REVIEW: “SUPERHOT” Lives in Slow-Motion

  • reviewed on PlayStation 4 / rated T / released July 2017
  • “SUPERHOT” and “SUPERHOT VR” are priced at $24.99 each, or in a bundle for $39.99
  • OFFICIAL SITE: superhotgame.com
  • PURCHASE LINK: PlayStation Store
  • FINAL: You NEED these games. 5 out of 5 stars

Ever since “The Matrix” showed Keanu Reeves twisting to avoid slow-motion bullets, video games have scrambled to put players inside that kind of impressive, impossible action. While “bullet time” has found its way into plenty of games, it’s never felt as good as it does inside “SUPERHOT.”

A first-person shooter game with a unique, low-fi visual style, “SUPERHOT” has a compelling hook: time only advances when you move. If you stand still, bullets freeze in motion (or at least move very, very slowly), carving pointy trails in the air, giving you time to look around and plan your attack. You have total control of your movement speed, so you can race around the room or immediately stop, and the “Red Dude” enemies will all follow that lead.

The effect is that you are moving at super-speed, watching as fighters charge forward or raise gun barrels in your direction, and then reacting in triple-time. Punch a dude so he drops his gun, snatch the gun as it arcs away in mid-air, turn around and shoot a second dude, then deke left so a third guy fires his shotgun at the space you just exited. The challenge for each level almost comes down to pattern memorization, since enemies will appear at specific locations and times. It’s easy to get overwhelmed until you start playing smart, learning the scene, and prioritizing your action movie moves.

This time-manipulating gimmick would probably be enough to cement “SUPERHOT” as the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years, but the game surrounds itself with an immersive narrative and a retro frame. The menus all bring to mind the pre-Windows days, like you’re playing “SUPERHOT” on a 1984 IBM Personal Computer with DOS. Pixel text, 56k modems and ASCII art form a metatextual story with you at the center, only-slightly-willingly dragged into a video game world.

At the same time, the game itself is beautifully modern, presenting stark white landscapes populated by bright red bad guys. Levels begin and end with overlaid instructional text that echoes the game’s “Big Brother is Always Watching” theme. “SUPERHOT” blends new and old design motifs to create a world that is both familiar and futuristic.

Now let’s add Virtual Reality to the mix. “SUPERHOT VR” is a completely separate sequel game that drops you even deeper into the “bullet time” vibe. Now you’re standing inside the white-walled environments looking for Red Dudes in all directions. Unlike the original game, the VR version does not let you freely explore. You can duck and bob and look in every direction, but you do not actually run forward. Time is still controlled in much the same way, however, just tweaked to follow your actual real-life head and arm motion.

To give an example of how well “SUPERHOT VR” immerses you in the action movie vibe, one level starts you in a kitchen standing by a bar with a frying pan (and a gun; there’s usually always guns strewn around in “SUPERHOT.”) As the scene begins, two Red Dudes are charging at you. One is coming right at your face, while the second is flanking on your left, on the other side of the bar. After a couple failed attempts, I realized that by the time I dealt with the first guy, the second dude was behind me firing bullets. So my way through this was to pick up the frying pan and use it to block the shots on my left, so as to give me enough time to punch out the first guy.

Remember, this is now in VR… so I’m actually gesturing in real life as if I’m holding a frying pan behind me, without looking because I have to focus on the guy slowly swinging in to attack me from the front. I can hear the bullets to my rear pinging off of the frying pan, buying me the split-seconds I need to survive the simultaneous attacks.

As you might expect, “SUPERHOT VR” is more intense than regular “SUPERHOT,” now that the protective wall of your flatscreen TV has been removed. You’re physically in each scene, dodging slow-mo shotgun blasts and wincing when you get tagged by an unexpected bullet. Owning VR hardware is still a big ask (“SUPERHOT VR” uses two motion controllers on PlayStation 4 in addition to the VR helmet), but if you’ve got the gear, “SUPERHOT VR” is one of the top experiences available.

Both “SUPERHOT” and “SUPERHOT VR” overturn the structure of the typical run-and-gun game, transforming the simple concept into something you really have to think about. Even though everything happens inside this weird time-distorting fog, “SUPERHOT” has a way of making you feel super-cool.

“SUPERHOT” is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac OSX and Windows. “SUPERHOT VR” is available for PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This review is based on product supplied by the developer. Images courtesy SUPERHOT Team.