Hands-On: Riff VR Has Potential To Realize A Full Rock Band VR Vision, But Not Yet

by David Jagneaux • August 10th, 2018

When I reviewed Rock Band VR last year, I loved what the team at Harmonix did to bring the feeling of playing a guitar, on-stage, in front of a live audience to VR headsets. I am a huge fan of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises, all of my plastic instruments still work and get used every now and then, and the track list was solid. However, it’s not a real Rock Band game without the actual full band. It was only the guitar and that left me wanting more.

Guitar Godz came along with a Kickstarter campaign that crashed hard, so now we’re left wanting. Then I heard about Riff VR. This ambitious project aims to bring together guitar, vocals, and drums all into one VR experience. It’s not multiplayer (yet) but it all works right now in Early Access…sort of.

Truthfully, it’s pretty janky right now. Without a physical prop to hold as a guitar it feels really strange strumming the air. I play air guitar all the time at home, but I’m not craning my neck down to try and hit floating virtual colors. It’s a strange mixture because playing air guitar is all about performance instead of accuracy, but then in Riff VR you have to be perfectly precise with hitting the right notes at the right time. The two styles don’t really meld together very well.

And then the drums are just a beast of their own. Games like Electronauts have proved that you can accurately capture the sensation of drumming on virtual objects using haptic feedback to make it feel good, but that’s not really the case here in Riff VR.

They’re just not that responsive and the difficulty curve compared to guitar and singing is just unreal. Actually hitting all of the notes in-time with the song requires borderline professional drumming experience and prior encyclopedic knowledge of the song. The great thing about drums in Rock Band is that, even if you’ve never heard the song before, it was accessible enough that you could follow along and feel like a drummer, even on higher difficulty settings. But the lack of really responsive controls makes it hard to get into drumming in VR here.

Unexpectedly, the vocals are what I enjoyed the most in Riff VR. Since the game has such an excellent soundtrack of songs I already know by heart (Final Countdown by Europe, I Was Made For Loving You by KISS, Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and several others) it was fun to just jump right in and belt out the words.

I don’t have a great singing voice, but SingSpace (ironically, another Harmonix VR game) taught me that there is no shame when wearing a VR headset so I don’t even care.

The truth of the matter is that Riff VR already has a strong foundation. Guitar and drums are just a few tweaks away from feeling really nice and if they can integrate proper LIV mixed reality support it’ll be a lot of fun for capturing and streaming. I’d love full IK support on the avatar and multiplayer band playing, but even with a few gameplay tweaks it’d already be a lot better.

What do you think of Riff VR? Let us know down in the comments below!

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