Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thoughts from a metal mind: The 2nd world rhythm game war

I can still remember it like yesterday, the days of my teenage years. Underachieving at school, throwing strikes while competing with my bowling team, and best of all, sitting down in front of my TV and Nintendo Wii, and just trying to beat my scores in any of the Guitar Hero or Rock Band games. It really was a wonderful time there around the mid 00's.

But since both Activision and Harmonix stopped their sort of weekly DLC launches to their games, there has been a void for gamers like me. The whole rhythm game community has almost died out, forcing elite players to actually get involved in more "real life" stuff, or just simply change direction to keep their internet personas alive and well. An example is Witwix, a great entertainer that was one of the better guitarists in the community, but now spends most of his time speed running (he has the world record for I Wanna Be The Boshy, a really tough 2D platformer).

In a short weeks, we will witness what will be the re-emergence of the plastic rock band era. Both Harmonix and Activision has presented their own new projects for the new console generation, but doing it with two very different tactics. I am really excited over this myself (even though I do not own a next gen console), just because this has been such a huge part of my own life. Without Guitar Hero or Rock Band, I would not have experienced so much awesome music and my interest for music in general would have been delayed with a couple of years. So to see these guys gear up to what will be the 2nd world rhythm game wars is just heart warming for me.

But how good are the games they are going to release? Let us do a little comparison between the games to find out, starting with the guys who started it all.

Harmonix: Rock Band 4
Harmonix and Activision started the whole craze with Guitar Hero and also developed the follow up and the sort of expansion pack Rock The 80's. But after those games, Harmonix left Activision in the dust to take it all full scale, adding drums, bass and singing to the mix. Rock Band gave a whole generations aspires of becoming a rock star, while still staying in the comfort of their own living room.

Rock Band has over the years become the biggest rhythm game series ever, spanning out to three main games, three side games (Lego, The Beatles and Green Day), and over a whooping 2000 downloadable songs through the game store, RBN (Rock Band Network) and various track packs. So to say that there were some expectations for the fourth game in the series is a huge understatement.

To develop RB4, the developers have taken advice from the fans of the series, searching what it is that they want in the game. One thing was reminded upon itself over and over again, backwards compatibility. The fans wanted that the hard earned money would not go to waste, so they wanted to be able to play on their old instruments from the older generations, and they also wanted their whole catalog of DLC to be available at launch. Said and done, the developers at Harmonix has made it happen, so if you have spent tons of hard earned money on their gear and songs, you will be able to still play with it (as long as you have stuck to either Sony or Microsoft in the next gen transition).

The thing that is the big difference from RB3 is that they are going back to basics. No more pro guitar or bass, no more keyboard, just straight up party with your plastic gear. I can understand that since it most have been a pain in the ass to chart those songs that had pro guitar and bass (they only had one or two of those songs in every DLC week), and there was no majority who played it anyway, so that was probably a smart move from Harmonix. And to amp up the party feel, they have implemented something called Freestyle solo, which means that when there is a solo, you will not see any notes, you make the notes. Play however you want and create a cool solo to impress your friends or that virtual crowd. I was a bit pessimistic over this at first, but seeing it for my own eyes, I realize that it is kind of a cool thing, just not something for the competitive spirit.

Screenshot from Rock Band 4, notice the freestyle guitar solo to the left
Otherwise, this is a game for the nostalgic one. You will recognize it instantly, and if you loved the previous games, you will most likely love this one. The only real negative thing I have to say is that the set list is kind of under whelming. It has some gems like Judas Priest "Halls of Valhalla", Dream Theater "Metropolis Pt. 1 - The Miracle And The Sleeper", and 4 Non Blondes "What's Up?", but I cannot recognize at least 50% of the songs here, and if it is like the RB3 set list, it is not so much rock over it all. This is no surprise though since almost all of the awesome songs out there are already available in either a previous set list or in DLC, and I still trust that Harmonix have created a variation that is hard to match in both musicality and difficulty (saw the hardest drum track, "Dream Genie", all I can say there is RIP bass pedal).

