VR developers have constantly impressed people by pushing the platform to new levels. They’ve regularly done things that tout why VR is much more than a gimmick, adapting common genres and mechanics into great virtual reality experiences. To that end, there’s a certain magic in rhythm games. Music is a universal language, so creating games focused around music was a natural evolution. It was only a matter of time until developers looked past the button mashing, plastic instruments, and dance pads and sought the next evolutionary step for rhythm games in VR. That answer is Beat Saber.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band were my jam. I played those games more than I care to admit. I even loved the latest Guitar Hero Live. Any marriage of music and games is usually enough to get me from toe-tapping to mashing on-screen prompts hours later. From the moment Beat Saber was announced, I knew it was a game I desperately wanted on PlayStation VR. Part Jedi training module and part rhythm game, Beat Saber is the perfect fit for the platform. It’s a unique kind of game that takes familiar elements and puts them together in a way that can only happen in virtual reality.
Holding a red and blue saber in each hand respectively, players must slice incoming blocks in time with the music and in the direction that the arrows on them indicate. Blue blocks must be cut with the blue saber, and red with red. Scoring is based on length of the arc when slicing and how close you cut the center of the block. Relaxing and allowing yourself to get into the flow of the music makes for a better score than playing all when you are all tensed up. Elements like bombs you can’t slice or obstacles that you have to physically dodge require even more movement than just swinging around a couple of light sticks.
Beat Saber’s concept is simple enough. Between music and physically swinging at objects, there’s a level of accessibility that is easy to learn, but extremely difficult to master on higher levels. Even though I have a lot of experience with rhythm games, I tried to jump into the Expert difficulty level and quickly got my ass handed to me. Across each of the songs, Beat Games did a great job expanding on the difficulty to feel like even steps up. Mastering a song on Normal sets a great precedent and prepares you for going into the same song on Hard. While I have yet to nail a perfect playthrough on Hard, the jump from Hard to Expert isn’t unreasonable.
The PSVR release of Beat Saber adds a few new ways to play. Modifiers allow players to make a song slightly harder or easier, if you aren’t ready to completely jump to a different difficulty. You can make the arrows disappear as they approach the screen, speed up or slow down the song, and even pick sections to replay if you’re having a tough time with them. Beat Saber on PSVR also adds a campaign mode, an increasingly difficult playlist with custom modifiers and goals. One might require you to move your arms a certain amount during the song, while another may limit the amount of bad cuts you can make during a sped up track. It’s a fresh take on the formula and offers replayability and challenges to overcome, rather than just replaying each of the songs for better scores.
Feel the Beat
Tactile feel is important to VR games. When everything is happening in a virtual space, the more the developer can make you actually feel things, the more immersive it will seem. Beat Saber nails this with haptic feedback in the Move controllers, allowing you to feel every time one of your sabers touches something. Slice a block, and there will be a clear response in your hand letting you know. Run your sabers through the giant obstacles, and you’ll feel like a Jedi cutting through a touch surface. Even holding them together creates a vibration that makes each saber feel like the light sword that they are, rather than a plastic controller in your hand. As fun as Beat Saber looks from the outside, it’s even better when you get to immerse yourself and feel everything the blades do.
Visually simple, Beat Saber still manages to be a wonder to look at. Small details like the physical blocks actually slicing and splitting into two pieces or the ever shifting backgrounds drive this simple aesthetic experience to even greater heights. Crisp and clear lines define a game that is all about music and movement. As good as it feels to play, though, the track list is what makes any rhythm game, and Beat Saber is no different.
The launch of Beat Saber on PSVR brings five new exclusive songs that weren’t in the PC release of the game, bringing the initial tracklist to 16 songs. While PC has an extremely robust platform of custom songs made by users, PlayStation VR players don’t get that added luxury. Beat Games promises more songs later as DLC, but it’s currently unknown if those will be paid song packs or free updates to the game. There isn’t even a timeline on additional music right now.
I know the game just launched, but rhythm games live and die by their track list. As much fun as I’m having with the songs that are there, it becomes quickly apparent that there are only 16 songs to choose from. I have a few favorites and a few others that I’d rather not play, and I’m itching for more. If Beat Games can figure out a good cadence for persistent support and song releases, Beat Saber could easily become a PSVR staple.
Beat Saber is among the defining VR titles, pushing the platform forward in fun and unique ways. Driving music underlines a virtual reality experience that’s a huge workout. Despite being exhausted, I found myself losing hours at a time to Beat Saber, replaying my favorite tracks to try and master them. Simple, fun, and addictive, Beat Saber has a hook that will immediately grab players and keep them engaged for a long time. Hopefully Beat Games continues to support the platform, adding to what I would consider an essential VR experience.
Beat Saber PSVR review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PS4 with PSVR headset. For more information on scoring, please see our Review Policy.