Superhot is a game we’ve never warmed to as much as we feel we should. It was originally released last year on PC and Xbox One, but it’s take until now for it to make its debut on PlayStation 4. The reason for that wait is obvious: to get the game working in VR, and that’s definitely the best way to play it. Or at least it is on PC. With PlayStation VR it has the unfortunate effect of exposing the limitations of Sony’s hardware in a way few other games have.
Somewhat confusingly there are two versions of Superhot being released on PlayStation 4 this month. The first doesn’t work in VR and is essentially the same game as released on Xbox One last year. Superhot VR is a separate purchase (there’s a bundle with both for £32.99) and is a sort of expansion pack style sequel to the original.
The gameplay and graphics are still largely the same either way, but by playing it in virtual reality the experience is transformed into something even more arresting. But faced with such astonishing visuals it’s all the more frustrating when the gameplay experience isn’t of the same quality.
The concept behind Superhot is perfectly summed up by its tagline: ‘Time moves only when you move’. In practice this works by time being paused by default, and only moving forward as you do. So while you’re standing still enemies and bullets will be suspended in space. And while that gives you an obvious advantage, you have to bear in mind that everything else will start moving the moment you do.
As high concept ideas go that’s almost stratospheric, but the problem with basing a game on a single, unique idea like this is it’s difficult to construct a full and varied game around it. Some manage it, such as Portal, but others struggle to come across as anything more than a one trick pony. Portal is a good comparison here, because although both games look like first person shooters – and the goal in Superhot is to kill everyone in a level – they’re really puzzle games first and foremost.
The first mistake to make with Superhot is to try and play it like an action game. In reality, you don’t need any arcade skills to progress, with careful forward planning being the real secret to success – especially as you can die from a single hit from a bullet or club.
It’s also important to remember that your projectiles also need time to travel to their targets, and so although you might have an enemy dead to rights you need to allow for the fact that the bullet doesn’t travel instantaneously. Although in many cases you don’t actually start with a gun, and even when you grab one from an enemy they’re often very limited in terms of ammunition.
These more complex considerations enforce the sort of choreography that would shame even the most inventive action movie, as you catch guns in mid-air, throw them at enemies to disarm them, and slice bullets in half with your knife.
The problem with the original was that there are very few new weapons or abilities introduced as the game progresses, and relatively few new tactics to learn. Which made it feel more like an early access game than a finished product. The problem with Superhot VR is more fundamental: it feels like a tech demo. And the kind where the developer decides that actually, the hardware just isn’t up to it.
The PlayStation VR is an amazing bit of kit for the price, but it has its limitations in terms of precision and accuracy – and Superhot VR almost seems specifically designed to highlight them all. The game is constantly interpreting the slightest twitch as an intended action, or simply imagining movement that you swear you never took.
As a result of it being a port from the PC, the PlayStation Move is also intended as the main control system. But it proves even more inaccurate and unreliable than the headset.
In a game that can be frustratingly hard at the best of times, and relies on careful precision in almost everything you do, this is disastrous. Especially as the checkpoint is very limited (in order, it seems, to hide the fact that the game is really only an hour or two long) and you have to go right back to the beginning of a section if you mess up.
The unfortunate thing is that Superhot VR has clearly been designed with the more general limitations of VR in mind – trying to create a first person shooter style game where nausea is not an issue – but while this works with more expensive PC headsets the PlayStation VR isn’t quite up to the job. Which unfortunately pours cold water on the game’s other achievements.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Developer: Superhot Team
Release Date: 19th July 2017
Age Rating: 12