IMEX Media employs several interesting mechanics that are difficult to perfect.
The idea of most rhythm action videogames is to give players the ability to play along to their favourite tunes like they were in the band, even if they’re completely lacking in any musical skill. Titles like Rock Band and Guitar Hero achieved this through plastic accessories that did tend to work most of the time, while videogames like Beat Saber just do their own thing – seeing great success from it. For those that want the classic band feeling in virtual reality (VR) without all the clunky peripherals then there’s Riff VR which has arrived on Steam Early Access promising a new immersive take on the genre.
Riff VR doesn’t assume that you instantly want to be the lead guitarist, playing classic rock tunes like some leather clad permed rocker. The title offers three choices for players to get their rock on, Singing, Guitar and Drums. All of which the motion controllers for Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, no other gimmicks needed.
For those that are big karaoke fans then the singing section should be your first port of call. Here you can warble your heart out to the 20 song set list, trying to sound half in tune rather than the usual strangled cat impersonations that are heard down the pub. While the mode is more than amicable it’s certainly the weakest of the three, seeming more like an add-on than anything else.
This is a rhythm videogame of course so heading straight towards the guitar section is really where you want to go. There’s a tutorial for both instruments and it is wise to check it out first as the controls are somewhat wonky. While the instructions detail how you hold the guitar, lock it in place to your body and then strum to get a few notes, this process not only takes time to get used to, there are no hands or controllers displayed until the pick is grabbed. The same goes for the drum sticks, which are then used to alter volume levels or active other switches. It all feels a little disjointed and disconnected.
IMEX Media’s idea for a peripheral free guitar videogame is a good one. The neck is split into five coloured blocks. All you have to do is make sure your hand is in the corresponding section to the song and strum away. This sounds easy enough in principle but it’s much more difficult in practice due to the inconsistent strumming feedback. Sometimes it seems impossible to know if you’ve hit the note even when a sound does come out of the guitar.
The drums are in a league of their own, taking the challenge up several notches to the point you’d almost need real drumming skills. There are seven component to Riff VR’s drum kit, four drums and three sets of cymbals. Again, it’s that feedback from hitting the instruments that’s so erratic leading to confusion over whether a note was successfully achieved or not.
This will likely cause frustration for players who do enjoy this type of genre but it’s nothing that can be polished out whilst in early access. What’s great about Riff VR is that it’s not only trying something a little different but there are decent songs to back up the experience. If the rock tunes were rubbish then Riff VR wouldn’t be worth a look, yet with a band list that includes Poison, KISS, Fall Out Boy, and more, there’s a decent staple to enjoy.
Riff VR has some finessing to do before it can truly make a mark on the VR rhythm action scene. At present its not one for the casual player, the difficulty is just so high that they’ll move on. On the other hand, if you like a challenge and enjoy rock tunes mostly from the 70s and 80s then Riff VR has potential.