophobic room, various old PC’s are dotted around you; hard disk drives clicking away with the only illumination coming from the few monitors flashing in front of you. Kudos to the developers for placing an old Amiga 1200 in the background, I genuinely appreciated that little throw back. Anyway, above you, is an oversized VR helmet and sitting on the desk, between the PC’s and you are a solitary floppy disk, titled with ‘SuperHot’. Picking it up, and slotting it into the floppy disk drive prompts you to pick up the helmet and slide it over your head, taking you into the world of SuperHot. It’s a nice touch which serves as the main menu of the game and becomes more functional after you complete the game. Where more floppy disks appear on the desk, representing other modes to play and ‘post it’ notes appear on the door highlighting which challenges you have successfully managed to complete.
The real magical mechanic to SuperHot VR is how everything in the game world is tied to your own movement. Standing perfectly still and the world stays perfectly still with you. Moving your head, body or hands causes the world to move with you, at exactly the same speed as you. Move slowly and the world moves slowly with you allowing you to easily anticipate how everyone is going to move and when they will shoot. Move fast and you better know exactly how everyone is going to react as you probably won’t have time to respond to the enemy’s movements. Reckless, wasted head or hand movements will give your enemies the advantage as you gift them time to position themselves better to kill you leaving you open to be sent back to the beginning of the level. Every single movement you make, whether that is turning your head to see what caught your eye or moving your left hand towards that gun to your side has to be considered as you try and keep track of every enemy around you. Do you have time to grab that gun, move it into position and fire at the person in front of you before the enemy to your opposite side can fire? This becomes an all too common consideration, especially as the levels get busier and complex.
Once the enemies start shooting, every bullet then becomes a mini-lethal assailant you also have to keep track of. It’s not long before you have shotgun blasts, Uzi sprays and precision handgun shots filling the air between you and them causing you to stand still and try to plan how you are going to react to the hail of death just waiting for you to start moving again. And this is where some of SuperHot VR’s magical moments come into play, that feeling of being ‘Neo’ in the Matrix my diatribe at the beginning completely over-laboured. Dodging bullets never gets old, especially when you can trace and follow them as they narrowly pass your head and fly beyond the dead space behind you. Let me describe a common scene you will encounter in SuperHot VR;
The bad guy has the drop on you. He’s about 1 meter away but just beyond your arm’s length to grab the shotgun out of his hands and turn the weapon back on its master. You can already anticipate the moment the blast is going to happen and all it takes is one hasty, uncontrolled move and your head isn’t going to be sitting on your shoulders for much longer. You slow your movements down to a snails crawl. You start to rotate one wrist almost like your fingers are wrapped around a dial, acutely aware of the speed you are moving at as if time is directly tied into that one hand movement and allowing you to fine tune time to exactly when this attacker is going to shoot you. Time is moving at such a slow pace that the moment the blast appears from the shotgun, you can stop moving. You start rotating your wrist even slower until you see the pellets from the cartridge emerge beyond the barrels blast. Each pellet has a red slipstream, giving you an idea of the trajectory they are going to take and is the key component for your next, crucial decision. Do I have enough ‘time left’ if I move my body to the left or right? Can I duck? Any movement I make is going to leave little room for error. Can I combine my dodge and the movement of my other hand, which has a handgun, and get it into position to shoot him the second I’ve avoided the present danger? The decision is made, I pivot my upper body enough that it moves my head beyond the path of the shotgun’s pellets. Slowing down time also causes the sound to slow down too and the noise of the pellets whizzing past my right ear causes me to slowly rotate my head towards them and I can see each and every one, spinning on their axis as they sail past me. All this while I’m still raising my hand up and aiming my gun in the general direction of my attacker. The current danger now passed, I pull the trigger of the gun while I rotate my head back towards my victim, only to see them start to shatter from the blast of my first bullet as their shotgun starts to fly towards me from their hands, handle first, ready to be caught and used against the remaining, dwindling group.
The above encounter starts to become very common and it’s hard not to feel extremely powerful as you pivot, duck and dodge bullets in graceful balletic moves that you quickly learn to combine with perfectly aimed gun shots, deflecting bullets with knives and catching weapons that always seen to get tossed in your direction as you kill enemies. Every level gives you the sense that you are being filmed in an action scene for a high budget movie and the sense of satisfaction you get from carrying out a completely improvised set of moves and skills to beat the level is unparalleled.
