Beat Saber is an honest-to-goodness VR masterpiece that recently became one of the first VR games in the world to have sold over 1 million copies.
The core mechanic; chopping virtual blocks with virtual swords to a pumping soundtrack is as simple as it is brilliant and if I'm demoing VR to a newcomer, Beat Saber is always top of the pile. This is mainly due to how incredible it feels to play but also because it's just so easy to get to grips with. And I mean, come on, a game that lets you wield lightsabers like some kind of badass, drum 'n' bass Jedi? How could that not be the height of awesomeness?
Obviously the phenomenal success of Beat Saber was bound to spawn imitators sooner or later, so who better to try its hand at some VR rhythm action than Harmonix, the company behind Guitar Hero, Rockband and Dance Central.
Audica has been in Early Access on Steam for about two weeks now so I decided to swap my sabers for lasers for this week's episode of Ian's VR Corner and take this new VR rhythm shooter for a spin. You can watch me play through 4 different music tracks across a variety of difficulty levels in the video below, so if you want to see what the game looks like in action, click that play button now!
So I think the biggest question people will want answering here is, "Is Audica better than Beat Saber?" There's a simple answer to that question and that answer is, no. No it is not. But with a bit of work there's a good chance that it could rival it.
The reason Audica plays second fiddle to Beat Saber at the moment is due to ease of use. Being good at Beat Saber is instinctive, it taps into something primal, which in this case is the act of hitting something with a stick. The blocks advance towards you from the centre of your vision and you can use this to pre-plan your attacks, much in the same way as a driver of a car would watch the road a couple of cars ahead, anticipating any hazards that might arise.
Audica, on the other hand, launches its targets at you from your peripheral vision, meaning it's much harder to keep track of the action. You stand or sit in a stationary position, much like in Beat Saber, but in Audica you're located in the center of a dome, rather than at the end of a virtual highway. From here, targets swoop in from the left and the right with only the briefest of warnings and unless you've played each track multiple times and committed the patterns to memory, things can quickly become overwhelming and frustrating.
Now, I'm not saying Beat Saber is easy, it's incredibly challenging on some of the higher difficulties, but its learning curve is much more fair when compared to that of Audica.
To be a successful Audica player you're going to need to work at it, you'll need to learn what each special target does and you're going to need to practice on lower level tracks before you go anywhere near some of the harder difficulties. On the flip side of the coin, having fun with Beat Saber can seem almost effortless and perhaps this, coupled with my extended playtime with that game, has given me unrealistic expectations.
At the moment, I'd urge caution for those planning on purchasing Audica, especially if they're a fan of Beat Saber, as they'll be going in with lofty expectations that currently won't be met. It's clear that Harmonix is listening to feedback from the community though, it released a big update addressing some of the bigger concerns after only a week of the game being on sale and that gives me confidence that the gameplay will evolve over time.
As it stands after two weeks in Early Access, Audica is missing that little bit of magic that makes Beat Saber such a joy to play. There are glimpses of it here and there, especially when you successfully hit a Chain Target or two, but it won't be a game that I use to demo VR to beginners with until Harmonix can find a way to make the game feel a little more intuitive.
If you enjoyed this episode of Ian's VR Corner, you can catch up with my previous adventures over on YouTube in our VR playlist, where I've covered Valheim VR's motion controls mod, Doom 3 VR Edition and everything we know about PSVR 2 so far. You can also read our list of the best VR games.