As I sit here, typing these words, my eyes are glazed over. I’m having trouble focusing because my mind is still in the metaverse. In most VR games you have a sense of presence that makes you feel like you’re really there, but it’s not enough to actually fool your brain. But in SUPERHOT VR, things are different. The marriage of simple polygonal visuals, the ambiguous sounds humming in the background, the feeling of standing in a white room, unmoving, frozen in time — it feels surreal. It’s at once immersive and completely outlandish.
There may never be a better example of a game concept that is entirely and profoundly revolutionized in every possible way when it makes the transition from standard 2D game to VR game. For those unaware, the premise behind SUPERHOT is that you have the remarkable ability to stop time. But unlike other games that might let you toggle this on and off with the press of a button, in SUPERHOT, time only moves when you do. In the original game, that was a nifty puzzle mechanic which cleverly melded first-person action games with the cerebral puzzle genre. But in the case of SUPERHOT VR, it’s nothing short of a revelation.
The developer rebuilt the entire game from the ground up to take advantage of this new immersive medium and it shows. While wearing the headset, you complete a series of puzzles with brief breaks and checkpoints along the way. Remember when I said time only moves when you move? In SUPERHOT VR, I mean that literally. Every movement of your arm you make to punch, or grab a gun, or do anything, causes time to crawl forward at the same pace you’re moving.
And thankfully, SUPERHOT VR does a wonderful job of slowly introducing you to new items, weapons, and mechanics as the game progresses. Your objective in every level is to hit all of the red crystal enemies that are trying to kill you. Pick up a bottle and hit them in the knee — dead. Punch them in the face — dead. Shoot their hand with a pistol — dead. It doesn’t matter what you do to hit them, as long as something makes contact with their red exteriors they’re vanquished.
Clever level design and an ingenious use of tension building claustrophobia makes each individual segment feel like a triumph once it’s been completed. Things start out simply enough as you punch your way through the first several enemies, but then things start to get a bit more interesting. Once several enemies start wielding guns, you’ll be forced to prioritize your targets. Since time moves when you do, any moments you spend taking out one enemy are moments the others spend trying to take you out.
See that guy up on top of the roof, shooting down at you through the window? By the time you kill him, the guy running up the stairs with a knife could have the drop on you. For a game that can literally be paused at any time by simply stopping what you’re doing. it’s an immensely stressful and intense experience. Getting surrounded with no escape feels terrifying, but at the same time it forces you to want more.
Each area can be surveyed with caution and strategy since it doesn’t being until you do. This clever mechanic is essentially the same as the non-VR counterpart, but the masterful incorporation into VR is what makes it stand out so much.
It likely won’t take you more than a couple of hours to finish, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll come away feeling like Neo from The Matrix made a baby with Deadpool and named it [insert your name here]. Stripping away so many of the extraneous elements and getting down to the core of what makes the game fun is one of the most liberating things about SUPERHOT VR. Early in the game, you’ll hear a short monologue play over a radio that’s precisely about game design — eliminating the monotony and focusing on the fun at the core of each experience — and it reinforces the meta-narrative of it all.
In many ways, it likely would have been easier to make SUPERHOT VR more complex and bloated than it is, but it serves a shining testament to the notion that streamlining does not have to necessarily sacrifice depth. Every segment feels like a perfectly balanced and pitch-perfect presentation of the game’s philosophy, as if you were to watch a marathon of the best action scenes of all-time, except you got to act them out inside the world of your favorite superhero movie.
And just like any good puzzle game, which is what SUPERHOT VR is at its core, only with stylish first-person action gameplay, there is a satisfying difficulty ramp that never feels unfair. By the end you’ll be sweating and probably feel more limber than you did before playing, but nothing is overtly difficult.
SUPERHOT VR is a pure, distilled, injection of unadulterated adrenaline that will get your blood pumping just as quickly as time stops in the game itself. With every movement you make, time creeps forward ever so slightly, and everything from the level design to the way it feels to dodge a series of bullets in slow-motion is orchestrated to reinforce the core ideals of the experience. From start to finish it plays out like a fantasy ripped from the screen of every action movie; an indulgent cacophony of visual and gameplay excitement.
SUPERHOT VR is now available for the Oculus Rift with Touch on the Oculus Home Store for $24.99