VR’s signature slice and dice rhythm game has finally come to PSVR and has managed to squeezes the most out of the platform’s tracking performance to deliver an experience which feels nearly comparable to its PC counterpart. Along with a handful of quality exclusive tracks and a new campaign mode which offers up interesting challenges, Beat Saber’s highly active gameplay will have PSVR players moving more than ever before.
Beat Saber Review Details:
Developer: Beat Games
Available On: Steam (Vive, Rift, Windows VR) [Early Access], Oculus Store (Rift) [Early Access], PlayStation Store (PSVR)
Reviewed On: PSVR (PS4 Pro)
Release Date: November 20th, 2018
Beat Saber is a rhythm game like many others before it, except instead of pressing buttons, you’re using virtual swords to chop blocks which are aligned with the beat (PS Move controllers are required). There’s only two block colors, red and blue, which correspond to a red saber in your left hand and a blue saber in your right hand. On top of matching up the colors of the blocks to each saber, each block also has an arrow to indicate the direction you must swing to properly chop it. There’s also obstacles like bombs (which you don’t want to chop) and barriers which you must dodge with your head.
It sounds simple enough, but in practice it’s very satisfying and uniquely suited to VR.
While many rhythm games are focused on timing—awarding incrementally more points the closer you are to the ideal striking moment of each note—Beat Saber is instead focused on accuracy and form. The game doesn’t care precisely when you chop each block (as long as you don’t miss it entirely); you maximize your score by making wide (not hard) swings, and by slicing as close as possible to the center of each arrow (though the latter only accounts for a small fraction of possible points). Being accurate and having good form ultimately leads you to being in tune with the rhythm of each song; when you really get into a flow state you’ll find that feeling the rhythm helps you anticipate what’s coming next, and at times you may almost feel like you’re dancing along.
Beat Saber has been exceptionally well received on PC as one of the top rated VR titles ever, but for the PS4 version a big question has been whether PSVR’s tracking system would be up to the task. Fortunately, the answer is yes. You’ll be able to play Beat Saber’s most challenging tracks on the highest difficulty without feeling like the tracking system is holding you back, and the leaderboards are sure to see lively competition. While veteran PC players will notice additional latency on the PSVR version which makes block chopping feel slightly less grounded, it’s fairly easy to compensate. That said, the latency can make quickly repeating patterns (like strings of alternating up/down notes on both hands) challenging to deal with, and at these moments you’ll need to rely more on what you’re feeling than what you’re seeing. Luckily those moments are few and far between. Pro tip: don’t be tempted to use audio from your TV; headphones connected to PSVR will give you the lowest latency between what you’re seeing and what you’re hearing.
Strings of quick alternating notes like those above are made more challenging with the latency. Most everything else is easy to compensate for.
Beat Saber on PSVR includes 16 tracks out of the gate, the 11 original songs from the PC version and five brand new songs which are exclusive to the PSVR version. Each song has hand-made beat maps in Easy, Normal, Hard, and Expert difficulties. It’s the hand-made beat maps which really sell the whole experience because they fit so well with the music (which is quality in its own right). Here’s the full tracklist for Beat Saber on PSVR at launch:
- $100 Bills
- Escape Ft. Summer Haze
- Legend Ft. Backchat
- Beat Saber
- Angel Voices
- Country Rounds Sqeepo Remix
- Balearic Pumping
- Commercial Pumping
- Lvl Insane
- Turn Me On Ft. Tiny C
- Rum N’ Bass [PSVR exclusive]
- Unlimited Power Ft. Frank Bentley [PSVR exclusive]
- I Need You [PSVR exclusive]
- Be There For You Ft. Kinnie Lane [PSVR exclusive]
- Elixia [PSVR exclusive]
The original 11 tracks are mapped exactly as their PC counterparts. Among the PSVR exclusive tracks, the standouts for me are ‘Rum N’ Bass’, a fun(ny) pirate-themed track, and ‘Unlimited Power’ which has righteous empowered lyrics in the same vein as ‘Legend’.
While developer Beat Games tells us that the PSVR version of the game won’t get custom songs, the company plans to add music through forthcoming song packs. The first pack is in the works, according to the company, and will launch “pretty soon,” though it’s unclear how many songs the packs will include or what they will cost. The big question is whether or not the company can pump out tracks fast enough to satisfy users in the long run. The PC version has held up very well because the community has added many unofficial but excellent custom tracks to the game. With no capability for custom tracks on the PSVR version, it’ll be up to Beat Games to keep Beat Saber fresh for players.
