Let’s talk about SUPERHOT VR

Oculus Touch is finally available and with it come a slew of Oculus Studio funded games, perhaps the most hotly anticipated of which is SUPERHOT VR. Following on from its Kickstarter success in June of 2014 and commercial release in February of 2016, the VR version takes the intensity and action of the original game to a whole new level.

As excited as I am about a new SUPERHOT and as hype as I know many people on the internet are, I’d like to take a more critical look at SUPERHOT VR. I worry that the finer points will be overlooked in favor of people recounting their most harrowing experiences. Before diving into the details, I’d like to preface my critique by saying that I absolutely love SUPERHOT VR. Both as an experience and as a source of incredible stories SUPERHOT VR delivers on what made the original game great.  The feeling of ultimate power and generally just being a badass carries you through the early sections. The visual spectacle of destruction is breathtaking from start to finish, and as the difficulty increases each win feels hard-fought and satisfying.

It’s perhaps because of how difficult the encounters becomes near the end that the flaws being to stand out more to me. On the PC version objects like bottles and ash trays were bountiful but when thrown would only stop an enemy temporarily and maybe make them drop the gun they had. In VR all thrown objects are one-hit kills, assuming you can make contact. This would be great except the throwing feels awful. I never have a sense of how hard or how far I’m throwing something. Even trying to hit an enemy at close range I’ll end up throwing it wide more often than not.

I understand the desire to have realistic throwing with the Touch controls, but without any indication of trajectory I quickly learned to only throw objects as a last resort. On top of issues with the feel of throwing objects, the hitboxes on the geometry of the world is noticeably rough in places. Throwing around corners or between to objects will almost always result in the object shattering on an invisible plane jutting out from the wall. It’s a shame because when those thrown hit do occasionally land, it’s a great feeling to see an enemy being blasted into bits.

Stepping away from the mechanics to look at SUPERHOT VR as a whole, one more thing sticks out at me. Unlike the PC version, the VR version features no additional play modes outside of the story. Endless mode had several variations including an unlimited mode where enemies would assail you until you were defeated, and timed modes to see how enemies you could kill in a given time. Challenge mode allowed you to replay the story but with restrictions such as Katana Only, Throwing (can’t use guns, thrown weapons hits are lethal), Real Time (time doesn’t slow down at all), and Ghost (all punches are lethal, can’t use gun). These additional modes add to the replayability and continue to challenge the player far beyond the difficulty of the normal story mode and the VR version lacks all of this.

SUPERHOT VR stands out in my mind as more of an extended VR experience than a video game. Let me explain what I mean by that because I understand that describing something as an ‘experience’ may sound like an insult to some folks. For me SUPERHOT VR is a lot like Hotline Miami (another game that I love to death). I see both as being an execution puzzle; you’re presented with a problem (dudes want to kill you) and given the tools to resolve the problems and the difficulty is in finding an execution that’s efficient. In both SUPERHOT VR and Hotline Miami the puzzling is made difficult from a lack of information and the need to make decisions on the fly.

After playing through the story mode in SUPREHOT VR most of the mystery surrounding the levels and placement of enemies has vanished. Hotline Miami gives you a plethora of masks to choose from that vary the gameplay and SUPERHOT PC has challenge modes to mix up the core gameplay but SUPERHOT VR lacks any of this. As much as I’d love to dive back in, I don’t really feel anything drawing me back after completing the story. Maybe I’ll play it again in a year and I’ll probably have a blast with it then too but right now I’m sad that it ended so soon. There’s nothing inherently wrong with VR experiences (and maybe I should have tempered my expectations) but I was hoping SUPERHOT VR would be the first game that could hold my attention and truly be a video game rather than a one-time experience and I’m pretty bummed out. To the game’s credit, shooting feels great and the VR version excels at body awareness, making it easy (at least in theory) to dodge oncoming bullets.

At the end of the day I put SUPERHOT VR into the same category as games like Gone Home or Inside; A single play through is sufficient to experience what the game wants to convey. For what it is, SUPERHOT VR is an incredible, unforgettable experience but falls short because the core idea behind it has the potential for so much more. Maybe one day down the line, perhaps after the Oculus exclusivity period is up and this gets into the hands of Vive users, the folks behind SUPERHOT will patch in some additional content. Regardless of all my complaints, I would wholeheartedly recommend SUPERHOT VR to anyone who owns an Oculus with Touch controllers (given that they have a large enough area to play in).

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