It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a guitar-centered rhythm game in the U.S. It seemed for a while that guitar or rock based rhythm games flooded the market. From Guitar Hero that pioneered the way, to Rock Band, that brought the microphone and drums into the mix, even eventually bringing a keyboard/Keytar, and DJ Hero with its bespoke turntable peripheral, it got to be so saturated with music based games, that the market busted. Then we went from a flood to a drought, seemingly overnight. Now, Rock Band has been releasing new music for their games steadily for years. However, as most of the comments on their Facebook posts point out, finding the peripherals (guitars, drum kits, etc.) is nearly impossible, making now a demand that has surpassed the supply.
Virtual Rock Is Back!
Bringing the rock rhythm game back to the forefront of technology is Unplugged. Taking a cue from the lack of peripherals for similar games, Unplugged takes a different approach. This new game takes peripherals completely out of the equation. Unplugged uses the VR headsets’ ability to track hand movements without a controller, meaning you actually play air guitar!
Players start by gripping the virtual guitar and moving it to a place that’s comfortable. Unlike Guitar Hero and Rock Band, whose controllers use five color coded buttons to play frets, Unplugged uses the hand to play up to four notes at a time as chords or individual notes. This allows the difficulty to ramp up, as keeping up with not only your finger placements, but also where your hand is on the neck of the guitar can be tricky, but adds to the realism.
Bring The Ruckus!
What’s a rhythm game without a decent track list? You can’t be a rock legend without an awesome set of face melting rock jams. Unplugged has a decent set of tracks to start such as The Clash, Tenacious D, Weezer, Rush, and more to bring out the inner riff artist in everyone.
Not every track is going to resonate with every player, but the variety on display in Unplugged is impressive. Now they’ve also released their first major DLC song pack as well, with Ozzy, Muse, Rob Zombie, and Slayer to name a few. It’s safe to say that Unplugged is planning on a long road ahead, paved with DLC song packs.
Adding to the feeling of being a legendary rock star is the arenas. Virtual venues that capture what being on stage is like in some places. Kind of hard to see the crowd individually, instead just a sea of sparkling lights. Some venues are different, but all with their own charm and atmosphere.
Ahead Of It’s Time
While Unplugged is the best new step in rhythm games the U.S. has seen in a long time, it may be a victim of it’s own innovations. It’s not a bad game in any way, however, it does have a few “hiccups” that need to be ironed out before it’s a “must play”. First and foremost is the hand tracking. Depending on your set up, this can work perfectly on occasion, but other times it makes songs unplayable. The virtual hands may slip into other positions, or just not hit the notes on time. This may be more of a limit of the hardware and software in the VR system, not the game itself. Hand tracking with cameras that are always moving can be difficult. As time moves forward, hand tracking should be getting better and better.
The only other “speed bump” that is keeping Unplugged from picking up the necessary momentum (see what I did there?) is the starting set list. It may be unfair to compare it to Rock Band, since it is a VR innovation. However, Unplugged started with just 23 songs, where Rock Band started with 58. It’s quite the difference, but Unplugged is developed by a much smaller studio, less budget, and even still managed to already release DLC tracks. In time, it may very well eclipse Rock Band.
If you love rhythm games, or Guitar Hero/Rock Band style games, I think you owe it to yourself to check out Unplugged. Even with some minor negatives, the game is immensely fun. It blends a more interesting style of gameplay and slightly higher difficulty to challenge players. Fans of rock would definitely not want to miss out on this one!