… you’re frozen to the spot…
A bullet hovers, stationary, abruptly halted along that incomplete vector from barrel to your face. It’s barely a foot from its intended destination. Without moving your head you allow your knees to bend. The very act of crouching seems to gently turn the crank on the passage of time and the bullet slowly proceeds forward. You continue to crouch, but can’t resist letting your eyes follow the projectile as it sails over your head. This is a game played out long-form over fractions of seconds.
Super Hot is a game that’s been on my radar for a long time; novel time disrupting mechanics often interest me and the concept of Super Hot, an FPS where time only moves when you do, was a serenade to that bit of my brain. Unfortunately I’ve also got a superficial part to my personality and I’m entirely guilty in this case of judging a book my its cover; in short, that angular stark red on white aesthetic turned me off the whole idea of even trying the game. It’s just not something I found appealing and each time I browsed the store page I couldn’t ever quite get past the initial nose-screwing-up to hit the buy button.
My evenings recently however have involved much furniture shuffling as I’ve had a spree of VR gaming. During various internet delvings to find out which VR title I should jump in to next, I consistently saw high praise for the VR version of Super Hot, so I took a deep breath and set aside my visual preferences to give it a shot.
At its core Super Hot VR is a simple concept: The player is dropped into short combat scenarios against the aforementioned ‘red-angular-antagonists’ with the sole aim of taking them all down. Each of these encounters sees the player unarmed and needing to acquire weapons from either the floor, fallen-foes… or just resorting to VR fisticuffs. The catch is that time only moves forward when you move or perform an action; stand still enough and you can ponder for hours the best way to dodge the two stationary bullets heading your way theoretically. This turns a run-of-the-mill fast combat scenario in to a dynamic puzzle with the player working out which weapon to reach for and which order to take down enemies in order that their hands move the least distance. I found myself often dual wielding to take shots at enemies both where I was looking and behind me to reduce the precious head movement I needed to ‘spend’.
… not that there aren’t sudden moments of action. Punches need to be delivered with a little velocity and despite there being no ‘rush’ I couldn’t help but snatch the odd gun quickly out of the air and let a round rip when the moment called for it. More often than not however, quick movements are risky to the novice player and the game frequently reminds you with a swift round restart caused by an unseen assailant.
This all kind of brings me around to my main take home message about Super Hot VR; it’s a remarkably physical game. Sure, it’s not the fast frenetic wild ride of light sabre swinging that is Beat Saber, but I certainly worked up a sweat. If I were someone who understood exercise classes, I might relate it to Pilates.. or Yoga… movements are slow, controlled and deliberate. Couple this ‘focussed’ movement with slow motion crouching, lunging, flexing, and generally putting my body through a range of action stances that you would typically see displayed by a buff & toned Hollywood actor must be doing something good for my physique… other than highlighting just how far it is from that of Hugh Jackman… VR gives us the chance to immerse ourselves in a different world and Super Hot is a great example of how that immersion can be more than just looking around spectacular scenery in wonder. It draws the player’s entire body into the action and forces the player to physically commit to the gameplay setting; I couldn’t imagine playing it successfully without throwing myself in to each slow-mo sidestep, dodge, or right hook.
… wait wait wait… I’m not the only one who plays this game moving as though I’m in a John Woo movie am I?… am I?…
Despite the overwhelmingly positive gameplay experiences I’ve had with Super Hot VR, I can’t say I’m entirely over my misgivings about the stark and simple presentation… I know, it’s not like me to be hung up on aesthetics, especially when it’s so bold and daring. For what it’s worth I appreciate the developer’s commitment to this admittedly striking presentation, but it still isn’t something that I find particularly appealing. There is a range of varied locales hidden in that sea of background white if you look hard enough and I can’t help but wish it was all just ‘nicer’ to look at.
The main game provided me with a couple of hours entertainment from start to finish which is typical of many VR titles and feels about the right amount given that once the core concept has been introduced it’s mostly just more of the same. There is also a healthy helping of bonus modes for those who make it to the end and want to keep exploring this brand of time manipulating combat.
Overall Super Hot VR is a title for those who want a dynamic puzzle game that makes great use of the technology. It’ll resonate with players who thrive on a game loop that encourages refinement and optimisation and, despite my own misgivings about the presentation, it’s a worthy addition to any VR library.