Along with the new tracks come a series of modifiers which can be applied to any track and can significantly increase or decrease the difficulty of a given song:
- Insta Fail – Any mistake fails the song
- Battery Energy – You have a finite amount of energy
- Disappearing Arrows – Arrows fade away as blocks approach
- Faster Song
- No Fail – You cannot fail
- No Obstacles
- No Bombs
- Slower Song
Those which make the song harder will increase the score multiplier, and those that make it easier will reduce the score multiplier.
The entire track list can be played on any difficulty and with any modifiers right out of the gate in Free Play mode (no need to unlock anything). Each song has its own leaderboard for each difficulty. Inside of Free Play you can also queue up any specific point of a song to practice particularly challenging sections.
The Party mode creates a local leaderboard which makes for easy pass and play with friends.
Campaign mode is a brand new and significant addition to Beat Saber on PSVR. It takes the form of a series of levels which have different modifiers and unique objectives. It starts out easy but grows increasingly more difficult. It functions as a compelling way to guide new players along a path to improving their play, but also presents even experienced players with interesting challenges thanks to clever combinations of modifiers and objectives.
For instance, one level has players playing a song on medium difficulty with the Disappearing Arrows modifier and the objective is to achieve a combo of 50 (a streak of no mistakes).
Another level has the Slow Song modifier on, but puts the pressure on with Disappearing Arrows and demands absolutely no missed notes (otherwise you’ll fail).
Still another level asks players to move their hands a minimum distance (which will have you doing especially lavish flourishes), while another gives you a maximum distance (so you’ll stand there like a robot twitching just your wrists trying not to move).
The Campaign mode adds a surprising amount of life to the game, requiring at least a few hours to complete (depending upon skill level). It also offers slightly deviating paths which means if you’re struggling with one level you can complete another instead and still move forward, though occasionally you might need to revisit a level you didn’t previously complete in order to pass enough levels to advance past certain points.
Campaign mode is an especially good addition for players who don’t have an innate drive to just jump into Free Play and practice, and it also helps push players to attempt new challenges, modes, or modifiers they might not otherwise try (like Single Saber, No Arrow Directions, or Faster Song). We hope to see more Campaign mode levels added as new songs come to the game.
Immersion & Comfort
Beat Saber is a very active game and does an excellent job of fostering a level of embodiment (the feeling that your body is in the game world) unmatched by pretty much any other PSVR title to date.
It’s also effortless to play, requiring no button pressing or even so much as a trigger pull once you start a song. If you know how to swing your arms through the air, you know how to play Beat Saber. Great performance and graphics—not to mention the connection felt between the blocks, the beat, and your movements—makes Beat Saber easy to get lost in.
It’s recommended that you play standing, and you’ll be swinging wide and far when playing at a high level. Since PSVR doesn’t have a boundary system, you seriously need to make sure you have a large open space to avoid swinging your hand into something at high speed (I’m expecting pictures of broken TVs soon to come, I just hope we don’t also see pictures of broken hands!). You might be tempted to step left or right at points during songs (especially when dodging barriers) but your best bet is typically to keep your feet planted in a wide, ‘ready’ stance and simply lean as necessary.
Having your hands suddenly tangled up in the PSVR’s tether or your headphone cables will bring you crashing back to reality. I quickly found that the best way to play is to let the PSVR tether drape behind your back and then go between your legs on its way to the TV. Between this and the planted feet stance (mentioned above), I had zero issues with the tether getting in my way.
As with all PSVR games, but especially with Beat Saber because of the range and speed of motion it demands, you’ll need to know how to dial in your PS camera setup to be just right to get the most out of the game. Before starting the game, when the system shows you the view from the camera, reach your arms as high above you as you can, all the way out to the sides, and all the way down to your sides. The glowing light on the Move controllers should stay inside the frame at all times. If not, reposition your camera angle or your distance from the camera to optimize your use of the tracking space. Beat Saber will continue to estimate your controller’s position even when it leaves the tracking volume, but it can only do so for a brief moment before the position becomes inaccurate, so it’s critical to make sure your hands are inside the volume almost always. Turning lights off is also usually a good idea so that the glowing trackers are the only light sources visible to the PS camera.
Because Beat Saber has no artificial locomotion, it’s highly comfortable to almost everyone. The only discomfort you’re likely to feel is the soreness from a long session. The game really can be a decent workout, especially when playing at higher difficulty levels. If you really get into it, expect to break a sweat (just don’t forget to whipe down your PSVR once and a while).