Hands on: ‘Rock Band VR’

Rock Band VR will make you feel like a pop star, right down to the stage fright

Ever since virtual reality headsets started popping up in homes, we’ve seen games that create real emotions like vertigo or dizziness. We’ve even seen some that simulate standing in front of a crowd to practice giving a presentation. Rock Band VR may be the first game to generate real stage fright, and then ask you to push past it, just like a real rock star.

Using an existing Xbox One or Playstation 4 guitar controller, and a special mount included with the upcoming Oculus Touch controllers, players can hop on stage and jam out to their favorite guitar-heavy tracks, just like the classic games from the series. But does Rock Band VR shred, or fall short of a record deal?

The first thing you’ll notice about Rock Band VR, apart from the stage fright, is how differently it plays from previous games in the series. Instead of following a string of notes coming downstream, you have the opportunity to use different chords and chord patterns freely, while gaining bonus points for following patterns that appear on the guitar’s head. Hitting those countdowns at the right time, and following the song’s natural chord progression, becomes a matter of expression. The team notes that it’s designed with inspiration from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, where you score points by nailing combos in an improvised spectacle.

Which can be overwhelming. Unlike the straightforward Guitar Hero of the early 2000s, the breadth of options at any given moment can leave you wondering exactly what to do. Even while playing Van Halen’s “Panama,” a song we’re very familiar with, it wasn’t entirely clear which guitar part we were responsible for, and we missed out on playing the classic opening lick.

The team at Harmonix says there’s still classic mode, but there are a few reasons for switching over to the new format. For one, it puts the audience and stage presence at the forefront of the experience, which is far more immersive than staring at a stream of notes flying at you. It also gives you the chance to let loosen up and rock out. You can jump from point to point on-stage, going back to back with your bass player, or head banging alongside your drummer. Just make sure you’ve cleared your room.

Conclusion

It’s clear Harmonix is still figuring out exactly what Rock Band VR is, and for once that’s totally okay. It isn’t just a rejuvenation of the genre, but a complete reinvention, and one that comes a lot closer to what players, and developers, imagined when it launched almost ten years ago.

Rock Band VR is about throwing a sick solo over your favorite Black Keys song.

With Rock Band VR, Harmonix is moving past the franchise’s roots in gaming and into something new, something that’s not just about executing moves shown on-screen. It’s about feeling, passion, and energy. Harmonix wants everyone to feel like a rock star.

What’s so exciting about Rock Band VR isn’t how it looks in its current form, but the sheer possibilities. There’s a ton of room on stage for multiplayer components, fun new venues, augmented reality, and new instruments – none of which have been confirmed by Harmonix, but all of which are easily possible down the road.

Highs

  • Totally immersive
  • Uses existing guitar controllers
  • Full motion tracking

Lows

  • “Freeplay” mode can be overwhelming
  • Only guitar support, for now
Mobile

From the road to your wrist, see how Android has evolved over the past 10 years

Android started out as just a mobile operating system, but 10 years in it's pretty much everywhere. Check out our round-up of all the different Android variations that have cropped up so far, and what might be coming in the future.
Gaming

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.
Computing

Following the Portal, augmented reality glasses may be Facebook’s next step

Following the launch of its Portal smart display, Facebook says it is working on AR glasses, possibly in a move at challenging both Apple and Google and perhaps to rise up in the hardware scene. 
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Computing

Oculus VR could upgrade the Rift with a new display in 2019

Oculus could be set to release a new version of its Rift headset in 2019, but it will be more of a modest upgrade than a true sequel. The Rift S, as its purportedly called, will have a new display, and inside-out tracking.
Mobile

Google awarded patent for using eye tracking to detect expressions in VR

Google was awarded a patent that involves using eye tracking to infer facial expressions using machine learning in virtual reality. The tech could help make virtual reality a whole lot more immersive than it already is.
Virtual Reality

Prototype Valve VR headset leaked: HTC Vive challenger confirmed?

Leaked images revealed that a Valve VR headset is in development, even amid Valve's partnership with HTC for the HTC Vive. Sources confirmed the device, which may be bundled with a Half-Life VR game.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Computing

A Google patent shows a way to make VR even more immersive

Virtual reality can be a really immersive experience, but it does sometimes it does have boundaries. Google has addressed this problem by patenting shoes with a flexible region on the bottom.
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.
Gaming

Dive head first into the best experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist to it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.