And it works, at least in the realm of a fifteen minute demo. I played through Van Halen’s “Panama” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and it’s freeing to not have to stare at the damn note highway. You can better appreciate the fact that you’re really on-stage! Playing a show for people with weirdly big heads! They’re all cheering for you! You can look over at the drummer, noodle around with the bassist, or get right up in front of the stage and play guitar into the faces of your fans.
Hell, you can even do Angus Young’s weird little trot-squat move and trigger overdrive (instead of lifting the guitar neck). It’s dumb, it’s fantastic, and I’m so happy Harmonix thought of it.
Rock Band VR is concerned with presentation, with the experience. And that’s a pretty good place for a virtual reality game to start from, not slavishly porting old features into a medium that doesn’t work.
My worry at the moment however is that it’s a great VR demo, maybe not so great once the novelty wears off. I’m a big Rock Band fan, but part of the draw was playing with friends. That’s gone in Rock Band VR, since it’s just guitar. The other draw, and the thing that convinced me to sometimes play alone? The skill portion. Getting better at a riff, running it over and over until you could nail it note for note and see your score at the end. That, too, is mostly gone in Rock Band VR. You can chase score with the new chord system—Harmonix made sure to tell me that many, many times during my demo—but it doesn’t provide the immediate feedback or satisfaction of nailing a riff on the note highway.
There is a story mode in Rock Band VR though, and that could be the game’s saving grace—something to convince you to keep playing even once the “Oh, I’m on stage!” glee runs out. Rock Band 4’s career mode was pretty hilarious, and I’m hoping Harmonix can bring that spirit and creativity over to VR. There’s a lot that could be done to make you feel like you’re living that rock star lifestyle from the confines of your living room.
One last thing I think’s important to mention: You’re going to want some real speakers for this one, or some decent standalone headphones. I’ve been impressed with Oculus’s built-in headphones—they’re convenient, and put out pretty decent sound considering their size. But for concert-style music? Not good enough. Harmonix had music playing through normal desk speakers too, and it made a world of difference.
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