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Preview: Harmonix Music VR

Originally revealed as a Gear VR title back at Samsung’s Unpacked event, Berlin, last year, Harmonix Music VR (formerly known as HMX Music VR) has undergone a few changes since its debut. Not only is it now exclusive to an entirely different format, PlayStation VR, but a brand new gameplay mode possible only with motion-controllers has also been added to the mix.

Harmonix Music VR screenshot

Two sequences were playable in the latest build of Harmonix Music VR made available to VRFocus, the first of which was based on the original technical demonstration revealed alongside the Gear VR Innovator Edition in 2014. Set on a beach, the player could select any song they like (a list of around a dozen was available to choose from, though Harmonix Music VR will support any tracks the player chooses to load into the videogame’s library) and watch as the environment plays along to it. Looking at specific objects would trigger a darkening of the pleasant beach environment and giveway to a variety of different light shows, from a blossoming flower that tilts and dances with the movement of your head to a selection of floating torches that gently sway to the beat.

Moving around the island cove (again, by way of holding gaze on a highlighted object) would reveal more lightshows and spectacles that were keener to impress the heavier the baseline became. This is also true of the second component of Harmonix Music VR‘s latest preview build: The Easel.

Harmonix Music VR screenshot

The Easel is, for all intents and purposes, Harmonix Music VR‘s answer to Tiltbrush. While the Beach is interacted with by gaze alone, The Easel requires the player to hold a single PlayStation Move controller and draw in the space in front of them. A number of different lines and objects can be scrawled or placed in the space, and each will react to the music in a different way. For example, a simple line could see a beat marker travel across it, inflating on each bass hit, while an electrified splash bursts into colour as the tempo rises. The variety of objects available and the freedom to deploy them in any fashion you choose is inspiring, though it’s unlikely Harmonix Music VR will ever quite reach the depths of Tiltbrush or Oculus VR’s Medium, but then it’s not intended to.

Harmonix Music VR is a music experience from the creators of rhythm action videogames. It’s a step into new territory; an opportunity to experiment with new hardware and discover what players actually want. Harmonix are known as being risk takers, with the likes of FreQuency and Amplitude having earned the studio much praise but little financial success, and Harmonix Music VR is surely a move to secure a position for both the studio and the genre in a brand new market.

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