I went into Harmonix Music VR knowing full well that developers of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band were developing something vastly different in time for the launch of PlayStation VR. There are four music-based VR experiences included -- not games -- allowing you to disconnect from the real world and listen to your own music library. We all listen to music, but when is the last time you can recall that all you’ve done is listen to music and let your mind relax. I can’t even think of a time where I truly listened to music without being something else, either working, studying, driving what have you. Although there are interactive elements to each of the four experiences, the music is the primarily focus for each of them.
With one of the more recent PlayStation 4 firmware updates, you can use listen to your own music library via USB. This feature is paramount to the entire experience, but if you aren’t able to load any of your music or don’t own anything, Harmonix has included the experimental electronic from A City Sleeps and Amplitude. Regardless of which one of the four modes in Harmonix Music VR that you choose, you’ll select different tracks and build a playlist.
The Beach is a beautiful visualizer set in a tropical island setting. The Beach doesn’t use the DualShock 4 or the Move controller, instead, you’ll be looking around the environment with the head-mounted display (your head). Certain objects will come alive after focusing your vision on them, such as pulsating electric jellyfish that move to the beat of the music, It’s simplistic in nature, does include a decent number of interactive areas and multiple spots to shift your view of the environment. Even the horizon will pulse based on the music, until the end of the current song. It’s meant to be relaxing, and playing the right type playlist, I found that it would provide some soothing properties, as it helped me unwind at the end of a long work day.
The Easel is easily the mode I’ve spent the most time messing around with, functioning similarly to Google's Tilt Brush on the Vive. Using a Move controller, it lets you draw in a 3D space while your drawing pulsates and twitches to the beat of the song playing in the background. You can turn up or down the effect, depending on how creative your are feeling, and mess with the color options. There are a good amount of different brushes with a wide selection of shapes and sizes. As PSVR does not have room-scale, you won’t be able to walk around your artwork, but you can rotate and move it around with a Move controller. It’s not as interactive since you can't target specific elements. Instead, everything you have drawn will move. Without setting a long playlist, you’ll be sent back to the main menu once you hit the end of the playlist -- this happens in all four of the modes. It’s a jarring experience, and I’m unsure why it just doesn’t loop the playlist indefinitely. If you are sent to the main menu, you’ll lose your creation if you didn't happen to save it manually. One negative note, every time you draw with the brush, there is a harsh sound effect that pierces through my soul.
A goofy and entertaining experience, The Dance lets players manipulate oddly designed creatures in what appears to be a high school gymnasium. Grabbing different body parts, you can change the pose by recording any action you want, all of which will loop indefinitely. You can set each of the creatures to perform their own dance maneuvers, or set one on the stage and all of them will perform the same movements. Once you are satisfied with your craziness, eating the piece a cake will warp you to the DJ’s turntable; where you will turn into a cat. While there, you can alter the temp of the dancing, shoot them with a gun that fires random items, such as hot dogs, fish, and toilet paper. If you want to experience what it’s like to be a DJ, scratching will affect the actions of the creatures on the dance floor. The third position, if you eat another piece of cake, lets you shoot the monsters into a hoop, or fling them out of the environment to get some new dancers to take their spots. It’s certainly entertaining, especially if you have friends watching the Social Screen.
The final mode, The Trip, is similar to The Beach but doesn’t offer any interaction. It is merely a kaleidoscope-esque visualizer. It looks nice and offers quite a variety and shifting visuals. Like, I’ve said, it’s meant more for someone that wants just to listen to music.
What you’ll get out of Harmonix Music VR depends on whether you really enjoy listening to music while shutting your mind off in various types of visualizers with different levels of interaction. The Dance and The Easel are clearly going to be the most attractive and are ideal for group settings, while the strict visualizer ones -- The Beach and The Trip -- are meant for only the person in the HMD.
Note: The review for Harmonix Music VR is based on a digital PlayStation VR copy of the game, provided by the publisher.