Beat Saber Review - Bass-Boosted

  • First Released May 1, 2018
  • PS4

An elegant weapon.

A good rhythm game knows how to get you moving to the beat, but very rarely does it require your full physical exertion in the way that Beat Saber does. On one hand, Beat Saber is a delicately designed rhythm game that uses simple mechanics in increasingly complex combinations. On the other, it's a full-body workout--one that demands you get up and move to the many beats of its drum- and bass-heavy songs. It's a wonderful use of both virtual reality and motion control, with only a few campaign issues and a slightly disappointing lack of content holding it back.

Beat Saber is easy to pick up and understand immediately. You're equipped with two sabers (lightsabers in all but name), color-coded in red and blue. Each song plays out as a track of similarly color-coded blocks, each of which have arrow indicators signifying in which direction they need to be cut. You slice and dice your way through multiple songs, many of which mix up both speedy repetitive patterns with long avenues of tricky swiping angles that test your reflexes; there are also small hazards like explosive bombs and glowing red walls that you'll need to physically avoid. With difficulties ranging from the slow and simple Easy to the frankly ridiculous Expert, there's a gentle curve that lets you engage with Beat Saber on your own terms--from a light, manageable workout to a true test of your mobility and reaction times.

PSVR support and the mandatory use of the Move controllers are what give Beat Saber its sense of motion. Beat Saber's blocks fly at you from the same starting point but can have wildly different trajectories that force you to stretch out to cut them. These can come whizzing past exclusively on your left-hand side before quickly transferring over to the right and flipping the pattern or alternate between low diagonal positions to a flurry of blocks flying overhead. The way Beat Saber continually uses rotations and last-minute position swaps gives its simple two-color system a lot of depth, which often requires deft motion tracking. The limitations of the PS4 camera have made this facet of PSVR tricky in the past, but Beat Saber features precise tracking, allowing for a high level of breadth to movement without impacting the feel of playing.

Beat Saber's songs do a good job of differentiating themselves from each other. "$100 Bills"” for example, is a satisfying exercise in pattern recognition that rides along a punchy bass track, while "Be There for You" shifts between slow and melodic verses into an adrenaline pumping chorus that uses devious pattern swaps to keep you on your toes. There's a lot of standard electro and alluring drum and bass, but Beat Saber does dabble in genres that you wouldn't immediately expect from its neon-brushed presentation and effects-heavy levels that elicit the feeling of attending an intense music festival. Coming across a new type of melody is refreshing after hours of dealing with similarly intense beats per minute, even if there aren't that many songs in total.

The PS4 version has five exclusive songs, each of which have tracks that fit their corresponding songs well and highlight their unique rhythms with clever block positioning. But on console, you lose the ability to download custom songs. Users on PC have been able to create songs using unofficial tools, greatly expanding Beat Saber's limited song library. There's more officially supported songs coming as paid DLC, but the selection is a little slim currently.

Modifiers alleviate the repetitive nature of the limited library to an extent. You can play songs with altered tracks that only allow you to use one saber or have directional arrows disappear as they get close to you. Only a handful of modifiers are available for each song, with an entirely new subset used in the game's campaign mode (which is exclusive to PS4 for the time being). These include challenges that ask you to not only complete a song but also move your arms to hit a collective distance travelled or achieve a high combo. Each of these pushes you to get better at songs you've likely already played, helping you inch closer to a perfect run in a natural way.

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Some challenges are frustratingly counterintuitive, though. Certain modifiers will inexplicably limit the amount of movement you're allowed to make, which detracts from the energy that makes Beat Saber so exhilarating. Other modifiers that force you to keep below a certain combo or make a certain number of mistakes before the end of a stage feel obtrusive to your progress. They require you to actively play worse, manually breaking out of great streaks or purposefully making wrong moves in order to progress.

The campaign gives you branching paths to follow on your way to its conclusion, so some of these frustrating challenges can be avoided. But you'll have to engage with each of them at least once, and they are disorientating speed bumps in an otherwise exciting journey. But Beat Saber's campaign is an otherwise well-paced training ground for your growing abilities. Its difficulty ramps up fairly--you can't change it like you can in other modes--consistently challenging you while also gently nudging you out of your comfort zone so that you can improve.

Beat Saber is an exhilarating rush and an exhausting game to play in the best way. It has great music that is more varied than you might expect, complemented by smartly designed levels that marry their complex patterns perfectly to the beat. It's difficult to get bored of Beat Saber, especially thanks to its extensive campaign that pushes you to get better with each step up in difficulty. But that same campaign is also uneven at times with confusingly counterintuitive challenges, which might frustrate you to the point of taking a break. And when you do, you'll realize that Beat Saber is also currently thin on content, with only a handful of songs and no means to upload customs ones. Yet despite those flaws it remains consistently satisfying to play, and is certainly one of the best PSVR games you can buy right now.

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The Good

  • Fast and complex tracks that are a blast to play through
  • Easy-to-understand mechanics but enough depth for challenging and satisfying play
  • Good variety in the song library with creative gameplay tracks highlighting their differences
  • Well-balanced difficulty curve makes the campaign a great way to learn and improve
  • Superb tracking that allows for precise and nuanced movement

The Bad

  • Some counterintuitive modifiers can disrupt the pace of the campaign
  • Limited song selection

About the Author

Alessandro carved through hundreds of thousands of colored blocks over 10 hours with Beat Saber. He also managed to burn a collective 5000 calories. He thinks he deserves a burger now. Review code was supplied by the publisher for the purposes of this review.