Rock Band VR Ain’t Your Dad’s Rhythm Guitar Game

The combination of Rock Band and virtual reality makes an awful lot of sense. Rhythm games are already some of the best titles on PSVR, after all. But simple notes scrolling down a fret board doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a VR world.

So Harmonix’s answer, which I discovered at NVIDIA’s suite at CES this year, was to get rid of the fret board altogether.

First announced as a launch title for the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift, we won’t actually see Rock Band VR come out until later this year. And that’s partly understandable when you play it, because you immediately realise why the traditional Rock Band model doesn’t work.

The VR version of the game still requires the plastic guitar controller – it wouldn’t be Rock Band without it – but rather than hitting specific notes and chords on time, it’s more about strumming to the beat of the song and enjoying the full stage experience. It’s like the freestyle solos from previous Rock Band games, although as each section comes up you’re encouraged to play different chords.

After being introduced to the basic controls, you start each song hovering around on stage, looking at your fellow band members. You’ll notice a few white rings around the stage, which you can teleport to at the click of a button. You’ll also be able to swing your guitar and interact with bits and pieces, like the cymbals on the drums. There’s bonuses for doing so throughout the course of a song, and the sound noticeably changes as you move around the stage.

But converting to VR also raises other questions. The challenges of making Rock Band work on VR, and with the Oculus Touch controllers – which weren’t released until the end of last year – has meant that the game is a guitar-only experience. And while freestyle solos are fun, not having the challenge of the note highway makes the experience a lot more disposable.

It’ll come with around 50 songs at launch, including Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer and The Killers’ When You Were Young, songs fans will be well familiar with. There wasn’t any clarification on whether songs previously purchased in Rock Band 4 would carry over to RBVR. As an aside, the game is smart enough to detect whether you’re using a Stratocaster or Jaguar controller: whichever one you’re using, the game will replicate that when you look down in VR.

I’m curious to see what Harmonix does to make RBVR more interesting for hardcore players. As a casual experience, it’s fun: you don’t have to worry about mucking up the song, and being able to screw with your drummer or knock the microphone stand around is good for a chuckle.

But like most VR experiences, the fun of that only lasts so long. Rock Band VR is due out later this year – sooner rather than later, I was told – and we’ll see what solution Harmonix has then. And there’s the long-term picture as well: by the time Oculus Rift headsets and the Touch controllers become more mainstream and affordable, the problems surrounding challenge and content might be a thing of the past anyway. And as an added bonus: each Oculus Touch will ship with a special mounting bracket for Rock Band VR so you can mount the controllers on the neck of the guitar.

The author travelled to CES 2017 as a guest of CORSAIR.

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