Beat Saber was the VR shot heard around the world and clearly Harmonix was listening closely. For a studio that is literally named after an element of music and has established their legacy as the music game creation game company with titles like Amplitude, Rock Band, and Dance Central to their credit, not to mention VR games like Rock Band VR, Singspace, and Harmonix Music VR, it’s no wonder they were listening.
Audica is clearly and simply inspired by Beat Saber, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but its relatively unwieldy mechanics and lack of overall fluidity makes it harder to recommend than its competitor’s dead simple pick-up-and-play approach.
The basic premise here is that you shoot blue and orange nodes inside VR using motion controllers to the beat of the music. Instead of slicing boxes, punching orbs, or blocking objects, you shoot colorful targets. It’s just different enough to feel distinct, obviously requiring a different type of hand-eye coordination than physically punching or swinging. And when you nail it and rack up a huge combo, it feels extremely satisfying.
Once you get in the zone Audica has a way of feeling almost more like a dance than anything else. You’re not only aiming at targets as boxes close in on the center, but also swinging your arms to swat down orbs trying to hit you and scanning the field with your head to locate the next target. Engaging your head and forcing you to move and look somewhere other than straight ahead was definitely an adjustment for games like this. We’ve yet to really see a rhythm game in VR that takes full advantage of the 360 space.
When you watch footage of this game it’s a bit hard to tell the nuances of each movement, but there are actually a lot of different ways to shoot a target in Audica. There are basic shots with circle targets, diamond shaped shots (shown below) that require holding the trigger to channel electricity, as well as dual combo shots, chain shots that require tracing a pattern while holding the trigger, as well as both vertical and horizontal shots. It’s a lot to digest.
Even though the tutorial throws everything at you quickly the actual difficulty stages are pretty diverse. In a game like Beat Saber cranking up the difficulty usually just means more blocks moving faster, but in Audica you have entire new game mechanics to contend with depending on which setting you pick.
As it turns out, gameplay is actually very similar to an obscure downloadable rhythm game you’ve probably never heard of called Osu which involves dragging your cursor through circles as they shrink and timing it as the outer circle hits the center. Or like in Elite Beat Agents for DS. Basically that, but in VR and with two guns.
I think my main issue with the core gameplay loop is that it doesn’t feel as fine-tuned as it should be. For example, playing on the Rift, one of the most popular VR headsets on the market, it’s very easy to miss new targets. Frequently on the second difficulty tier and above, new targets will appear outside of the headset’s field of view. The only indication that target is there is a faint aura that emanates just before it appears but if you’re turning your head or already looking at an existing target it’s way too easy to miss it. A headset with a wider field of view would help, but I only tried it on Rift for this review.
Another issue is that the key action you’re performing (quickly aiming and shooting shooting targets) doesn’t feel natural. Usually when you shoot a gun in real life or in other VR games you’re holding it up, arms steady, and taking aim carefully or at least with some stability. On the contrary in Audica your arms are swimming through the air, almost like you’re in a ballet, as you swat away objects and quickly take aim at new targets just as they appear. There is basically zero down time for you to register what you need to do exactly. However, this does foster a need to memorize the song patterns and it becomes a much more skillful game, which will appeal to hardcore players.
Right now Audica only has 10 songs, the same number that Beat Saber launched with and they’re planning to have at least 25 by the end of the year along with a Campaign mode, Practice mode, more environments, more weapons to use, a more expanded leaderboard, and (possibly) more gameplay mechanics such as borrowing from Rock Band’s “overdrive” feature. Right now you get those first 10 songs with four difficulty levels each, a basic online leaderboard, one level, and one weapon set. The current track list isn’t bad, but all of the music just sort of sounds the same. Electronic music fits the style and genre well, but it definitely lacks diversity.
As it stands Audica is definitely something different, for better and for worse. The gameplay mechanics are enough to make it stand out, at least on the surface, in a crowded VR rhythm game market, but the circumstances surrounding how and why it’s different aren’t always in its favor.
I hate to have made so many comparisons to Beat Saber in this review, but especially on the PC side of things where the active modding community is providing Beat Saber with a near infinite number of songs, moddable sabers in the game, and so much more, it’s hard not to. For a lot of people the question is: Why should I buy Audica if I already have Beat Saber? And it’s hard to make a compelling argument right now to be perfectly honest if you’re knee deep in Beat Saber.
Since this is an Early Access game, we are not issuing a final score. The game is still in development and is not officially “finished” so we are withholding final judgment. However, in its current state as of publication, we do not recommend Audica across the board. If you’re a big fan of rhythm games then there is plenty to sink your teeth into and you’re gonna have fun, but if you’re picky about styles of music or already enamored with Beat Saber, we don’t think there is enough here to pull you in just yet.