PlayStation VR gets a new rhythm action game that mixes Star Wars style lightsabres with Guitar Hero-esque gameplay.
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It has a few minor flaws, but our biggest problem with Beat Saber is that it reminds us how badly Star Wars has been served by video games in the last decade or so. Things seem worse than ever under EA but somehow we also managed to go through the entire Wii era without a decent lightsabre game. If nothing else, Beat Saber proves just how much of a missed opportunity that was – even though as a game it doesn’t actually have anything to do with Star Wars.
Beat Saber is a rhythm action game. We’d say that the idea of doing a Star Wars music game is a low not Lucasfilm would never stoop to, but sadly it’s already happened. But thankfully Beat Saber is nothing like Kinect Star Wars’ dance game and instead the basics are very similar to Harmonix games such as Frequency and Guitar Hero.
Icons representing beats of the music move towards you and you have to hit them correctly to keep the rhythm going. The difference is that the icons are neon-coloured boxes that are flying towards you in a first person view, and instead of pressing a button or twanging a plastic guitar you’re using a Move controller to hack and slash with a lightsabre in both hands.
If you’ve played the superb Thumper you’ll already know just how well music games can benefit from VR. Usually the presentation in these games is purely functional but playing them in VR really helps to focus your mind and create a sense of immersion that goes far beyond the normal 3D vision of the headset. Beat Saber doesn’t have the visual spectacle of Thumper but its Tron-like art style is still attractive enough considering how abstract an experience it all is.
The reason you’re holding two lightsabres is that one is red and one is blue, and the boxes are colour-coded to indicate which ones should be hit with which sword. Most boxes also have symbols on them indicating in which direction they should be hit – slashing left or right or thrusting up or down. Often you have to hit two different colours at the same but in different ways, which seems like it should be as difficult as patting your head and rubbing your stomach but somehow becomes second nature almost instantly.
There are other complications too, the most problematic being walls that rush towards you and which you have to physically side-step or duck under. And it’s not just a perfunctory inch or two either, you really have to move some distance to get it right. So if you’re used to pooh-poohing the warning about making sure there aren’t any breakable objects nearby we’d take proper caution with this game. Especially as more than once we ended up stepping on the cable coming out the back of the headset.
As you might imagine there are multiple different difficulty levels and a combo meter that you’re always desperate not to break, so that you get the highest score possible. The game also likes to try and trip you up with boxes whose arrows change directions or bombs which you absolutely shouldn’t try to hit.
If you ignore the potential for knocking over your best china, the game’s major faults are all considerably more mundane; starting with the fact that there aren’t enough tracks and you can’t use your own music. The latter is an on option for the PC version, which is still in easy access, and while the PlayStation version does feature more and different content, the 16 tracks still don’t feel like enough. To be fair, the gameplay is married perfectly to the music, so any custom tracks would always seem inferior by comparison, but it’s galling to know the option exists in the other version.
Developer Beat Games aren’t being lazy though, as this does feature five new songs not in the PC version and new practice and campaign modes. The latter is particularly good as it varies the rules, SoulCalibur style, so that even if you can’t ace Expert mode you can still rack up many other meaningful victories.
In the end, the biggest problem with Beat Saber is simply that the PlayStation VR headset, and particularly the Move controllers, aren’t quite precise enough to be 100% reliable – which can make the higher difficulty modes seem unfair.
But these are relatively minor complaints, especially with more songs coming via DLC. The sheer joy of pounding out a beat using lightsabres never gets old and while a part of us is pained that they’re not stormtrooper helmets we’re slicing in two, this should still be seen as another triumph for PlayStation VR rather than a failure of Star Wars licensing.
In Short: Imaginative use of VR to make one of the best new music games of the generation, and which also manages to be the best Star Wars game never made.
Pros: Fantastic central idea, with the twin swords working extremely well. Well orchestrated tracks and effective visuals. Campaign mode adds unexpected variety.
Cons: The PlayStation VR and Move controllers aren’t always 100% accurate. Needs more tracks.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Beat Games
Developer: Beat Games
Release Date: 20th November 2018
Age Rating: 3