Beat Saber is now ‘Official’!
A few months ago I did an early access review of Beat Saber, played on an HTC Vive setup.
On the whole, everything I said then holds up now, even on a new platform – PlayStation VR or PSVR for short. Simple, accessible gameplay with great music and well-designed levels coupled with easily the most completely immersive physical experience in VR makes for a fantastic game.
And now the ‘full’ version is out, and first on PS4! PC users don’t panic, Beat Games has confirmed an update to PC in the next few days, but with even more features like Expert+ (for all you freakishly good players out there!). Expect to hear more about that when it’s released. 🙂
What is the same
Donning the VR headset and being transported to a TRON like world with your definitely not light sabers because trademark at the ready, you feel instantly badass.
Then you do the tutorial, and the helpful voice tells you how to play. Slicing through the block, the slight feedback from the controller feels satisfying. It’s what you thought cutting through an object with a plasma sword would feel like.
You may miss a cube, or mix colours up, but you finish the tutorial. You feel amazing – and it was only a handful of cubes.
Then you drop into the game and start swinging to the time of an amazing soundtrack. Now I am a Jazz and Blues fan primarily, I don’t like Dance or Techno as a rule, but I love the Beat Saber soundtrack. It’s infectious. You pick up when to swing from the timing of the beat, and you can feel from the tempo when things are about to calm down or go crazy.
The soundtrack is conveniently also up on Spotify! I have made a playlist of all the ‘official’ songs, and there is a link at the end of the review if you want to have a listen.
No matter what level you play, going through a couple of songs you start to sweat a bit. You aren’t controlling a fighter doing moves with a button press – you are carving up the notes. You start to notice the weight of your sabers – they aren’t controllers anymore. Five minutes in and you are starting to work out how to flick your wrist in time with a shoulder turn to get the saber back for a new swing.
You start to play on Normal and get new challenges like more walls and cubes coming in tighter groups. A flurry of information flying at you, there is only one course of action – swing. End those cubes and watch your score soar. The first time you finish a song with an S rank you feel unstoppable.
Penny Arcade did a strip that describes the feeling of playing vs how you look perfectly, and you can see it here. People that haven’t played before may look at you strangely, and people that have played smile knowingly and cheer you on.
I cannot imagine anyone looking as awesome as they feel playing Beat Saber without the PC tech that lets you film yourself ‘inside’ the game like you see on YouTube.
This player is really quite good – but imagine how she would look just throwing her hands around in the air without the benefit of seeing what she sees in game?
But when you play – you honestly just don’t care. It’s amazing, it’s satisfying, and it’s something you want to play again and again.
So the core gameplay is the same. It’s amazing and wonderful and a great time.
But that doesn’t mean that new features haven’t been added as well.
The most obvious change to start with is the Campaign Mode. It’s optional, but a great way to begin playing and challenging your skills. The Campaign mode is simply a series of levels that unlock as you complete them, with the ‘standard’ songs on offer but with modified gameplay enabled.
You start playing with a song on easy – probably like you would if you went straight to the ‘standard’ free play mode. Experienced players will fly through it, but if you are learning it’s a good place to get a feel for the game.
Finish the level, and you are normally presented with two options to progress. You can see what is coming up before committing to the level, and so far I haven’t found an ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ option – just different challenges.
A couple of stages in, you have to start getting a minimum score that is fairly easy to obtain. I’m not trying to say you should blast through the level on your first try, but if you can get to the end of the level you should hit the score.
I haven’t hit any yet, but I can imagine near the end of the campaign I am going to need minimum scores that require SS ranks to pass – the highest level in the game awarded at perfect play levels.
Then as you progress you get a maximum number of misses or bad cuts you can make. These aren’t too bad for me, but again new players will have an achievable challenge laid out before them.
The ones I am on at the moment and is presenting a challenge is Disappearing Arrows. Up until now, each cube has shown an arrow with the direction to cut in. This still happens, but after the cube is ‘locked’ the arrow dissolves forcing a memory aspect to kick in.
Now, this may seem a little too much especially early in the game, but to me it’s also a great teaching tool. Just like in chess, you want to be thinking three cubes ahead, with the pattern worked out for the one you are slicing and the next few. Disappearing Arrows forces this kind of thinking, and I think is an amazing way to help players improve.
