For anyone who has engrossed themselves in VR lately, the concept of a new Harmonix rhythm game designed purely for VR should have been an exciting prospect. And indeed, here at TGR I was desperate for this to be released, and yet had a drop of trepidation mixed in amongst the excitement. Could it take on the PSVR’s big hitter in the rhythm department, and give Beat Sabre a run for its money? Could it live up to the expectations from a company who blessed the world with Rock Band repeatedly over the past several years? Could it really somehow merge shooting with rhythms, and provide a cracking soundtrack to perform all this cool stuff to?
Well… Yes. Very yes. To all of that.
Audica uses a pair of move controllers to mimic the idea of holding a pair of futuristic guns, which can be customised as you work through the game and play through more songs and earn more points. Targets fly into the screen towards an aiming area, and your simple job is to just shoot things as they appear. Although “simple” doesn’t really fit the bill here; there is a range of ways that you need to fend off the incoming projectiles, and as the difficulty climbs up and the pace increases, these different methods start to get mixed up to the point that only practice, muscle memory and an almost alien second nature will let you get through a whole song without being booted out part way through.
Your normal action is a simple shot, needing you to take aim (if you’ve got time) and shoot the target at just the right moment. Points are awarded for both timing and accuracy, with a multiplier building up until you screw something up and have to start building it all over again. There are two colours to shoot at, one of which signifies your left hand and the other for your right, and while you can customise these to be whatever colour you want, unless you do this before playing it for the first time that’s just a sure fire way to confuse your brain into melting a little bit. Step it up a notch, and you’ll get squarer shapes incoming which need you to aim and hold the trigger, unleashing a beam of electricity type… stuff into the air to hold the shape in place until it disappears. Combine that with rock-looking things that come flying at you that need to be batted away in a melee-style swipe of your gun, and rectangular shapes which need your gun to be upright or tipped 90 degrees depending on the angle of the shape, and you’ve got a lot of stuff potentially going on.
To this extent, the advice given to me by Harmonix when our review copy arrived of “do the tutorial, thank us later” held true. If you jump into a game without a bit of guidance, expect to be dropping out pretty quickly, and heading back to the training mode with your virtual tail between you slightly wobbly legs. And let’s not forget the various challenge modes as well, which tweak the game a little by doing things such as removing the guns to prevent you from seeing down the sights, adding a whole new level of complexity.
The track listing is fantastic too, and while I hadn’t really heard of most of the tracks they fit the game perfectly, as you’d expect from these guys by now. The way the objects fly into the screen compliments the music perfectly, and even when you crank up the difficulty and start blasting away in a mild panic you still feel the strong sense of rhythm coursing through the game; my wife even took a video to show me after I returned to the real world to show just how much I was tapping my foot and bouncing around in time with the music. I looked ludicrous, but I was having an incredible time.
If I had to pick out one gripe, it might be that the leap between difficulties is pretty spectacular on some songs. After hitting a full 100% streak on one of the earlier songs, I turned it up to the tougher Advanced difficulty – the next one up from the one I’d perfected only second time out – and barely lasted 30 seconds. The introduction of additional methods along with an epic increase in how many things you’ve got to shoot, zap and smack out of the sky was bewildering. I appreciate the challenge needs to kick in at some point, but the leap from one to the other was enormous. This could be my own fault in all fairness; Harmonix tell me that the route to follow isn’t necessarily working up through the various difficulties of one song at a time, but to complete each tier of songs at one difficulty, then knock up to the next setting before heading back to try them all again. It’s not immediately clear in-game, but I’ll be sure to check when I’m next playing and update this review accordingly.
But that small gripe aside, I can’t recommend Audica strongly enough. Playing through lets you add your score to the global and friends leaderboards, and unlocks various gun styles and environments to play with, which offer an awesome variety of location types and somehow by themselves manage to make the game feel different to play. The songs are brilliant, the shooting mechanism works brilliantly and with the level of shine and sparkle you expect from the fine folks at Harmonix, you’ve got a winner. Will it replace Beat Sabre? Probably not, but it doesn’t need to. Audica makes its own name and stands by itself as a brilliant VR rhythm game that you should be picking up as soon as you can.
Reviewed on PSVR