Hands-on: ‘Beat Saber’ on PSVR Makes a Promising Debut at E3

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Beat Saber has been making big waves on the Rift and Vive since its early access launch back in May, having sold more than 100,000 copies in its first month. Now the game is officially headed to PSVR and this week at E3 we got our first look at how it plays on the console.

Beat Saber puts a pair of lightsabers in your hands and then throws blocks at you set to the beat—pretty typical rhythm game setup. Things get a little more interesting as the game asks you to cut in the correct direction indicated on each block, and with the correctly colored lightsaber, in order to score points and survive each track without failing. The game merges great original music with custom-made note patterns to create a very intuitive and compelling experience.

On PC, the game works great with Rift and Vive’s high-end tracking tech (check out our Beat Saber Early Access review here), and is even plenty playable with the inside-out tracking of Windows VR headsets. Generally speaking, PSVR has the least precise tracking of the bunch, so I was interested to see how it would hold up to Beat Saber’s highly active gameplay.
At the game’s first showing on PSVR, here at E3 2018, Beat Saber made a promising impression. While the Move controllers don’t feel quite as responsive as the controllers on the major PC VR headsets, but tracking on PSVR was solid enough that I could handle the game’s tracks on the highest level of difficulty without much frustration. The only major issues came when my controllers exited the camera’s narrow field of view, which happened at one point in a song when I had to duck under one of the obstacles and hit notes while ducking, which ended up leaving my hands outside of the tracking cone, and unable to hit the notes.
Of course, this could be remedied with some more careful placement of the camera, but therein lies the challenge: Sony doesn’t do a great job of helping players understand how to optimize their tracking setup (and some games are better with one arrangement over another) or even offer a simple way to visualize the camera’s actual tracking cone. And that means if players don’t have a good understanding of how the system works, and what they need to do to ensure their setup is as perfect as it can be, they could have a really frustrating time playing Beat Saber, especially if their setup is dialed in for seated gamepad-based games like Moss (which would have them closer to the camera and therefore in a more narrow part of the tracking cone).
Perhaps Beat Saber, which appears to have a strong retention rate not seen from many other VR titles, will encourage Sony to improve the PSVR setup process to help players dial in their tracking for the best experience.
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Speaking with the developers of Beat Saber at E3, they also mentioned that the current PSVR version is mostly unchanged from the PC version, and they expect there are further optimizations they can do to improve the experience before launch. That could mean adjusting the notes on some tracks to reduce the likelihood that players swing outside of the play volume, or further technical optimizations to help the game better understand the intent of the player’s swing in edge cases. The developers also confirmed the game is currently running at 90Hz, which also helps things feel more responsive, compared to most PSVR games which run at 60Hz.
Image courtesy Hyperbolic Magnetism
Beyond the tracking limitations, the Move controllers physically feel quite nice for Beat Saber, considering that the shape of the handle is very hilt-like and easy to hold without accidentally squeezing the trigger during play. The haptics in the Move controller is also well suited to the game, offering a strong and satisfying vibration when hitting each note.
There’s also a new track called ‘Kumquat’ that’s confirmed for the PSVR version of Beat Saber (hear it in the trailer above) and not currently available in the PC version. I got to play the new track and can say it’s worth looking forward to.
While Beat Saber doesn’t currently have a custom track editor, the developers have confirmed one is in the works, though it isn’t clear if it will make its way to the PSVR version. They also said they’re planning to release more original music for the game, but haven’t talked about a timeline for new tracks.
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