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Unplugged: Air Guitar review — Shredding in VR has never been easier

I’m a huge fan of the rhythm-based video game genre, having played Guitar Hero and Rock Band ever since their initial release – in fact, I still throw on these games when I have get-togethers. So, to say that I was excited to try out Unplugged is an understatement. Guitar Hero in VR? Sign me up! Unfortunately, while Unplugged is fun, it just does not have the complexity of those previous entries in the genre and as such falls a bit flat after a couple hours of playtime.

You begin by being berated by Satchel, lead guitarist for the rock band Steel Panther. While I appreciate having a talented rock guitarist as my guide, Satchel comes across far more annoying than fun. Outdated quips about nerds and the rock and roll lifestyle grew tiresome quickly and only made me think of how immature the whole attitude of the game was. Unplugged would have benefited immensely by not allowing the narrator to devolve into sex, drugs, and rock and roll cliches at every turn.

After a short tutorial, you’re let loose on the rock world. Venues open slowly, increasing in size as you progress and complete goals. Each venue has around five songs to complete and new songs unlock often. The venue and crowd sizes do increase, though you mostly just hear the crowd rather than see them. That doesn’t present an issue since you will rarely have time to look around due to needing to hyper focus on your hands anyway. The only time I really had a chance to check out my surroundings was at the end of each song, which was when I quickly realized that there isn’t much to the venue aside from a few sparse details. Still, the roar of the crowd when you do well and the disappointment as you stumble are heard loud and clear while playing, helping to draw you in and providing an idea of how well you’re doing in real time without needing to pay attention to your score or statistics.

The fact that Unplugged simulates playing a real guitar as well as it does despite you essentially playing an air guitar using the Sense controllers is a testament to the developers. Adjusting your guitar height works well and is done by using your left Sense controller to hold the neck and the right Sense controller to grab the whammy bar, which then allows you to raise, lower, or change the position of the guitar. You are welcome to wear the guitar however it feels comfortable, though I’d suggest taking into account the draw distance your fretboard will have, as keeping track of the notes can be quite hard in certain positions. Once playing, the Sense controllers accurately follow your hand movements to mimic rocking out with the guitar, allowing you to swing the neck of your guitar wildly if you so choose, furthering the feeling of being a rockstar. Once you complete a song you can swing your arms in the air to catch the bras and underwear being thrown at you from the (apparently naked if the amount of clothing thrown at you is any indication) crowd.

The Sense controllers also work well for hitting the notes, just unfortunately there are too few notes to hit. While Guitar Hero had you playing complex solos and hopping around a variety of color combinations, Unplugged only has a few button combos it uses, along with a few additions such as pull-offs and vibratos to give playing a bit more flair. Since there is no finger tracking on the PSVR2, you can only use the L1 and L2 buttons to mimic fingering chords and while this does get more complex with harder difficulty settings than you’d expect, it still ultimately boils down to an unsatisfying lack of finger movement needed to complete songs, which leads to everything feeling a bit repetitive after a few hours.

You use R1 and R2 to hold the guitar pick and strum, and this is where Unplugged’s accuracy to real guitar playing is the strongest. You must time your strums correctly and fully follow them through, ensuring that you hit the correct notes. Combining strumming with pulling off more of the intricate chord progressions does become quite fun on harder difficulties.

Despite feeling a bit unwieldy at first, you’ll quickly become accustomed to the air guitar controls. Before you know it you’ll be having fun swinging the guitar neck up and down as you slide around between the four frets strumming your air guitar heart out. While Unplugged never quite reaches the heights I had hoped, I still did have fun when playing particularly complex sections of songs or when I just allowed myself to give in to the music and pretend that I was really in a venue performing. I’m sure my wife had a field day watching me play.

The PSVR2 version of Unplugged includes the base songs along with all the songs previously released as DLC for other consoles, bringing the total of playable songs to more than 50. Pantera, Tenacious D, Slayer, The Offspring, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Muse, Steel Panther, and more are here and provide a wide range of genres to play. While there weren’t any songs that particularly stood out to me, there is a nice variety of good songs which will please most music fans and adequately work to help make you feel like a rock star when playing.

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Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. While he enjoys modern gaming, he is a retro gamer at heart, having been raised on a steady diet of Contra, Mario, and Dragon's Lair.  Chat with him via @thricetheartist on Twitter.

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Unplugged: Air Guitar

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Unplugged: Air Guitar is a great concept that works quite well despite using only Sense Controllers to mimic playing a guitar rather than requiring an unwieldy accessory but falls short due to limitations on the type of chord progressions and notes that the PSVR2 is capable of reproducing without hand tracking. A good song list will ensure that most players will remain entertained for a few hours, but despite the developer’s best attempts to ensure the game remains challenging by adding new techniques throughout and multiple difficulty levels, it still becomes rather repetitive.

Richard Allen

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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