Dancing Jedi or Sweaty Mess? It’s in Your Hands!
I see the cubes racing towards me as my arms move in rhythm with the beat. One cube – THUMP – after the next – THUMP – is sliced in half as I dance and cut, holding a flashy sabre in each hand. I narrowly dodge a wall before I cut a cube on the right only to miss one on the left. I am low on hit points and cannot miss another cube. I can feel my heart – THUMP – beat faster than the beat – THUMP – as I slash away at the final cubes. Score B. I can do better.
Beat Saber is a virtual reality (VR) game that tests your ability to cut cubes in rhythm with a chosen record. Each hand holds a sabre, and each sabre lights up in a different colour. Cubes drop onto the screen some distance away and must be sliced in half as soon as they reach you. Cubes come in two colours as well, and the colour of the sabre must match the colour of the cube cut. Adding to the challenge is an arrow on every cube that determines the direction from which the sabre must approach the cube for the hit to count.
Cutting cubes in Beat Saber is a feast for your body as well as your eyes and ears. Due to the field of vision, the headset covers and the movement the inbuilt cameras record, VR is highly immersive, and Beat Saber takes full advantage of that. The controllers and the headset provide visual and physical access to a flashy arena filled with cubes to slice and walls to dodge. In moments of complete immersion, Beat Sabre turns into a sensory experience as you dance around walls like John Travolta and slash cubes like Master Yoda.
On the flip side, heavy movement and clunky VR equipment can turn Beat Saber into a blurry and hazardous mess. Unless the headset sits in a sweet spot, visual elements start fading into one another. Once sweat starts trickling into your eyes, the blurry cubes may start messing with your mind. Caught up in a stubborn battle to beat a level despite the blurriness, you are more likely to trip and fall. Immersion and blurriness can turn Beat Saber from an exciting experience into an annoying hazard.
The main issue with Beat Saber, however, is about metrics. A desire to succeed and optimise can distract from the dance as metrics push you to move more efficiently to beat the same song on a higher difficulty setting or with one hand only. John Travolta and Master Yoga fade into the background as your attention shifts away from your body, the beat, and the flashy colours. Metrics evoke the desire to up the difficulty or improve upon your score, which turns an expressive and empowering experience into a stressful and suffocating one.
If you consciously ignore metrics that distract from the core experience, Beat Saber’s immersive qualities are unmatched. Your body as well as your ears and eyes will – THUMP – get caught up in the beat – THUMP – as you slash and dash across the floor like a dancing Jedi.
Publisher: Beat Games
Developer: Beat Games
Platforms: Linux, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Mac operating systems
Release Date: 21 May 2019
Genres: Virtual reality, Rhythm
Fig. 1-2, 4: Screenshots of Beat Saber (Beat Games 2016), taken by Uriel Nyffenegger
Fig. 3: Photograph of Uriel Nyffenegger playing Beat Saber (Beat Games 2016), taken by Joonas Palsio.
Passionate about games, literature, and philosophy, Uriel delights in feeling complex emotions and thinking big thoughts. Overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts, he plays basketball until he turns into metal Mario and needs a nap.
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