You will die, however. You will die a lot and Dying will always take you back to the beginning of the level. Each level is broken up into a series of linked scenarios, such as escaping from a helicopter and making your way through a building full of enemies. You will quickly become familiar where enemies come from and where weapons and objects are placed for you to use each time you are forced to fight your way through them. Some scenarios will become so engrained in you that you can literally storm through them, quickly picking up weapons, dodging bullets and killing enemies without considering your time controlling abilities. That’s not to say they will play out the same each and every time you tackle them. While enemy and object placement will always be the same, they won’t always fire at the same time or move in the same direction and will even react differently to what weapons you do or don’t have, causing them to behave in, sometimes, unexpected ways. It’s not enough to cause each scenario to play out completely differently, but it is enough to keep you on your toes and adds to that feeling of satisfaction of throwing in an improvised sequence of moves that beats the sequence when that one enemy does something you didn’t expect.
Graphically speaking, SuperHot VR isn’t a graphical benchmark. But it was never positioned to be one. It does, however, resemble what VR looked like with the age of the equipment being used in the ‘main menu’ of the game, a simple consistent detail I at least appreciated. It’s basic, mono coloured environments, red manikin-like assailants and black interact able objects gives the game a very chic artistic flair, but equally, it bestows an easily recognisable visual language into the game that helps the player immeasurably by allowing them to quickly identify what you need to do to complete a level. If Jason Bourne can size up a room and know exactly what can be used as a lethal weapon and identify who the possible threats are, I imagine SuperHot VR’s visual finger print gives a pretty damn good impression of how that mindset feels. The exact moment the level starts, these recognisable elements allow the player to quickly become aware of their surroundings and know in a quick glance what’s available to them to use and who to use it on. It also serves the player the ability to quickly identify unexpected threats that might not be present at first and allow you to react quicker than you may have without these visual cues. It hasn’t been the first time where I’ve, at the last moment, spotted a bad guy in the corner of my eye, his bullets already half way between his barrel and my head and I’ve been able to identify, in that brief moment, where I need to move to and how to retaliate.
SuperHot VR is a short game where the ‘campaign’ mode can be completed in one sitting if you dedicate the time to play it. But once completed, challenge modes become available to tackle, such as headshot only kills, survivor modes or a higher difficulty challenge mode. All of which are just as fun to play through as the standard game mode. However, the fun I experienced through the short campaign, or even the challenge modes are enough to keep bringing me back to experience them over and over and maybe even find new and more creative ways to beat each scenario.
One caveat that should be considered before picking this up is your current PSVR setup. I, unfortunately, don’t have a great deal of space to dedicate to my PSVR setup at the moment and I found this to be an annoying hindrance to progressing through SuperHot VR. Some levels will have weapons sitting ready to be picked up at your feet, or even at convenient positions below knee level to the left or right of you and if your PlayStation camera can’t track your Move controllers at that level then you will struggle greatly to pick them up, if at all. Equally, there will be moments when a particularly close kill will cause their weapon to fly over your head and if your camera can’t track your Move controllers above head height, you are going to struggle there too. It can have a dramatic impact on your ability to progress through some levels, resulting in you having to come up with specific, calculated kills and moves to be able to progress beyond those levels. However, any level that didn’t force me to go beyond the limited boundaries of my setup proved how well SuperHot VR’s ability to track my movements were. Effortlessly, and impressively, tracking my hands as they caught weapons in the air, deflecting bullets with knifes and dodging bullets mere centimetres from my head. When the tracking works, the experience in genuinely breathtaking and it will leave you with a huge grin reaching ear to ear, but it can’t be denied having little space to dedicate to PSVR will have a negative impact on your experience. As an aside I have read quite a few anecdotal reports from other owners who have a wider space to dedicate to their PSVR setup and they never experienced the problems I had. So, it seems at least, if you have the space to play SuperHot VR, then tracking won’t be an issue to affect you much, if at all.
In the end, SuperHot VR is a short, but genuinely exhilarating experience. It provides a level of empowerment to the player that very few games can achieve, even other VR Games of a similar genre. It’s a one trick pony that you won’t get tired of and you will easily find yourself going back for more, even after you’ve completed it. Assuming you are happy with your existing PSVR setup and environment, this is an essential title you don’t want to miss.
Code provided by publisher and as always we thank you for it.