Guitar Hero it was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating, intelligent and fun products among those landed in the homes of gamers. That simple plastic guitar with five colored buttons gave us many hours of joyful rock that, one sad day, was over. Despite the good reception, we all knew that Guitar Hero Live, released in 2015, would be the swan song of a series now heading towards the avenue of the sunset. The great glories of Legends of Rock and World Tour were already long gone and the idea of Activision continuing with the franchise was an impossible dream.
But hope is rekindled for Guitar Hero fans thanks to Unplugged, a virtual reality version very similar to the product we all know, developed by Anotherway and published by Vertigo Games.
A fascinating and nostalgic experiment, which we tell you about in Unplugged review for Oculus Quest 2.
No controllers, just hands!
Unplugged takes the solid foundations built with Guitar Hero and translates them into the world ofair guitar, or the gesture of playing an imaginary guitar. This is achieved thanks to the reading of the player's hands by the Oculus viewer: the Facebook viewer software, in fact, is able to recognize the user's hands and their movements. A feature of Oculus that started out as an accessibility tool for people who need sign language to communicate and that has translated into a playful element very quickly. Before starting the game it is therefore necessary to go to the Oculus settings menu and activate the hand recognition (here the official guide).
The game opens with an exhaustive tutorial, illustrated by an exceptional teacher: following us during our adventure is Satchel, guitarist of Steel Panther, who will speak to us from a poster during our adventure. To play Unplugged it is necessary, first of all, to be in a well-lit room, make sure that the Oculus external cameras are perfectly clean (to facilitate the reading of our hands) and that the sleeves are well rolled up, so as not to obstruct the viewer. We add that it is very important to find a safe and comfortable position, but that it is absolutely standing, for reasons that we will explain shortly.
How to play
After having checked all the elements of this list, a bit like if we had done the sound check before a concert, we can grab our air guitar, position it comfortably in our field of vision and start playing. When a track starts, our hands will clearly be engaged in two distinct actions: one in holding the pick and the other in the guitar neck. Unlike Guitar Hero, which only involved the use of five keys with different combinations, in Unplugged we are required not only to satisfy a specific combination of virtual keys (red, blue, green and yellow) but to do it in a specific position of the neck: to finalize the note this must obviously be plectrumed.
The grid that we will find before us therefore has four different tracks, on which we will see the different combinations of notes appear; to understand if a note is picked or not, we will see an animation near the strings.
To the basic mechanics is added some interesting such as the presence of special combos and power ups. The special combos are represented by the notes that do not need to be picked and those vibrated: for the former the lack of the pick stroke is compensated by very tight sequences of combos along the entire length of the neck while the latter are prolonged and replace the effect of distortion that in Guitar Hero was applied by the lever positioned under the pick fret.
I power up instead they will float on top of the guitar neck and to activate them we would have to hit them right with the guitar. To all this we add some very nice minigames where we will be asked to tune the guitar.
While there isn't a real guitar, with plastic buttons and levers that resist under our fingers, the command feedback in the game it is surprisingly pleasant, thanks also to a very nice sound design.
La track list is varied and very valid, composed of 23 tracks ranging from great classics to more contemporary songs: from Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash to Left Hand Free by Alt-J passing through Roadie by Tenacious D ... and without forget, of course, Steel Panther's Eye Of The Panther. The potential to expand the tracklist is clearly endless, a bit like Beat Saber's tracks, and we're curious to see how Anotherway's experiment continues over the months.
Ergonomics and final yield
The game really sets up as a very experience funny and if you've loved Guitar Hero over the years, Unplugged is the drug for you. Before we got to the fun part, however, we had to struggle with some annoying ergonomic issues. Let's start with position: we tried to play both seated and standing, but the big limitation of Unplugged is having to keep both hands in the Oculus field of view. If you play seated then it is likely that the game will not see your pick hand: you will therefore have to adjust the guitar over and over again to find a position that is both able to keep track of both hands and comfortable for you.
The best solution is therefore to play standing by bringing the guitar to the height of the loins, position which unfortunately forces you to keep your head very low. With the weight of Oculus, which no matter how light it is still a decent bulk, the neck and shoulders are unfortunately very stressed ... even if the neck pains are not very rock, no one will blame you if after half an hour of the game you will feel the need to abandon. This problem could be solved by creating an optional hybrid solution, leaving the hand on the handle free and that of the pick engaged with a controller, capable of detecting the movement of the pick without the viewer "seeing" it.
It escapes us then, on a conceptual level, why associate a very technical gameplay (albeit always fun) with the air guitar, a gesture clearly made to express with the body a feeling of fun and total freedom. Here we have two ways: either to play just to have fun, without taking into account scores and scores, or to concentrate fully on performance, which however requires concentration and a certain motor control, in which freedom is severely limited by problems of ergonomics mentioned above.
Unplugged is not the simple heir of Guitar Hero, but a new link in the evolutionary chain of rhythm games. The work done by Anotherway is remarkable and the final rendering really fun, even if tainted by some design ingenuity (fortunately, easily correctable). Guitar Hero unfortunately remains a distant memory and it is practically impossible for that genre of game to come back into vogue. Unplugged defends itself well though and is a must see if you've rocked the Harmonix series for years. We are not in front of the killer app that Oculus Quest 2 will sell you, but if you have the viewer we absolutely recommend you to take the stage of Unplugged!
- Track list notevole
- Fun gameplay, albeit technical
- Some ergonomics problems
- Freedom or performance?