With the wider general release, virtual reality is being explored as a platform for many types of entertainment. Aside from more traditional games, we’re also seeing the release of many things that one could call experiences or applications, even on PlayStation VR. As a developer familiar with non-traditional applications of ideas, Harmonix seems like the perfect fit to work with VR and create unique experiences. Harmonix Music VR falls into the category of an interactive experience, giving players a new and immersive way to listen to and interface with their music, though it falls short of what I expected from the long tenured developer, especially putting their name right into the title.
Loading up Harmonix Music VR initially prompts you to choose from four different environments for music listening, each one with a different way to interact with the music visualization. Before I get into each of the visualizers though, let’s talk about the music. Harmonix is well known for their internal musicians, creating non-licensed tracks for each of their games. Most of this music is electronic in nature, and Harmonix Music VR includes a few selections from the Amplitude soundtrack, among others, but I skipped through these tracks quickly. The real draw here is being able to utilize the application with any music. I sought to listen to some selections of my own and loaded up a USB stick with a few of my favorites to see how Harmonix Music VR could enhance them.
The first visualizer is called The Beach and it’s a low resolution archipelago, a few islands with weather and environmental aspects that change according to the music. Looking at certain objects in the environment will bring up more detailed visualizers loosely based on the object that was activated. It’s interesting upon first glance, but quickly grows stale after viewing each visualizer, most of which can be seen within the length of an average song. I put myself on The Beach for a song and a half before determining that there wasn’t much to do in here, and I wasn’t keen on doing nothing more than sitting on a pulsing island in VR while I listened to the latest Green Day album.
The next one I jumped into was The Trip, a virtual kaleidoscope that plays out in 3D around the listener. The Trip was more visually interesting than The Beach, with effects that were clearly impacted by the music, and it’s a fun showcase of VR, but there is hardly any lasting intrigue. I did manage to listen to a few more songs than what The Beach kept my attention for, each new song creating distinct and visually stimulating designs that I moved through, however I still found myself growing bored of just sitting in a giant visualizer with nothing to do but look around. It’s like pulling up Windows Media Player just to stare at the pulsing colors of its visualizers without the ability to do anything else. To me a visualizer has always been a background element, not something to fixate on long term like it’s the latest Summer blockbuster.
The Dance offers a touch more interaction, placing players inside a gymnasium with a bunch of monsters. Dance moves can be recorded on each monster and it makes for some silly dance numbers. Move controllers are used to move their arms, legs, head, and hips in time with the music, which is then looped, creating a small dance party. You can also move behind the DJ booth to play with the speed of the music, and move to a sort of “god view “where you can reposition or even throw some of the monsters into the void. I spent a few more songs with The Dance than I did with either of the previous two visualizers, but it too very quickly found itself running out of things to keep me interested for long. I’ll probably jump back in for the trophies, and maybe to show friends how silly a monster dance party set to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance can be. Past that, The Dance is a pretty cheap trick; flashy on the outside but lacking any real substance.
The Easel is “easel-y” (puns are great!) the most riveting part of Harmonix Music VR. At its core it’s a very limited scope version of ZBrush, an application for painting and sculpting in 3D space. It uses both Move controllers to draw and move objects right in front of your eyes in three dimensions, using various materials that act as visualizers to the music being played. It’s fine to draw some abstract shapes — a stick figure, a thing that looks remotely like a dragon, lots of swirlies in the air — but trying to create anything with even an obscure sense of precision frustrates. In fact, to create things on a more precise level, I had to turn the visualization impact down, which defeats the purpose of having the music on while you create things, so back to the abstract objects I went. This will be fun to show friends at first, until Dreams releases, where I can listen to uninterrupted music while toying with a far more detailed 3D VR sculpting tool, at which point The Easel will be rendered pointless.
Despite being able to create a playlist of music, each experience must stop and reload after each song, analyzing the next track so that the visualizers can properly react in an immersive manner, which ironically breaks the immersion by pulling players back to a menu for around 10 seconds between each song. This is probably why streaming services aren’t supported, disappointing considering the PlayStation 4’s integrated Spotify interface that would be a perfect fit. Maybe a future update will enable streaming support in addition to the ability to play straight through a complete playlist, but until then, it’s a major downside to not include it.
Harmonix Music VR feels like it should have been a part of the PlayStation VR demo disc, or at least part of a compilation of VR experiences. By itself it lacks any real compelling reason to buy it. When I listen to music, it’s usually while doing something else. The idea of listening to Finch’s Say Hello to Sunshine through Harmonix Music VR doesn’t strike me as the best way to experience my favorite album. Getting past the reloads after each song, the lack of streaming support, and relatively limited overall scope, Harmonix Music VR is a mildly interesting virtual reality music player, but it’s not going to become a staple in either my gaming or music listening life.
Harmonix Music VR review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.