I recently bought “The Runner” DLC for GrooVR, a music visualisation program for the GearVR. GrooVR is akin to your typical desktop based music player, offering a number of music visualisations for your listening experience, except obviously the hook here is that’s it’s now being presented to you in virtual reality.
As a concept being immersed in a virtual environment which responds to your music sounds really cool. When I first got my GearVR I tried a few of the free visualization’s GrooVR came with and while they’re interesting from a “what can I use these fancy new googles for?” perspective they’re not particularly engaging.
So along comes “The Runner”, a paid DLC visualisation which is basically selling itself as a Tron light-cycle experience. You ride through a neon-lit city with your buddy on a Tron-like light cycle in an effort to escape your pursers. The developers nailed the Tron experience down pretty well: from the neon colour scheme to the design of the game environment, right up to the 80’s electronica music which the DLC comes packaged with. It’s the reason why I’d thought I’d try out the visualisation.
Unfortunately while the “The Runner” gets the Tron vibe right, it’s awful as a music experience. First off, unlike the free music visualisations, “The Runner” requires user interaction in the form of a shooting game mechanic. You shoot laser bolts out of your helmet in order to score points taking down flying robots of some description. As far as I can tell there’s no point to this activity. While your score is logged on your light-cycle’s dashboard it’s not used for anything. And technically your invincible so you don’t even need to engage with the mechanic making it irrelevant to the experience.
Second, there are very few components of the game environment that noticeably respond to the music being played. While listening to the included soundtrack I only noticed bar chart based music visualisations on the sides of the walls during the tunnel sequences and the final road out of the city. Compared to the other music visualisations this felt pretty lack luster as an immersive music experience. Finally, the game lacks polish, especially for premium content. For instance: while it’s probably expected for an experience such as this to loop you would expect the transition between loops to be seamless. Instead the road you’re driving on suddenly shifts as the visualisation resets because the end of the track hasn’t actually been aligned with the start of the track.
At four dollars this is a disappointing purchase. While I like the concept of “The Runner” the execution just isn’t there. Personally I would have preferred to have taken part in a race through the neon city where the city and track architecture changed according to the music I was listening too. A shooting game feels like the easy thing to do and suggests the music experience wasn’t thought out particular well.
Just to end on a positive note: I did like the look of the dashboard interface on the light-cycle, reminds me of the bike I had as a kid which come with a radar screen and flashy sound effects.