Update: Sea Green Games read this review and made improvements to the glowing effect causing too much dehazing on the menu elements. The new screenshot is below and labelled!
Grab your microphone, grab your fish, spit some mad bars, and talk or sing at pitches that please the crowd while your band mates fix up their gear that has blown.
Stage Presence is essentially a VR title from Sea Green Games which brings players to a world where they are on stage with their band, in front of a huge crowd. Every persons dream, except Stage Presence ruins that dream by making the gameplay all about becoming a solo performer rather than a band. And it’s really quite clever.
The story is rather simple, you and your band have landed several huge gigs at various venues, the only thing is, your bands equipment has all broken, and so you have to please the crowd for the time it takes your band to have repaired their gear. To please the crowd you have to sing, rap, scream, or talk your way to victory using various props to boost up points.
Now, I should point out, that I do not own a VR headset, but the title is playable without one, and so this piece is focused purely on the non-VR play.
Players will find themselves being introduced to the main menu that doesn’t feature many options except, Game Mode, Difficulty, and Graphics. Career mode will send players on the quest to complete the various levels and unlock more props and stages to perform on. Survival puts players against the crowd and have to keep the audience entertained for as long as they can. If they lose the audience interest then it’s game over. Karaoke mode allows players to import their own songs into the game and sing along with their favourite tracks. Multiplayer I will get into a bit later on as it’s got a few interesting elements. For now though, let’s talk about the game in general.
Stage Presence really allows you to feel like you’re entertaining a live audience.
The audience that you’re trying to entertain are reacting to your real voice through a microphone of your choice. I was using my Turtle Beach X12 Headset to play this. You’ll need to be controlling your pitch and volume by following “cues” from a big text entity that appears in front of you. You are stationary, unable to move around the stage and have a microphone in front of you, and a travel case that stores any props you have available to you. While you’re singing, or talking, or rapping, or whatever noises you’re concerning your neighbours with, you’ll find that the audience are either expressing pop-up love hearts with a +10 next to it, or you’ll see various skeleton skull faces popping up with -5. The more love hearts, the more the audience is enjoying your performance and you need to keep it up.
At various positions within the level there’s a big LCD type board that shows the time remaining before the level ends, and once it’s over you’ll be faced with the scoreboard. Your presence seems to be determined by how often you interacted, and one play I did, I sat there without saying anything and got a low presence score. Your ego is basically your level up progress, and your cash earned can be spent in the in-game store. There’s also an Online leaderboard where your final score is totted up.
During your performance, you’ll see that you’re getting those, “cues” that I mentioned above. These can either be notifications of glory where you’re being told you’re doing a great job, or they can be warnings that you’re either too quiet, or too loud. Annoyingly it’s hard to find the right balance with your voice without any sort of wavelength meter to guide you visually, but then…does a real band member have such a requirement? No. But then…a band member doesn’t have huge walls of text telling him to sing quieter when he’s already whispering. I do think that there may be some work needing to be done with the audio capturing side of things as I did come across many times where my voice was “too loud” but I was actually whispering into my microphone.
players that own the game can join in and throw things as a member of the audience, things being bottles of piss and other weird items
One thing for sure is that the audience loves angry pirate singing. When the audience reach a level where they’re hating your voice, they’ll start distracting you by throwing bottles of piss at you, shining laser pens in your eyes and boo’ing you. Stage Presence really allows you to feel like you’re entertaining a live audience.
Now, consumables and gear. Within the game you have various props that you can purchase with your cash. Gear are on-stage props that you can use to protect yourself from the audience, or improve your audience reaction/scores. Very Cool Shades will help protect against laser pointers and will also boost your points if you sing melodically, Maracas gain you extra points, Tennis Rackets whack back bottles to the audience. There are various others, and some are level specific.
Consumables come in the form of a Smashable Guitar that boost the crowds mood, Mic Megaphone that gains you extra points for singing loudly, Mic Rose, where you gain points for singing melodically, mystery pills that either bring positive or negative effects. There are a fair few more, and hopefully the more Stage Presence progresses, the more content will come forth.
There are four difficulty modes; Easy, Medium, Hard, and Freeplay. The first three are rather clear, the audience is harder to please and more things need to be done to boost your points and get up the leaderboards. Freeplay is just about fun, basically you’re enjoying your time with the game and just singing to a digital audience with no worry about gaining points or losing points. All of these modes are available throughout the current four levels, The Arena, The Cathedral, The Big Festival, and The Moon.
With multiplayer, when setting up your stage, you can allow “Drop In Multiplayer”. This allows players currently seeking for a match to jump in and sit amongst the audience and throw objects at you, and shout insults to you through their microphone. Sadly I never got to try this method as I am running a pre-release version, and it seems like everyone was testing out the streaming system.
The streaming system is interesting, because while players that own the game can join in and throw things as a member of the audience, things being bottles of piss and other weird items, there are also those that can join a Twitch stream (If you’re streaming obviously) and take part in the audience reactions, it brings a whole social feeling to the title. You’ll also see the chat window shown in-game VIA a tablet in front of you that displays the chat. Now, as I have said, this is a pre-release version I’m running, and I was unable to connect to anyone, and I didn’t get to try Twitch streaming. My knowledge on this comes from the trailer.
Graphically, the game looks like it could be very pretty and high quality, but sadly it’s all lost amongst a bunch of lights, fog and everything seems to have a type of haze that fades everything out too much. The glows on the menu areas are also far too much, and colour schemes need to be worked out because the main menus light yellows on oranges sort of blend alongside the glow effects, and god help you if you’re trying to read anything on the scoreboard screen during The Big Festival level. It just feels like either two things are happening. Either the models and textures are amazing but they’re being hidden under a crap load of post-processing, or the textures and models are actually quite bland and so the crap load of post processing is hiding that.
Annoyingly it’s hard to find the right balance with your voice without any sort of wavelength meter to guide you visually, but then…does a real band member have such a requirement? No. But then…a band member doesn’t have huge walls of text telling him to sing quieter when he’s already whispering.
There are no audio options anywhere, which is incredibly confusing considering it’s an audio focused game. There’s no way to adjust the audience levels, and when doing the karaoke mode, there’s no way to increase the volume on your chosen track, instead it’s actually rather quiet amongst the audience which makes it harder to follow along with it, although I suppose it makes sense, you’ve got to be good or you get distracted. Talking about options though, there’s also no way to change the games aspects such as the shadows, the anti-aliasing, and even the resolution because the game runs in a window.
While you’re unable to move around the stage, you are able to move your head and look around, but for some reason if you leave the mouse unattended for only a few seconds, the camera begins to rotate automatically, rather annoying when you’ve set the camera to where you can see the audience and the wall of text hints, then just want to focus on singing without controlling the mouse. This is quite possibly due to the game ideally being a VR experience, and while you can play it without VR, you do get a huge sense that you’re missing out. You’ll realise that if you had VR you’d be able to grab things and be more immersed with the experience, you’ll be properly affected by the laser pointers, and everything would probably feel more intended rather than over the top flashing lights.
Stage Presence is a unique, and great title that pushes VR to a new feeling of interaction, allowing you to feel like not only your actions are making a difference to the game, but also your voice. Ideally this is for VR users, but if you’re happy to sit there singing into a microphone, then you can do that without a VR headset.