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Tech Review: VR Games

Last week, I talked about the Vive VR system, setting it up, and a bit about what you can expect. Today, I’m going to talk about a few of the games I play the most, why I like them, and how they play into the strengths of a VR system. Most of these games are simple and straight forward, as opposed to deep, expansive games like Skyrim and Fallout 4. This is mainly because I don’t have the time to spend 2 or 3 hours at a time playing a game, and games like those demand that level of immersion. I tend to play for 45 minutes to an hour or so, two or three times a week.

This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate deeper games, and since Fallout 4 VR came with my wireless adapter purchase, I’ll spend some time playing and give you my thoughts about it once I do.

Audioshield by Dylan Fitterer $20

The first VR game I bought

Audioshield is a very simple concept. You have colored shields that block balls of color that come at you in rhythm to music. You can choose different skill levels, different play areas, and different shield shapes, but really, that’s all there is to it.

It’s enough.

There’s an addictive simplicity to the gameplay that, tied to the music you choose, makes this game an instant winner and a great way to introduce VR to newbies. My granddaughters love playing it, using “You’re Welcome” from Moana, and of course, “Let It Go” from Frozen. I prefer more energetic songs, like “Thunderstruck” by Steve N Seagulls, (A bluegrass rendition of the AC/DC classic that surpasses the original in both awesomeness and metal.) 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played by Tina S, and “Last Ride of the Day” from Nightwish. I’ve also played using “Freebird,” “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and many others.

That’s one of the beauties of the game; you can choose any song in your library and Audioshield will use it to generate a level.

Until a month or so ago, you could stream YouTube videos directly within the game, but YouTube revoked access so that feature has been disabled. Now, you can play using the songs preloaded in the game, mostly electronica, or songs you have on your computer.

Gameplay is very intuitive. Select your song, amphitheater, shields, and play level and you’re off. Your shields keep track of your streaks, but you’re going to be far too busy to check on it. You’re graded on streak, being on the beat, athletic effort (how hard you hit plus how much you move the shields) and artistry. (I have no idea how that part of the score is computed.) One of the nice things is there’s no failing a song. It plays to the end no matter how poorly you are doing, which makes it very kid friendly.

Below is the promo video used to sell Audioshield. While it does a good job at showing the gameplay, it simply cannot convey the sheer presence of being there that VR gives. The splatter of each ball, combined with the haptic feedback on impact creates a realism that will have you cringing on the phantom impact on your body when you miss one.

It’s that immersive.

Audioshield has added a Fitness upgrade to the levels. If you choose it, it now sends obstacles down the line for you to side step or duck beneath while playing. The additional motion required ups the activity level of the game significantly. You will break a sweat while playing this one.

Beat Saber by Hyperbolic Magnetism. $20

Another rhythm game, but different enough that I bought it as well

So, once again, we’re destroying objects coming at us to the beat of the music, this time slashing with sabers instead of blocking with shields. That alone is enough to change the feel of the game because your slashes must go in the direction of the arrows on the blocks. If you watch the video below, you’ll get a taste of the game, and how it differs from Audioshield. The slashing motion is more active, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself begin to flourish your blades like you are a real swordsman.

At least, I do.

Each of the supplied songs (and they get updated frequently) comes in multiple levels from easy to Expert+. Some songs are easier than others but they all are challenging once you get to the Expert level.

Beat Saber keeps score, and you can fail a song, unlike Audioshield, which makes it more challenging and maybe frustrating for kids. It also gives you the ability to slow the song down for practice. You’ll still receive a score, but it will be modified based on the modifiers you chose.

Unlike Audioshield, Beat Saber does not generate its levels on the fly, which means it has no way of adding songs within the game itself. However, Hyperbolic Magnetism, the game publishers, have authorized an app for adding songs and constructing your own levels, called Beat Saver. Once it is installed on your computer, you can build new songs and levels for Beat Saber. Or, if you don’t want to invest the time it takes to truly develop a good song, you can download the fruits of other’s labor and add their versions. Some are good, some are…less so.

Like Audioshield, this game provides a good active workout, and it’s so much fun that you won’t notice how hard you are working until you decide to take a break.

I play Beat Saber more than Audioshield mainly because I find the songs more challenging, and since each level is designed instead of being built on the fly, the mapping of the blocks to the beat is more accurate. On the other hand, this means that the user generated levels can be much worse in Beat Saber than the computer generated levels in Audioshield.

The Lab by Valve. Free

The Lab is eight separate mini-games/experiences used by Valve to show off VR techniques and possibilities. It’s available for free through Steam and it is a great way to experience everything VR can do.

The Eight Modules

Destruction in a warehouse as you launch ‘cores’ to create maximum damage. Did I mention that the cores have a personality?

My favorite of the bunch. Shoot two dimensional figures with a bow and arrow as they try to storm your castle.

Picture being inside a 80s era arcade game.

More an experience than a game, in this one, you visit some pretty amzing places. It almost feels like you are there.

Human Medical Scan
Explore the human body through a highly detailed model. Again more of an experience than a game.

Solar System
Walk like a god among the planets of our solar system. Play marbles with Mercury. Grab a planet and bring it in for a closeup.

Robot Repair
Puzzle game based around repairing a robot. Which piece goes where? You’ll have to experiment a bit to find out.

Secret Shop
My least favorite, although I’m going to revisit now that I’m wireless. The shop begs to be explored. Something to play with everywhere you look. If you like an open ended room where you explore, this is for you.

Most of the eight have limited replay value for me, except for Longbow. I come back to it over and over again. It’s simple, but challenging, and funny.

What’s not to like?

Drunk or Dead by 4 lab. $10

I’m closing out this round of reviews with this one because, well, how could I not? I mean, the title says it all, right?

It’s the zombie apocalypse. The zombie virus only infects sober people, so stay drunk. But not so drunk that you can’t shoot the zombies!

This is about as mindless as a game can get. Drink, shoot, repeat. What makes it work is the humor behind it. The whole situation is absurd, and the game is well aware of that. It doesn’t take itself seriously, so you don’t have to either.

Part of the fun is coming up with inventive ways of killing the zombies. Sure with unlimited ammo, you can blow them away all night long, but you see that guitar sitting next to you at the bar? Some folks call them axes, right? What the heck, give it a try! A bottle of whiskey and a lit cigarette? Sounds like zombie flambe to me!

That’s it for this round of game reviews. I’ll add some more next week, including Tilt Brush, Virtual Sports, and Space Pirate Trainer. If there’s a game you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll give it a try. I’m on the Viveport subscription which means I can download 5 games a month to try out. I’ve played some good ones, and some that I’m glad I didn’t have to keep.

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