Beat Saber Review — We Got the Beat
Beat Saber is the perfect example of a virtual reality rhythm game done right.
Between 2007 and 2010, Guitar Hero and Rock Band consumed my life. Chasing high scores for Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and Flames and playing a whole Rush album with a group of friends are some of the most memorable gaming experiences of my life. The click of the strum bar to the beat of my favorite tunes while consecutively hitting each note successfully is at a level of satisfaction that many games just can’t replicate. So when these two rhythm game giants both became irrelevant, there were very few games that could fill that void. That is until I finally played Beat Games’ virtual reality rhythm game Beat Saber.
Gameplay is fairly self-explanatory. Blocks will come towards you and you’ll cut through them with one of two colored lightsabers to the beat of a song. The blocks come in two colors – red and blue – each indicating which saber to cut it with. It also displays an arrow indicating which direction you have to cut through the block. So, if a red block with an arrow pointing to the left is heading towards you, you’ll use the red saber, which by default is the left-handed saber, and swing it to the left side of your body.
There are some minor intricacies to Beat Saber’s gameplay that will really challenge you in the hard and expert difficulty levels. Like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, there is a score multiplier that reaches up to 8x if you successfully hit notes consecutively. Also like the aforementioned games, there is a meter that portrays how close you are to failing. When the meter is empty, you will fail and have to start all over again. This small feature is refreshing considering how “hand-holdy” some of the more recent rhythm games have been. There is a No Fail Mode for those who do just want to get through a song but it doesn’t really advertise it like some other rhythm games have in the past.
The more unique features of Beat Saber’s gameplay are tied to the virtual reality aspect of the game. This includes the obstacles that come in the form of actual hazards on the note highway. Spiked mines may pop up next to blocks that take a large chunk out of your, fail meter if you accidentally hit them. Also, there are large walls that you have to physically move in order to avoid.
Achieving a high score is not as simple as it seems, either. In order to get the most out of your chopped blocks, you have to swing at a larger angle; additionally, chopping the block close to the center also yields more points. The larger the angle of your chop combined with how close to the center of the block your cut it determines how many points you get per block.
Putting all of these hazards and intricacies together create a unique experience that can only be done in VR. I guess you could make a version of this that wouldn’t require a headset but it would lose its immersive nature and tactile feel. If virtual reality does garner a wider appeal, I could see Beat Saber becoming the Guitar Hero of the VR world.
Great gameplay is just one of two important facets of rhythm games. For a rhythm game to truly stand out, a solid and expansive soundtrack is a must. Beat Saber’s tracklist is definitely good, but it lacks variety. All of the tracks are some sort of electronic variation which does match the tone of the game. At some point, it feels like you’re playing the same songs over and over again; in most cases, you are because the tracklist isn’t too extensive.
That being said, the songs are infectious. Songs like Rum n’ Bass and $100 Bills will surely get you humming even after you’ve taken your headset off. If there were more songs representing different genres, I feel like if more people wouldn’t have to rely solely on its gameplay to enjoy it.
Beat Saber isn’t just chasing high scores. There is also a Campaign mode that both incrementally teaches you how to play the game while also challenging you in different ways. The layout for the mode is displayed as a tree with branching paths; there are certain levels that must be played and a specific amount of levels needed to be completed in order to progress but you can pick and choose which challenges you want to take on.
The actual challenges of the campaign are not just tied to difficulty. Some levels will require you to reach a certain score, some will ask you to move your arms enough to reach a minimum meter count. The rule variation I still have a hard time with is hitting a low maximum note streak. For example, the rule may say that you can only achieve a streak of 20 and lower; this means if you hit more than 20 blocks consecutively, you fail the challenge. What makes it more difficult is that the counter doesn’t restart after you’ve purposely missed a note. Not only that, missing a note takes a huge chunk out of the fail meter.
This particular challenge is a bit too difficult, providing a larger difficulty spike as opposed to some of the other rule variations. Overall, these variations help diversify the gameplay while still maintaining its fun factor.
Like many VR games, Beat Saber wouldn’t work well if it didn’t run well. Fortunately, it does. For the most part, everything runs smoothly. The movement of your hands may have the most minuscule amount of lag but the motion does feel one-to-one. The space I have my PS VR set up is pretty cramped too; I’m about five feet away from the camera. I did have some problems with the camera picking up the Move controllers accurately but even at close proximity, it worked just fine.
Beat Saber has just about everything I want from a rhythm game. It is an experience that can only be done in virtual reality and it is done so well. It has a great tactile feel thanks to the rumble of the controllers and incredibly satisfying combo-driven gameplay. While the soundtrack is solid, there really aren’t that many tracks and said tracks lack stylistic variety. However, that hasn’t stopped me from playing hours of Beat Saber, even if I’m sweaty and my eyes are throbbing afterward.