Killing the Beat With Extreme Prejudice in Musical Shooter Audica

The thing about music is it generally doesn’t care how you hit the rhythm.  Dance, tap, strum, slice, punch, or shoot; if the presentation is good then it’s going to be fun.  Music welcomes all gameplay styles and formats, and the trick to getting it right is to let the rhythm carry the load while the action is simple enough to not interfere with players immersing themselves in the beat.  Audica is a VR music rhythm shooter where the beats soar across a starry sky and you’ve got a pair of blasters to zap them away.  It’s in Early Access for now, with plenty of upcoming additions both planned and based on community feedback before it’s done, but even in Audica‘s initial version it’s got the heart of a great arcade rhythm shooter pulsing away to the beat.

Audica is an uncluttered game, with no story or other reason to blast the notes from the sky other than the classic arcade excuse of it being fun to do so.  You’ve got a track list of ten songs, getting steadily more difficult as you work your way down the list, and the reward for clearing one is a leaderboard position, and if everything went right, the satisfaction of engaging in a precision musical performance with guns.  Everything you need to play well is contained in the short tutorial, and the rest of the game is putting it together and learning the tracks while sharpening your aim and timing to wring every point possible from each song.  On the standard Moderate difficulty you can just hop in and play while reflexes supplement your personal sense of rhythm, but once on Advanced or harder you’ll need practice to weather the storm of constantly changing note styles to succeed.

Notes come in orange and blue. To land a hit you’ll need to shoot it with the properly-colored gun, and for maximum scoring you’ll want to hit them dead-center and right on the beat while holding your arms straight in front of you rather than resting at your side. The standard note is a circular target flying from the background into a quickly-shrinking indicator, easily dispatched so long as you use the right gun.  The diamond targets are for sustained notes, with a sizzling bolt of electricity frying the target for as long as the note holds.  A variation of the diamond note comes with a trail that has a number of tiny diamonds at regular intervals, each of which fires off to the beat as the electric arc automatically works its way down the line.  Oval notes require you to hold your gun either upright or sideways to hit the shot, which would normally violate the “Sights are on top for a reason” rule if it wasn’t for Audica being a game about blasting music with light.  Finally, for variety, are the disco balls, which you swat away when they get within arms reach.  All together it takes maybe a minute to learn and then the note tracks mix everything up to keep you constantly on your toes.

The heart of a good music game is its note tracks and each song in Audica has its own style that’s distinct from the others.  One song may have a series of sustains that keeps one hand busy holding down the electric arc while the other is busy rhythmically swatting disco balls, while another has a recurring beat punctuated by three sideways shots with one gun followed three upright shots with another, or a series of linked orange and blue shots ending on a sustain for one gun while the other needs to finish off the rest of the targets in the phrase.

Because Audica is a VR game the notes can come from anywhere, and the game has a wide field of view that each song uses to the fullest.  This can mean that your attention gets focused on one section of the screen while notes are flying in out of view, but it doesn’t take long to learn the best viewing angle to prevent this from happening while an obvious flash indicates where the next target is coming from if you’ve gotten completely distracted.  This can mean that a song may take a playthrough or two to learn, but speaking as someone who can’t get through the harder difficulty levels without a little practice anyway, I didn’t notice it making a difference to my play-style.  More importantly, the tracks are tuned to make full use of the area, and once you understand how the song and note charts fit together, it feels like you’re performing a precision dance with your arms as you blast your way through the note barrage.

At the moment Audica is a polished little musical gem, but also Early Access and less than a week old at the time of this writing.  It’s already had the first update, enhancing the off-screen flash that directs your attention to an incoming target and adding other options based on community feedback, but there’s plenty more planned.  The ten-song roster will expand to at least 25, the single arena should expand to other locations, a practice mode beyond the no-fail option is coming and there will even be different guns to choose from.  The current plan is to wrap up all of this by the end of the year and it doesn’t seem entirely impossible that it might make its estimated deadline.  Wherever the Early Access period may go, though, Audica is already a fantastic base to build up from, with clever note tracks that progress in a nice difficulty curve one song to the next, leading the player with minimal effort out of their comfort zone and into the skilled play of a beat-shooting musical gun ninja.