Joy Way, the developers of VR parkour-shooter STRIDE, released a free demo today on Steam for its upcoming rhythm game, AGAINST. It’s a strong start; it does an interesting job of mashing up familiar VR rhythm mechanics, tosses in some super hero-style jumps, and soaks it all in spurts of blood.

The studio is billing Against as a ‘rhythm-fighting’ game that pits you against an army of sinister Mafioso enemies stalking the streets of New York City, circa the 1930s. It has a lot in common with Beat SaberPistol Whip, and FitXR too, as it offers up chances for slashing, shooting, punching, dodging and more. And like all of those games, it’s about getting up off your butt, moving to the beat, and getting your heart pumping.

Check out the demo level on hard mode below to see for yourself:

Before I get into the gameplay, the first thing you’ll really notice about Against is just how cool it all looks. Its dark, gritty style feels like the VR lovechild between Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005) and Spider-Man Noir, making for a pretty slick visual aesthetic. I know Batman isn’t always so overtly neo-noir, but there’s definitely some influence there too as you beat up comic book-style fiends with all manner of old timey weapon.

Dodge & slice | Image courtesy Joy Way

In the demo you come across crowbar-wielding melee types that you have to slice with your katana, gun-totting baddies that you can either shoot or deflect bullets with your blade, axe-throwers that you have to dodge, a giant snake, and plenty of baddies to punch with your brass knuckles.

‘Against’ Demo on Steam

You’re actually offered up such large set of enemies to tackle—and always with the weapon you’ll need in that particular section—that it feels more like a beat ’em up style side-scroller come to life, replete with end stage boss battle. Forward movement is all automatic, but is punctuated with stationary fight scenes.

Wallrun prompt arrows (right) | Image courtesy Joy Way

And as if there wasn’t already enough going on, you’re then prompted to run up walls. Well, you’re prompted to toggle into a wall run mode by smashing two arrows that pop up during the middle of the level. I didn’t find it uncomfortable at all because of how quickly you’re zoomed to the new wall-run position.

Then there’s the boss battle: a giant spider lunges in, forcing you to cut off its legs, dodge web balls, and shoot it to pieces. You can see it all in the last few seconds of the video above. This seemed a little anticlimactic, but that just may be how the demo presents it. As it is, the single level does an admirable job of showing off what Against plans on bringing to the table.

Having played both the easy and hard mode (just barely on the last one) I noticed that the monotone color scheme seems to be pulling double duty. It not only looks cool, but it also helps to highlight important targets in the game by letting in pops of red and yellow—seen in slice pattern arrows, slashes of blood, and directional arrows to tell you which way to dodge. On hard mode, those pops of color become your lifeline to moving forward, as it gets difficult to distinguish enemy types just by looking at them.

Kablam! Biff! Pow! | Image courtesy Joy Way

I died more than a few times on hard mode. Every time you’re hit, you lose one of your three hearts. Losing a heart can be as simple as not ducking low enough to dodge a barrier, not jumping out of the way fast enough of an incoming enemy snake/axe/bullet, or missing a wall run prompt.

One thing that didn’t click right away was the rhythm element to the game. Because much of the game is dependent on character animations, and trying to shoot or slice specific regions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and completely forget that you’re supposed to be syncing up with the beat. Looking back at my gameplay footage, I was hitting things fairly close to the beat though, so maybe I had already clicked with the game without really realizing it.

Image courtesy Joy Way

Joy Way, a three-person team currently, is planning to release Against sometime in Q3 2021. The team says it will include up to ten music tracks, three difficulty modes (easy, hard, expert), and a unique final boss challenge.

The demo level does great service to showing off the ensemble of mechanics, and is ripe with possibilities. But assembling that music and making it pop like, say, ‘$100 Bills’ did for Beat Saber in its OST, is going to be another issue to tackle. I’m not sure the demo really features a brain-infesting earworm that it truly needs to spread the gospel of Against.  

The demo is now available on Steam, including support for SteamVR-compatible headsets. You can play it for free, although Joy Way says its merely a beta at this point and not reflective of the final product.

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