We are just about a year into the so-called VR revolution. Both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift have been on the market for nearly a year now, and PlayStation VR will be hitting its six-month mark soon.
With the format still in its infancy, the kinds of games launching for them are all over the place. Full VR games such as the recently released Resident Evil 7 on PSVR are still, unfortunately, few and far between. On the PC-based systems, many games are short proofs of concept, Early Access titles still in development, or odd experiments.
One genre that I believe could benefit greatly from VR is rhythm. Both the titles AudioShield and Thumper are great, simple titles that provide excellent immersion and interesting gameplay mechanics. Harmonix is getting into the mix as well, with Rock Band VR set for launch this month.
When I came across a music-focused title that bills itself as a “comedy-horror-karaoke” game, I was excited to dive into another VR aural experience. However, it didn’t turn out to be quite what I was expecting.
Developed by Sea Green Games and published by tinyBuild, Stage Presence was released on February 28th, 2017 for PC via Steam, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. The game does not require a VR headset to play, but we played through the Vive version for this review.
The Show Must Go On
In Stage Presence, you are the frontman of a nameless band, well on your way to the top of the music world. In the midst of one of your performances, something goes wrong, leaving your bandmates unable to play.
With your massive audience starting to turn against you, you need to grab your mic and keep them entertained until the rest of the band can get back up and running.
This is really more of the game’s concept rather than an actual story, so there isn’t much to comment on here. The game’s “Career” mode just gives you a series of venues to play in rather than any kind of plot.
Vocal Cord Nodules
Alright, so your band is unable to play, but you’re still an entertainer! You have an obligation to keep your audience happy! So, you distract them by babbling nonsense into a microphone.
Your main method of control in this game is a microphone – either the one built into the Vive or an external one of your choice. Each stage gives you a time limit during which you have to keep the audience happy by essentially screaming randomly into the mic.
You are judged on the variance of your vocal pitch and your volume. The audience will quickly get bored if you go monotone, so you need to constantly be changing your way of talking or singing.
There are also various items you can buy between stages to assist in your endeavor. These range from a guitar you can smash to a bass (the fish, not the instrument) that you can drop to hype up the crowd.
Playing through the first stage is fun, if for nothing else than the sheer novelty of the premise. It’s once you reach the next stage that the cold, cruel reality sets in: this is literally all you’ll be doing through the entire game.
By the third stage, I had every item unlocked. Within thirty minutes, I had experienced everything that this title had to offer. The final blow was my realization that this game, marketed to me as music-focused, pretty much lacked music altogether.
Stage Presence doesn’t work the greatest with room-scale VR if you’re playing in a small space. My play area is the minimum Steam allows for room-scale. While in a “performance,” all of the items you purchase are placed in a box near your feet that you can reach down and grab out of…but in my setup, half of this box were placed outside of the play boundaries. As the play boundaries were, in my case, the walls of my apartment, it was physically impossible for me to access half of the items.
During my playthroughs, I also ran across a few technical problems. I’ve had the game lock up while loading a stage. I’ve had the game lock up while navigating menus. I’ve had the game lock up while attempting to play a multiplayer round. A box that measures your standing height for room-scale occasionally obscures half of the game’s menus, and I found no way to dismiss it. There were also some issues with visual stuttering even on the lowest setting (although, to be fair, I run an RX 480 8GB in my PC, which is near the minimum for what Steam considers “VR Ready”).
The game features a multiplayer mode in which you can participate in the audience of another player’s game, throwing items at them. Unfortunately, I was never able to find a game to join, both pre- and post-launch, nor did another player ever join my game.
Of final note, there is a “Karaoke” mode as well, which I had hoped might offer more concrete music gameplay. In this mode, you can pick a music file on your computer (via painfully small and imprecise folder navigation in-game), which will then play in the background of one of the game’s regular stages. That’s it. This mode isn’t even scored, and feels tacked on as an afterthought.
Immersed in Chaos
Graphically, Stage Presence has quite a lot going on. The level of detail in the various models and stages is pretty low, but the game is exchanging quality for quantity here – there are massive amounts of people moving in the audience, bouncing around giant beach balls and throwing bottles at you. The atmosphere is pretty chaotic, and being immersed in it via VR is a fun experience. I can also forgive the lack of detail, considering how much power is needed to run a VR game smoothly.
The game only offers four environments to play in, and they’re all different variations of crowds around a stage. There is a level that takes place on a base on the Moon which stands out, but it was also the hardest one on my system, requiring me to drop the graphical quality to play it.
I’ll go ahead and mix the sound portion of the review into here as well, as there really isn’t much to say. You have the crowd either cheering or booing you, with the sounds of your band desperately trying to repair their gear behind you…and that’s about it. It’s the right ambiance for the presentation, but it just isn’t interesting.
The track that plays in the main menu is actually pretty catchy, though.
Your Best Chad Kroeger Impression
Overall, Stage Presence doesn’t actually feel like it has enough content to be called a game. It’s more in line with those “experimental experiences” that are dominating VR libraries right now. Even with that in mind, this title is incredibly shallow, with one being able to experience nearly all of its content in about half an hour.
After having a unique experience in the first stage, the game immediately becomes repetitive, with a feeling of pointlessness descending upon it. I think the only real fun I’d be able to get out of this title is watching someone else play it, as the gameplay is essentially screaming into a microphone for two minutes at a time.
The final slap in the face is that Stage Presence costs ten dollars. Ten dollars to scream into a microphone at varying pitches. With no real challenge, and not much in the way of gameplay in general, even ten bucks feels extreme.
Aside from the inital five minutes of gameplay proving interesting, and even then only if you’re playing the VR version, Stage Presence is a hard pass. The only thing keeping the score from bottoming out is that the game functions most of the time.
Review copy provided by tinyBuild. Screenshots courtesy of tinyBuild.