Music is a universal language and alongside it is the timeless feeling of wanting to be a rock star. We have all grabbed random inanimate objects and proceeded to rock out to our favorite songs in an attempt to simulate that superstar adrenaline. Now thanks to combine efforts of Harmonix and Oculus we can all transcend our fantasies and literally become virtual rock stars in Rock Band VR.
My initial thought on Rock Band VR before playing it at PAX West was that it was an attempt to cash in one last time on the franchise with VR being its hook to reel consumers in one last time, or how would it even work? Having the highway of notes speed its way toward you in a virtual space sounded more disastrous than playing Wii Sports without the Wiimote strap. However the team at Harmonix cleverly developed a new way to play that utilizes the guitar and Oculus in a way that made rocking out better than it’s been to date.
Instead of the traditional highway of notes that draw toward you, you play by combining different chords and rhythms at the correct time. You are given audio and vibration cues that signal you to look down at the neck of your guitar that will glow with the next chord you need to play. If you come in on beat you will keep the party jumping, but if you miss the time or screw up the cord the crowd will get antsy. This may sound confusing at first, but once the headset is on and you can fully look around at your band mates and the guitar in your hand it all makes logical sense.
What really impressed me wasn’t the simplified way of playing that had its own unique complexity, but how they integrated movement in the game along with the gestures that you do. At any time you can warp to different points on the stage by looking at orange glowing circles on the stage and tapping the whammy bar. Want to hear the song better? Wrap next to the singer. Want to stand by the drummer during his epic fill? Go for it. Beyond that you can earn extra points by doing rock moves such as the “no-no”. By shaking your head, as if you’re telling someone no, to the beat will net you some major star points. There are other virtual rock moves that you can do, but you’ll have to figure those out the more you play.
As far as visuals go it’s reminiscent of the very first Rock Band, but the colors pop with neon flair to help it not look dated. Star power in Rock Band VR is interesting, and the most stimulating, when it comes to everything you see in the game. Once your meter is filled you shoot bolts of star power into the crowd, which excites them.
Rock Band VR is turning out to be much more than a cash grab. It changes the way you play to focus more on rhythm and cords than complex note combination in favor of a more fun experience. While making traversing the stage and jamming along to the song a major part of the experience. It may not be a game you will play for months after its release, but it will provide just as much star power as its predecessors.