These ‘modifiers’ aren’t just in the campaign either. You can activate them in the Freeplay game mode to make your life easier or more interesting. Depending on what you enable, you will also receive a score modifier to match.
Mastered Hard, but Expert is just that bit too much still? Speed up Hard and get a score bonus, or slow down Expert and take a score hit. I know I will be doing this with a few of the expert songs initially to give me that slight breather while learning the patterns – I think it’s a great idea!
The Tech and how Beat Games mastered it
So this is a weird one. I have said (and maintain) PSVR is great for putting VR in an affordable price bracket – but this means compromises were made.
The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have great tracking technology, and the Vive also has a wireless adaptor coming soon. This is going to be the best way to play Beat Saber hands down. The downside? This kind of setup will set you back around $3,000 even with the ‘old’ Vive assuming you need to buy the computer as well. Also, you will need a large open area to play in.
But Beat Games has tuned Beat Saber on the PSVR to work well even in ‘sub-optimal’ configurations. What do I mean by that? Well, it all comes down to set up.
Without going too far into it, there are some golden rules you should try and follow. You should have a wide and clear area – move the coffee table full of reflective items out of the way. You should also set up a VR camera about 10-15 cm’s above the players head and point the camera down slightly. This will allow the camera to see your entire body and feet. This means you also have to be a certain distance away from the camera as well – if you are only 45 cm from the camera, you are in trouble.
A lot of tracking issues can be traced back to camera placement, and that isn’t exactly the customer’s fault. There isn’t too much detail in the PlayStation manual on any of this, other than ‘change the position and see’. There is also the little issue of even putting the camera on top of a large TV, some people are still taller than this setup, leading to a cone where controllers regularly move out of.
For various reasons, not everyone can have this optimal setup though. For some, the distance they need to put the camera to maintain area and angle is too far away for the camera to pick up properly. For myself certainly, if I drop my hands too far (in a normal ‘hands at side’ position’) tracking is lost completely.
Beat Games has managed to not only track within the cone relatively high speed changing movements, but instantly re-acquire ‘lost’ sabres. This is the sort of care and design I wish all VR developers could put into their games, and definitely explains a lot of the wait for the PlayStation version to come out.
Most games on PSVR I am resigned to saving and restarting every hour or so because of tracking glitches. Beat Saber has none of these problems, and I am throwing my hands around 10x more than any other VR game out there.
There will always be compromises with a single camera VR system – I’m not trying to sugar coat a problem. But Beat Saber is by far the best tracking implementation of a game I have played in PSVR bar none, and extensive work has been done to minimise the impact of any technical limitations of the hardware.
So if you have a reasonable space in your living room (which most of us have, to a varying degree of reasonable) Beat Saber will work well in your play area.
Those compromises I spoke of playing in PSVR?
The Move controllers are also just that little bit to… something? The feeling of holding and swinging them isn’t quite as good as the Vive controllers, but way better than the Rift. I also find with my right hand especially, I keep knocking the X button pausing the game mid-swing. With more practice holding the controller this should get better, but I have only done it a couple of times on the Vive ever.
The other issue is the PSVR headset itself.
The first PSVR unit has a cable that pretty much has to run in front of your body – you can’t turn your back to the camera to have it flow behind you. This is annoying occasionally as you feel the cable hit into you, but dropping the cable behind you to come back out between your legs helps with this. This is where the cable runs in the second unit, but the cable still gets in the way.
The Vive headset feels more comfortable with better weight distribution. The PSVR also isn’t great for people with long hair – you need to spend the extra time pony tailing up to keep everything out of the way and gripping correctly.
Each of these is a minor annoyance though and given the cost difference between PSVR and Vive very easy ones to live with. Purely because of my house setup, Beat Saber is going to see significantly more play on PlayStation than Vive going forward – unless I want to play at the same time as Rabbit, then I will be sent upstairs to the desktop 🙂
I love Beat Saber. It’s a great game that gives you a sense of immersion and total satisfaction that very few games can match.
Platform-wise, I prefer the Vive BUT I will definitely be playing it more on PSVR. The ease of setup and room to move outweighs the technical improvements of the Vive in this instance.
Beat Saber is a huge amount of fun, and it’s not something I can show just by telling you it’s great. There are VR around in major cities now, as well as a dedicated Beat Saber Arcade machine now – seriously, if you are even a little curious, hunt one down if you don’t know anyone with VR and try it. But be warned – you may become hooked!
Until next time,