Rock (Band) Isn’t Dead!!!!

One of the biggest complaints you will hear in regards to modern music is that rock is dead. When Gene Simmons claims Rock is dead, it’s probably a pretty decent sign that the genre is on the way out. Statements like that reinforce the cynical nature inside of older people who just want a return to the old days.

The same echoes with the rhythm gaming genre. When Activision and Harmonix killed off Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gamers were left without any kind of successor. Sure, other types of rhythm games popped up, but nothing that utilized the guitar controllers and plastic drum kits we had collected over the years.

It seemed like all of that investment and trust was just thrown to the curb. Harmonix did their best to support Rock Band 3 with DLC well into 2012, but they eventually closed up shop. Since the genre had seen better days, there wasn’t much purpose in producing content for a game that people weren’t buying.

Just like how most people claimed that rock was dead, so was Rock Band. We all had our fun and now just have memories. No one will ever make the same classic game again. Why would you? We have all moved on.

Except that isn’t even true. Not only will Rock Band 4 be releasing tomorrow (with Guitar Hero: Live releasing later this year), but rock is not dead. Far from it. It may not hold the mainstream appeal it once had, but people haven’t forgotten about rock.

Sup?

A little band by the name of Ghost have done everything in their power to resurrect the 60’s style of gothic/satanic inspired pop/rock for a new era. Mastodon, once a progressive metal band, have transitioned into mostly their own genre with lots of throwbacks to classic rock styling.

For that matter, The Darkness released a new album in May of this year. They are a band founded on bringing back 80’s hard rock. To even claim that rock has died is just being ignorant; if anything, rock is more specialized now then it ever used to be.

Certain things fade in and out of fashion all the time. Music is the easiest to track as it has been around for as long as people began speaking. Much like how the Middle Ages was overrun with chamber music and the Renaissance brought about classical music, most of the 20th century was dominated by rock.

You can even go further by dissecting different decades and identifying sub-genres. The 50’s was the dawn of rock’n’roll. The 60’s brought pop/rock and the 70’s started with prog rock. Even now, in 2015, rock has mostly turned to metal with some bands clinging to old-fashioned ideals.

Gaming has had a similar resurgence of the past. 2D Platformers had all but died in the early 2000’s, but we now have more made every month then were released in the entirety of the 6th console generation. It’s almost as if the SNES never left.

If only you could buy one of these brand new.

To say anything is dead is to know where humanity and public interest is going. If you can logically see into the future, then you can make the claim that something has moved on. How can that ever come to fruition when so many people talk about it?

Could rock music ever die? There are indie bands no one has heard of pumping out sweet licks every week. There are people in their bedrooms recording songs made solely by them. Even gigantic, mega famous bands like Metallica are going back-to-basics and producing music in the vein of their origins.

Rock isn’t dead. Far from it. The same can be said for Rock Band. Now that the time is right and the consumers are hungry for a return to basics, Rock Band will get to thrive where it’s needed most; in the hearts of true fans.

The genre may have crashed before, but Harmonix never left the building. They let other acts take over the stage while they calculated how to one-up the competition. Allowing users to retain DLC between console generations is completely unprecedented and will definitely lead to sales from cynical folk.

More importantly, we may finally have that dream version of Rock Band we always wanted. Every single hit song from every decade on one console. The fact that I can load up Jimi Hendrix, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Talking Heads and The Police in one setlist is beyond amazing.

Better still, Harmonix has the power to make new music known. Most people who will buy Rock Band 4 are probably going to be younger then the target demographic (18-34). They will get to experience the best of the past and the brightest of the present all under one roof.

Long Live Rock!!

I don’t think there is a better time for rock then right now. If you still think it’s dead, you’re just delusional.

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Splash Damage – Splatoon Demo Impressions

As a self proclaimed Nintendo fanboy, I was optimistic about Splatoon. I saw people playing it at PAX East, but didn’t get a chance to wait in line. While everyone looked elated, I wasn’t sold on the idea quite yet.

When I heard about a demo coming to the eShop, I figured that it would be a great way to experience the game in my own home. Why settle for a calculated and specified demo when I can just have at the game myself?

Nintendo, in their own esoteric way, decided to make the demo active for a few short hours. Instead of a typical weeks long “beta” that would give people a taste of the final build, Nintendo went ahead and included a server stress test in their demo.

Other than that being a clever idea, the limited window of opportunity made me excited beyond reason. Not only did I want to play this, I felt as if I needed to. I was itching all morning to give it a shot (had I realized there was a 7 am time, I would have tried it sooner!).

So I went about my usual Saturday routine of cleaning and volunteering; when I came home, I patiently waited downstairs fiddling around on my 3DS. The 10 minutes before the servers launched were an excruciating wait.

It’s amazing how I’ve written so much without even talking about the game. Nintendo somehow made the prospect of a demo special. I remember a time when having a sample of a game meant you either had to subscribe to a magazine or keep the preview disc that came with your console.

Ah the good ol’ days…

With the advent of the internet becoming integrated into a console, those special times were over. Microsoft allowed you to try out practically every game on the Xbox Live Marketplace via a demo. Sometimes the demos ended up being far better than the final product.

Splatoon‘s Global Testfire made me feel that way. I wasn’t going out and picking up a magazine, but I had to discover the existence of the demo and do some research into the timeframes the servers would be active.