The positive:
The nostalgia factor
Backwards compatibility
The endless amount of DLC

The negative:
The CD set list
No online multi player (for now, might be added in a later patch)

Activision: Guitar Hero Live
After Harmonix left the Guitar Hero series, Activision teamed up with a familiar partner, Neversoft whom they worked with in the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. Together they created GH3: Legends of Rock, the game that got me into the whole craze. Still to this date, GH3 is one of my all time favourite video games of all time with awesome guest appearances from Tom Morello (ex-Rage Against The Machine, ex-Audioslave) and Slash (ex-Guns 'n' Roses, Velvet Revolver, Slash) and a killer set list including Slayer "Raining Blood", Iron Maiden "The Number of The Beast", and the infamous DragonForce song "Through The Fire And Flames".

Feeling the pressure from Harmonix, Activision jumped on the whole full rock band wagon and added the rest of the instruments in their next main game Guitar Hero: World Tour. I freaking hate this game, it was ugly, the hard ware was shit, and it felt extremely rushed. They did improve themselves though with every game after that, topping their form with both Guitar Hero Metallica and their last main game, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, but also released some half assed games (Band Hero and Greatest Hits).

I have always had a love hate relationship with Activision, because they have made some incredible games in the past, they are also know for complete turds, like the whole Call of Duty series. They are also responsible for slaughtering Crash Bandicoot, my favourite video game character of all time (the original trio + CTR was just unbelievably awesome.). So when they presented Guitar Hero Live, literally the week after Rock Band 4 was revealed, I was like "Here we go, they found out that the opposition was reviving their game, so they get right on it to steal as much cash as they can".

Unlike RB4, Guitar Hero Live is a completely different game from its predecessors. The developers started from scratch and also got rid of the whole band feel, only keeping, and re-working, the guitar. Instead of 5 colorful buttons, the new GH guitar have 6 buttons, three on the upper side and three on the lower. By doing so, they want to make this whole experience as you are actually playing different chords, moving your fingers into different positions in a two dimensional way. A cool idea for sure, and it looks good and all, but I have no idea how good the actual hard ware is. Only time will tell that.

The new GH guitar, looks real enough to me
Not only are they changing the guitar and how you play it, they are also changing the overall look to when you play the game. There are two different modes in the game, the normal mode, and GH TV. In GH TV, you rock out to the song's music video, something I have always wanted in a game like this. Just imagine rocking out to videos like Queens of The Stone Age "Go With The Flow" or Mastodon "The Motherload", just pure awesomeness. This is definitely a feature that will attract a good audience.

The normal mode however, does not look quite as good. Instead of the classic animated band and crowd, you will actually play with real people and rock a whole real crowd. Well... that is the idea. I can guarantee that this will fail because of several reasons. 1. They are all actors, and unless they act like Leonardo DiCaprio or are actual rock stars, it will become shit. 2. All movements, actions and lines will be repeated, constantly. 3. You will not be able to customize your own rock star. And finally 4. this live action capture had its glory days back in the 90's, can anyone of you name a game that used it and was a successful game? Thought so.

Hey man, can you see if I got something between my teeth?

So in the end, I am not too positive over this game, but it does have some advantages over RB4. It brings something new to the genre and the original set list is certainly better (some songs here are Megadeth "Hangar 18", In Flames "Deliver Us", Tenacious D "Tribute" and Judas Priest "Breaking The Law"). Also, it will be cheaper if you have to buy the full package compared to the full package in RB4. It will be interesting to see how Activision play this one out, but a bad feeling in my head tells me that by this time next year, we will see the second game of the series released, because that is how Activision rolls.

The positive:
Great big set list
Improved guitar

The negative:
Live action footage
No backwards compatibility

In the end, I think Rock Band 4 will completely crush Guitar Hero Live in almost every category available. There is still a chance that GH Live will win in the sales since Activision has a history of good marketing, but the nostalgics and the community will most likely find RB4 all the more appealing, mostly since Harmonix took the advices from the fans, and made them happen. If I had a PS4 and a choice between these two games, I would definitely go for RB4, even if I was forced to spend tons of money on gear and DLC, because I know what I will get, and that is a complete rocking experience that will work well in parties, or when I am home alone jamming. Still, I am interested to see how GH Live will turn out, even if my hopes are low for it.

Give me your take on this war. Who will come out on top? And share your memories of the good old days of the plastic instruments era. Do it in the comment section here, or hit me a tweet (@FATGreviews)

Stay Metal
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

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