It has been so long since we’ve had a music game that even comes remotely close to the legends that are Guitar Hero and Rock Band. As a metal head myself, I seriously miss it. The last Guitar Hero came out in 2015, which wasn’t too long ago, but the project sadly ended up a failure, with the whole game being reliant on a live server that turned veteran players and fans off. It was a shame. The new guitar controller was freakin’ badass. Anyhow, we haven’t had a single game come close to the fun that these games provided. Rocking out to awesome headbangers, such as Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” and Slipknot’s “Before I Forget”, is nothing but a distant memory. Not long ago I invested in an Oculus Quest 2, a virtual reality gaming platform that was purely standalone and cable free. I haven’t regretted it, and now it is bringing back that desire for a Guitar Hero-like return in the form of Unplugged: Air Guitar from Anotherway.
Firing up Unplugged, you’ll be greeted by none other than Satchel, frontman of metal band Steel Panther. He’ll walk you through the basics in his own hilarious style, and then you’re free to play as you wish. You do have to unlock the songs as you play though, akin to the games that Unplugged is clearly inspired by. More on this later.
Unplugged doesn’t require a special controller, or any controller for that matter. Instead, you’re instructed to put the Quest 2 motion controllers down to enable the fantastic hand tracking functionality. Satchel then asks you to choose your guitar before placing a virtual one in front of you at waist height. Looking down you use your left or right hand to hold the whammy bar, which allows you to position the guitar where you feel it is comfortable, before resting the neck of the guitar in your other hand. You’re then set to go by grabbing the plectrum floating in front of you. Just like Guitar Hero, a stream of notes along four pathways come towards the neck of the guitar, with each note colour coordinated to each of your fingers. You basically have to match the notes with unique finger patterns and strum with your other hand to play that note. It feels incredible. We have all “air guitar-ed” to our favourite rock tunes before, but actually feeling like you’re playing takes it to another level.
The gameplay deepens with the introduction of notes that don’t require you to strum, meaning you can slide across the fret board hitting those finger combos while giving your audience the metal horns with the other. Solo notes are also extremely fun to pull off. These are elongated notes that are wide so that you can wiggle your fingers to pull off face-melting solo’s, just like Trivium’s Corey Beaulieu himself. Then there are the Cursed notes. These require perfect timing since strumming them will snap a string and cost you vital points while you re-tune. Point multipliers float above the neck at times, which can be struck with the guitar. I don’t mean whacking them but instead tilting the guitar serious rockstar style! Completing songs rewards you points. Scoring high grants you a gold record, and these are needed to unlock more songs and venues.
The entire experience feels phenomenal. Rocking out to songs, such as Tenacious D’s “Roadie” and Ozzy Osborne’s “Flying High Again”, with your imaginary guitar is stunning. The finger tracking works extremely well but only if you’re in a well-lit room. I do have one little gripe though. It is way too easy to miss the guitar whilst strumming, especially if you’re focusing hard on hitting those correct chords. Many times I hit them fine; however, I noticed I was not strumming because I had lost concentration on my strumming hand, meaning it was miles away from making contact. It would have been better, in my opinion, if you only had to make the strumming motion instead of actually having to make contact with a guitar that isn’t really there.
Another complaint has to be the lack of hard rock and metal tracks. This wont lower the game’s review score any as it is purely my own flaw, but tracks from the mighty Metallica, Trivium, Disturbed and other legendary heavy hitters would be amazing!
And so, as with most VR games, that’s all there is to it. It may be a shallow experience with regards to game modes and content, but the gameplay is more than enough to keep you rocking out. I think we finally have a true spiritual successor to the legend that is Guitar Hero.
Publisher: Vertigo Games
Platforms: Oculus Quest, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: 21st October 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Unplugged: Air Guitar was provided by the publisher.