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Rock Band VR makes you a virtual guitar god, without the virtual drugs

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 6, 2016
Keep on rocking in the virtual world

When last we saw Rock Band VR back at GDC it was essentially just the obvious ”Rock Band in virtual reality.” Put on the Oculus Rift and you’d see yourself on stage, guitar in hand, adoring crowd staring up at you in rapt anticipation. The familiar “Note Highway” would appear at the foot of the stage, and you’d play a song.

But as I mentioned in my impressions, “The current foot-of-the-stage placement for the note track leaves you with little time to admire your surroundings.” If you’ve played Rock Band on a normal TV, you know what I mean—your eyes are locked onto the stream of upcoming notes. You could light my living room on fire and I probably wouldn’t notice until the end of a song. (Please don’t do this.)

So Harmonix decided to go a different direction. That’s what we saw at PAX this weekend, holed up in a hotel meeting room.

What the team’s essentially done is taken the freestyle guitar solos from Rock Band 4 and fleshed them out to entire songs. In Rock Band 4, Harmonix changed guitar solos from a complicated set of licks to a more performative system where any button you played, you’d sound good. You could play fast, you could play slow, and it’d always be in key—the important part.

rock band

It was a bit more like playing a real guitar solo, though the tradeoff for Rock Band purists was that it made the game less skill-based and less points-driven. And if you’re that type of super-technical Rock Band player? Well, you probably won’t like what’s been done with Rock Band VR.

Harmonix has ditched the note highway entirely, at least in the default mode of Rock Band VR. I confirmed that you could turn it back on and—presumably—stick with the old foot-of-the-stage note highway design. We’ll take a look when the full game releases.

But the intended way to play Rock Band VR is now “freestyle everything.” Harmonix has recorded a ton of guitar riffs which then, depending on what buttons you’re holding down and how fast you strum, are played in time with the original song and sort-of feel like “playing guitar.”

There’s a skill-based portion to this—different button combinations represent different chord types, and playing them at specific times or playing various patterns will net you score multipliers. Two buttons side-by-side? Muted power chord. Two buttons with a gap in between? Regular power chord. And so on.

The point though is that you can make music without really needing to pay attention to any one thing. The “suggested” chord shapes appear on the guitar’s headstock if you’re going for score, but Rock Band VR is more concerned with the feel of being on-stage.


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