This article was originally published on THUMP Canada.
From intimate concerts to music videos, more and more artists are using virtual reality technology to offer their fans unique one-of-a-kind experiences they can't get anywhere else. Not surprisingly, brands have been quick to capitalize on the newly provided opportunities, resulting in collaborations like Absolut—aka the makers of the vodka you bought in university when you wanted to impress someone because it seemed more "sophisticated" than Smirnoff—teaming up with Deadmau5 to create a Google Cardboard VR video game in which you experience a day in the life of the Canadian EDM superstar.
The premise is simple enough; playing as the famously outspoken Toronto recording artist, you must get him from the studio to his club show, navigating a series of obstacles. Given Joel Zimmerman's well-documented love of all things nerdy—he's a regular on live video-streaming site Twitch, was a playable character in the short-lived Guitar Hero spin-off DJ Hero, and occasionally spends his weekends recreating classic SNES theme songs—on paper, he's a natural candidate for his very own VR project.
After exchanging a few emails with the game's Los Angeles-based creators Knoxlabs (their slogan and I swear I'm not making this up: "Give your cardboard character") about attaining a review copy, a few days later, four Absolut logo-emblazoned limited-edition cardboard headsets showed up in the mail. I downloaded the app on my phone, and I was ready to embark on my virtual reality journey.
The game's opening scene takes place in Zimmerman's studio, where we're treated to a 360-degree video view of his equipment set-up, which features walls of keyboards, modular synths, and multiple laptop screens. As we take in the scenery as an observer, the producer's phone rings, and he's told by an anonymous voice that he needs to be making his way to the big gig across town. I'm pretty sure this is how at least two of the Jason Bourne movies start.
Next you're taken to Deadmau5's Batcave-like garage, which includes a bevy of tricked-out motor vehicles, though sadly the producer's infamous Nyan Cat "Purrai" Ferrari isn't a playable option. After tracking down an animated version of the producer's beloved feline companion, Meowingtons (who has a staggering 17.6K followers on Instagram), it's time to hit the road.
The driving sequence is by far the coolest part of the game, allowing you to control the car as it barrels down the highway at sunset, tilting your head to increase velocity like a low-budget Grand Theft Auto. I'm fondly reminded of the producer's popular "Coffee Run" YouTube series, in which he takes DJs, musicians, and one late mayor of Toronto on drives, and shoots the shit with them. I do have to subtract ten imaginary points for realisticness though, because as anyone who's driven through the Canadian city's construction-ridden streets during rush hour will attest, there's no way this trip would take two minutes.
We've finally gotten to the club but there's one major snafu—the muscular, tank-topped bouncer is refusing to let our mouse-headed hero enter (OK, this part might be accurate). Luckily you can distract him by "beatmatching" the music in your headphones to symbols on a pop-up bar, which causes your adversary to lose himself to dance (we wouldn't recommend you try this tactic in real life).
Who knew Deadmau5 was so athletic? Here, you must leap over rolling crates Donkey Kong-style, the moves for which were captured using motion sensor technology.
It's eerily quiet inside the club, but before you can take to the stage, you have to take a few photos with the fans to keep up appearances. Did you know there's a 2005 Playstation 2 title called Paparazzi (Japanese title: The Camera Kozou) which allows you to stimulate the experience of a photographer? According to Wikipedia, the game revolves around "taking pictures of models and winning competitions by taking good photos," which doesn't sound creepy at all. Anyways, the moral of Absolut Deadmau5 is that selfies only slow you down and should be avoided at any cost.
Success! You've delivered Deadmau5 to the show and as a reward, you get to hear an exclusive track "Saved." In a recent Billboard interview, Zimmerman said, "I whipped that track up out of the vault and said let's try it out," claiming it's the first track to be debuted via VR experience. As far as Deadmau5 songs go, it's pretty tranquil, but it's cool to see the live crowd react to the music and it almost feels like you're really there.
So is Absolut Deadmau5 worth the $9.95 US it costs for the headset? The answer probably depends on how big a Mau5head you consider yourself, but in the aforementioned interview, Zimmerman hints this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities of the technology. Unlike many artist and brand partnerships, he was involved in the process from start-to-finish, rather than just signing off on it and collecting that sweet, sweet vodka money. He's also quickly responded to the game's detractors in typically droll Deadmau5 fashion.
As far as a platform for premiering new music, it's definitely more effective than say, Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail Samsung app or U2's iTunes "gift" album. Hopefully if there's a sequel one day, it will delve further into the life of superstar DJs by introducing activities like responding to thirsty fan Twitter messages, taking helicopter rides to Ibiza, and fighting copyright infringement cases in courts. And let's get a Meowingtons spinoff, because that cat deserves a turn in the spotlight.
Max Mertens is on Twitter.