Harmonix Music VR is as simple as its title–literally, music in VR. On its face, that idea is intriguing. We know that listening experiences can be amplified with great gameplay–Harmonix’s previous creations are proof of that. But where gameplay is concerned, Harmonix Music VR is barren, and what is on offer isn’t engaging or memorable past the novelty of hearing songs through Sony’s VR headset.
You’ll want to bring a USB drive with your own music. There are over a dozen tracks provided, some of which are enjoyably ripped from Harmonix’s own Amplitude, but others are boring to the point of nondescript. At least you can hum along to stuff you love while checking out Harmonix’s limited gameplay. There are only four modes, all of which have you either tooling around in a small environment or sitting back to listen.
The first of these, The Beach, has you standing on a seaside dock looking around at few small islets. Despite the content’s title, it feels rather claustrophobic, and doesn’t convey the liberating, surreal pleasure of facing open water. You can examine points of interest, like a lantern or plant, and have it unfurl into a mini-visualizer, pulsing along to your music. By hopping to the other two islets, you can get a different view on the action, but I felt no desire to spend more than ten minutes in this mode. It’s fleeting fun to find the mini-visualizer effects and lean in, examining them, but there’s only a handful to find.
The Easel is a standout, and my personal favorite. In an empty void, with faraway elements pulsing to your music, you can use the DualShock controller or Move wands to draw shapes and lines in the air before you. What makes this mode engaging, for a time, is the ability to manipulate what you create. It was a thrill to reach out, grab a message or design, and toss it away through the void–or call it back to me with a flick of the hand, like a Jedi’s Force Push and Force Pull. It was accurate, empowering, and made for some cool visual flourishes.
The Easel is a nice tease for what a great Star Wars game in VR would feel like, but there weren’t enough drawing tools or options to entice me to stay longer than 30 minutes or so.
The Dance places you in a high school gymnasium, as odd-looking monster creatures try to enjoy their prom night. As the demi-god-turned-DJ, you can target monster body parts, like limbs and hips, and recorded brief looping animations to create a more lively dance party. Behind the booth, you can scratch a record or shoot objects at the dancers with a toy gun, and with a birds-eye view of the gym, you can do silly things like toss the characters around. Surprisingly, the tracking in this section wasn’t very accurate–a disappointment, after The Easel. I found it hard to target the body parts I wanted, and the dancing animations came off as jerking gyrations despite my best attempts at subtlety. Never mind how shallow the mode is. At least The Beach has a few pretty visualizers. By comparison, The Dance and its characters are dull, while the setting is dour and lacks detail.
The Trip could have been Harmonix Music VR’s saving grace. This a VR visualizer in its purest form, sending you through a tunnel of pulsing shapes, lines, and polygons synced to the tunes of your playlist. It’s engaging for a brief time to look around and appreciate how your music causes the environment to morph, but before long, I started to realize that the variations weren’t plentiful. You start to see the same colors and patterns after just a few songs, and despite changes in speed, you’re never not just moving through a kaleidoscopic tunnel. Other landscapes (PS3’s “Planet Earth” visualizer comes to mind) would have gone a long way toward holding my interest, but it wasn’t long before I’d seen everything The Trip had to offer and all my songs started feeling the same.
Even as a value proposition, I can’t recommend Harmonix Music VR at $14.99. Its virtual realities aren’t particularly well-made, with graphics and colors that fail to hold interest, and with such shallow gameplay, it adds nothing to the music listening experience. I can have a better listening experience by closing my eyes and just imagining pictures and soundscapes in my head. For a music game in virtual reality, that’s a death knell.