VR is a tricky medium to do well, but Harmonix’s upcoming Rock Band VR might just be the perfect fit. The game has always been about making players feel like they’re real rock stars, living in an alternate reality where they chased their dream and actually did master the guitar and make it big. Virtual reality finally gives Rock Band players the chance to feel real stage presence, and Rock Band VR takes advantage of that while still delivering a solid game that’s fun to play, too.
I tried Rock Band VR via a demo hosted by Harmonix to showcase the power of Nvidia’s gaming GPUs for VR. The Oculus Rift title uses Touch controller integration, using a special mount accessory that’s currently shipping in the box with Oculus Touch to bring your guitar controller into the virtual world.
This trick works amazingly well – the guitar really does seem to track with 1:1 accuracy in-game, and it adds a lot to the overall immersive feeling of the experience. Plus, since you’re using the guitar as your primary interface device, you don’t miss having the Touch available to use with your hand, as you might in some other experiences that combine the controller with other physical objects.
The Rock Band VR gameplay experience is a bit different from traditional Rock Band games – you’re not playing along to a rigid river of timing markers that tell you what to hit when. Instead, you look down at your guitar’s headstock to see what the next chord is you’re supposed to play, then you play that for the next bar on time with the beat.
I didn’t have much time with the game, and I’m not naturally musical, so I admit I was a bit lost about how to do well for most of the time I was playing. But the great thing about Rock Band VR’s implementation of in-game music play is that I didn’t notice how bad I was doing, and still had a great time. There’s a lot of ability to just go off-script and do your own thing along to the song, with relatively little in the way of punishment. You even get points for creativity.
On the flip side, there’s a lot of reward if you do well, and you can add additional challenge and fun by switching around the stage to occupy different positions – like a real lead guitarist might.
The crowd, the ability to watch and interact with your bandmates and the feeling of playing, which does feel like it more closely approximates actual guitar-playing all combine to make this a terrific virtual reality experience. In fact, Harmonix has done something more than just build a cool game – it makes you feel like there’s plenty more room for VR to grow in ways that extend beyond what we’ve seen so far.
Rock Band VFR is arriving in early 2017, and the version I played definitely felt like it was ready to roll so watch out for it to come soon.