Take it from someone who’s seen it happen five times; there are few things cooler than watching Dave Grohl head bang to Everlong. The Foo Fighters frontman thrashes his jet black hair back and forth as he walks towards the front of the stage, possessed in a musical ecstasy that the thousands of fans in front of him are screaming to get just a taste of. Grohl is the living embodiment of the rock god that everyone wants to be and, for a brief few minutes last week, I became him.
As we reported earlier this month, Everlong is one of the first tracks to be officially confirmed for Harmonix’s Rock Band VR ahead of launch next week. It’s something of a given; the song has been featured in both this series and rival Guitar Hero before as have many others on the official setlist. But what might seem like an uninspired choice takes on new life once you pull the Oculus Rift on over your face.
Or rather, I should say the Rift’s headphones.
I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Harmonix has done something to the mixes in Rock Band VR that give them a fresh new energy, the kind I’ve thought the series as a whole has needed for a while. That chunky, stompy riff that kicks in at the start of the song is given a powerful new lease of life here. It’s loud and in my face and it drowns out the crowd and my bandmates, surrounding me in a warm blanket of fuzzy noise. It feels alive.
What’s most impressive is the way the song changes sounds when you switch chords, but they never feel out of place. Rock Band VR’s new mode, which emphasizes a more liberating style of play, will have its ways to challenge you if you’re looking for the satisfaction of point scoring, but its just as compelling as a toy; something you pick up and let your imagination run wild with.
In this way, Rock Band VR isn’t so much a music playing simulation as it is a professional impersonation machine. Looking down the current setlist, I see plenty of other rock icons I want to embody: Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, Noel Gallagher from Oasis, heck, I’ll even take Dave Mustaine from Megadeth if it comes without the arguing. This is less about achieving the unrivaled finesse these musicians produce and more about simply playing pretend in the best way possible.
But don’t worry — the note stream mode is still here in full effect if you want that.
Whether that’s enough for a full game we’ll find out next week, but I’m willing to bet Rock Band VR delights even some of the series’ cynics.