'Rock Band VR' is a completely different kind of guitar game

Forget everything you know about pretending to be a rock star.

When Oculus first teased Rock Band for virtual reality, it sounded like kind of a stupid idea. A guitar game? In 2016? In virtual reality? How passe. It was hard to imagine how the series' iconic stream of colored notes would translate to VR, and I immediately dismissed the idea. It turns out I was right -- Rock Band's classic game mode didn't make a smooth transition to VR, so the team at Harmonix had to come up with something completely different -- and it's so much better than awkward rhythm game I was expecting.

Rock Band VR still uses the game's goofy plastic guitar peripherals -- it just uses it a bit differently than previous games. Traditionally, Rock Band tasks players with matching button presses to a series of "notes" that fly towards the camera -- the more accurately you replicate the pattern, the higher your score. Rock Band VR, on the other hand, is more about playing chords. Icons embedded on your virtual guitar's neck indicate what button combinations you need to press to play a specific power chord -- which can then be slid up and down the guitar's neck to change the tone of the song. Rather than doling out points for playing the right "notes," the game awards points for knowing when to change to a different chord. You can never play the "wrong" chord, either.

It's definitely less straightforward than the traditional Rock Band experience, but it does feel more like you're actually playing music. Depending on when you change chords or where on the guitar's neck you've moved your power chord, it changes how the song sounds. It never sounds bad, but it does sound different. It's a bit more of a free form experience, and it definitely lends itself better to the fantasy of playing an instrument on a stage. Speaking of which, the virtual environment looks fantastic: it's a little intimidating to stare down the expectant, VR audience.

Should that experience seem a little too relaxed for you, don't worry -- the traditional note-based gameplay mode still exists in Rock Band VR, but it's not the main game mode. Still, you'll at least have the option of playing classic mode if the new gameplay elements don't tickle your fretboard. Finally, there's one more thing to keep in mind about Rock Band VR: it requires Oculus Touch to play. The handheld controller actually mounts on the end of the guitar's neck, and it looks a little weird, but it's necessary to track the accessory in 3D space. At least attaching the controller to the guitar will be easy: every Oculus Touch will ship with the Rock Band mounting bracket, whether you plan to buy the game or not.