Unplugged PC VR With Valve's Index Controllers Impressions

Unplugged’s PC VR version is still worth a look, but fiddly controller tracking makes the Quest version the better of the two. Read on for our impressions!

Against all odds, Unplugged on Quest is something of a triumph. As we said in our release review in October, the game handles surprisingly well with the headset’s hand-tracking, allowing you to strum along to a solid setlist, controller-free. It was, inarguably, held back by the limitations of that tracking tech, but it still made for a great time that will hopefully only get better as new hardware comes along.

The PC VR version of the game isn’t quite the same story, though it’s by no means a train wreck.

Unplugged PC VR Impressions

Unplugged arrives on SteamVR with support for the Valve Index controllers (which, as you may have guessed, are decidedly not controller-free). The same finger-tracked gameplay is in place, getting you to hold down your digits to a corresponding color at different points on a guitar neck, then strum along with your other hand. The grip and trigger of the Index controllers feature touch sensors so, in theory, it knows when you’re holding down a given finger.

I expected the game to feel strange with controllers in hand, but I hadn’t accounted for some of the benefits of this approach. Firstly you have a better sense of actually holding the guitar with a controller in hand, making the experience a little more tactile. The biggest benefit, though, is the small vibration you’ll feel when strumming the strings, which gives you a much better sense of making a connection with the guitar when strumming.

The real concern, though, was if the Index controller finger tracking would be able to perform as well as hand-tracking on Quest. Historically I’ve not had a great experience with my own Index controllers on this front. My hands aren’t huge and when playing Half-Life: Alyx I’d often find that holding my pinkie down would bend both it and the finger next to it on the virtual hand models, for example. It was annoying, but it wasn’t crucial to the gameplay.

Such problems simply couldn’t fly with Unplugged, though. Fortunately, it seems like developer Anotherway and publisher Vertigo Games are directly combating this. Though it doesn’t tell you in the tutorial (which is just an edited version of Satchel from Steel Panther’s Quest intro with the hand-tracking calibration segment cut out), the PC VR version features ‘dynamic calibration’, which prompts you to drum the fingers of your fret hand along the handle of the controller before the start of a song. It helps give you a good idea how where your fingers should be and suggests the game is looking to account for its own potential errors.

And the game certainly remains playable. I’ve tackled a handful of the opening songs on Easy and Hard difficulties and generally found that I can keep up with quick chord changes for the most part, and song mapping appears to be identical across tracks. But as I studied my hand throughout these playthroughs I noticed moments that fingers weren’t fully lowering or extending upon command and required me to try again, costing me notes and combos. Granted this is all according to my hand-size; those with larger hands might find the experience to be more consistently accurate. But, generally speaking, I found myself having to spend more time concentrating on where and how I pressed my fingers down than I do on Quest. It also feels a little strange for your index further to be held at a different spot than the rest of your fingers because of the trigger, though I found I got used to this pretty quickly.

The controllers also just detract from Unplugged’s brilliant accessibility. The great thing about the Quest version is that you can hand the headset to just about anyone and let them pick it up for themselves, but it’s not as instantly graspable with a controller in hand. That won’t be a problem for dedicated players, of course, but the standalone version is undoubtedly the more impressive and easier of the two to show off.

Unplugged on PC VR has its ups and down, then. Based on what I’ve seen it certainly isn’t unplayable, and the developers seem to have done a decent job accounting for at least some of the Index controller’s shortcomings. But, even with the added benefit of tactile feedback, we’d still recommend the Quest version as the way to play the game as it generally feels more accurate and delivers the Unplugged experience as originally intended. Hopefully we see a popular headset capable of delivering accurate hand-tracking on PC VR soon, as it would bring this version of the game right up to par with Quest.

Have you been playing Unplugged on PC VR? Let us know what you make of it in the comments below.

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