I pride myself on being "not completely terrible" at rhythm games. I've played almost a decade of Guitar Hero and Rockband, and have been deeply engrossed in Beat Saber ever since purchasing my first VR headset, but Audica threw me for a loop. I'm normally able to play on Expert difficulties, but Audica will kick you around and make you question whether you even have a sense of rhythm at all. This difficulty is both a blessing and a curse, but let's get into the finer details of the gameplay first.
Audica throws a number of different obstacles at you in the form of notes. Starting off easy, there are targets that you just need to shoot in time to the beat. As you increase the difficulty, however, it starts to introduce targets you must shoot and keep holding the trigger down to destroy, and even targets that require shooting at specific angles.
This is a lot to get your head around in-game, too. You score points based on your accuracy, form - whether you’re aiming down the sights or just hip-firing - and timing, along with the standard score multiplier for hitting consecutive notes. There are even spheres that swing into view for you to melee with your pistols, but the overall execution is the real curveball.
Unlike just about every other rhythm game out there, Audica's notes don't move towards you on a track. Instead, they fly inwards from the edges of the screen just before you need to shoot them. There is a small trail of light that zips to the next note to indicate the order, but on anything above Moderate difficulty, this can be tough to follow.
I think Harmonix should be respected for their attempts to innovate, but unlike Rockband and Guitar Hero before it, Audica is a combo breaker. On paper, the design of "rhythm game with shooting mechanics" puts Audica sounds a lot like the upcoming Pistol Whip, but that title looks more immediately appealing - even from the limited gameplay we've seen so far - because it retains the tried and tested ever-moving track.
Audica suffers from a few other teething issues, too. Holding both arms out in front you to anticipate the incoming notes will soon set your shoulders on fire. There’s even safety advice in-game that recommends a stance to reduce shoulder fatigue where you bend your elbows to your chest when there's nothing the shoot at. This is fine for the lower difficulties, but you aren't afforded this level of luxury once you move into Advanced or Expert; there are so many notes that you rarely have time to take a break, as doing so would sacrifice your accuracy and form.
There are plenty of positives, however. For one, Audica has well over 20 songs and is still being updated through its Early Access. Despite only personally knowing a couple of the included tracks, there's some recognisable talent in the lineup and the songs are generally enjoyable to play. You might need a few practice runs on a lower difficulty to get the hang of each song, but Audica retains the classic rhythm game rush and reward of improving your score.
As of a recent update, there’s also an intuitive editor built into the game, allowing you to easily create your own custom target maps if you aren’t a fan of the default target map for any of the game’s songs. Finally, my favourite touch is the pistol tricks you can perform with your controllers. By holding the sticks to the left or right, you can either twirl your guns like you’re in a Western, or let go of them and watch them float away - only to snap back to your hands when you release the stick. These let you add some flourish to your performances unlike anything I’ve seen before.