Maybe this is just how Nintendo rolls, but I feel this was a great way to build even more hype over this brand new IP. Nintendo hasn’t really created an original idea in a long time (excluding Codename STEAM), so many people were playing the waiting game.

Without any kind of hands-on, I probably would have dismissed Splatoon entirely. It looked neat, but I’ve fallen out of online shooters as I’ve grown older. I occasionally play Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2, but I don’t frequent them.

Nintendo’s approach to an online shooter is pretty novel. It may not be exactly original, but by removing the emphasis on fragging opponents and giving players a concrete goal in each map, Splatoon feels far more engaging than the usual shooter fare.

Color? IN A SHOOTER?!

The demo (which only ran for an hour) included two levels. They were a bit small, possibly to compensate for the 4 on 4 action, but they felt dense. I haven’t really taken the time to analyze the details of a game’s level design in quite some time, but Splatoon makes it almost essential to success.

With the objective being to cover the whole map in paint, you suddenly become obsessed with figuring out which areas can be covered and how fast you can get to the next point. The best way for success is not only cooperating with your team mates, but in finding areas that are less traveled.

You also can stake out vantage points and camp away. Thankfully spawn camping isn’t a possibility, but players are encouraged to discover safe spots and stick to them. With the central mechanic being squid mode and swimming through paint, even a relatively safe area isn’t 100% guaranteed.

The short time limit on each match made every second count. It was a chaotic scramble to cover your half of the map before the opposing team could even react. It made for exhilarating openers to each battle, even if I played the same map 4 times in a row.

There is also a mini-game during the load screens. While you’re waiting for players to join and the game to cache every file, you get treated to a retro style, Ice Climber-esque game about jumping to the top of a map. It may not be very deep, but it certainly beats staring at a blank screen and wishing for death.

Feels like 1983.

That small little change kept me actively engaged during the downtime between matches. I never had to worry about whether the game would continue or not. I was constantly trying to break a high-score that no one would ever see.

Really, I think Nintendo are on to something with Splatoon. The recent announcement that a lot of the upcoming DLC will be free is just icing on the cake. I may end up picking this game up on day one, a practice I haven’t done in some time.

This demo played out well for Nintendo, in my eyes. It’s also quite unique in it’s execution; a style so decidedly Nintendo that I wouldn’t want it any other way. Hopefully others got a chance to play, but know that Splatoon is shaping up to be quite the game changer.

I JUST CAN’T WAIT, but I probably should…

Daft Punk’s newest album will be releasing this coming Tuesday. Expectations are astronomical, which is astounding since the group’s last album came out eight years ago. I am a huge fan of their work, with their eclectic blend of electronic sounds having changed my outlook on music.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. The anticipation has been boiling in me since I heard about the new album in March. I may have spoiled the fun a little by bootlegging the release, but I did already pre-order the disc. Regardless, I’m shocked at how the end result turned out, considering the amount of hype behind this release.

With games, I’ve ruined more than a few titles simply because I wanted them too much. 2011 changed my idea of how I should focus my energy on gaming. I still love the medium, but I just tend to not get too eager about anything. I cannot live through another Uncharted 3 incident again.

I had become a massive Uncharted nut during the course of this generation. The game was the first thing I beat on PS3 (before I even owned the console myself) and I blitzed through the campaign in such a fast time that I needed to play everything again just to remember the best moments.

Then Naughty Dog went and upped the game with Uncharted 2 and lifted my expectations of what a scripted, third-person, cover-based shooter should be. I was annoyed at the lack of flexibility in the setpieces, but blown away by how wonderful-looking they were and how fantastic the game felt.

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How can you ruin this? Easily, it turns out.

When Uncharted 3 released, though, everything just felt wrong. Drake moved awkwardly, the controls were never as concise as I remember them being in 2 and the enemy AI took a dramatic step backwards in terms of tactics. Even the cover system became completely worthless with how the level design was.

That was just the biggest disappointment. I was also hotly anticipating Skyrim and I left that game wondering why I even cared. A rushed story with barely a hint of comprehension, a lack of innovative ideas that used to define Elder Scrolls and a generally boring game world just culminated in a game I had to force myself to finish (and at 28 hours, that was a lot of determination).

Oddly enough, Saints Row: The Third was another game I truly desired. I have such fond memories of destroying Saints Row 2 with my friend, Dan. We spent most of my college days goofing off on the Xbox 360 and just plowing through Saints Row because of how absurd the game was. The campaign was a great riff on the realism that Grand Theft Auto was drifting towards, not to mention Volition implemented some smart improvements in terms of playability.

Then THQ became greedy. Somewhere along the line, it joined the ranks of Activision and Capcom in regards to DLC policies. Saints Row: The Third is too long, but feels devoid of content. I believe the campaign lasts around 13 hours, but there are maybe half of the side missions that 2 had. Some of those side missions pad out the campaign, making most missions feel disconnected.

The game also performs miserably on the Xbox 360. I later played through it on PC, but my own memories of the experience tainted the entire game. I could not shake off the feeling of being let down by a game I wanted. Nothing was going to replace that.

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DLC ONLY, SUCKA!

If I never had any expectations for these games, I may have enjoyed them. The hardest part of evaluating any piece of media is removing your preconceptions before going in. This is nigh-on impossible for the average person, but gaming has almost seemed different to me.

Usually with sequels, general improvements are par for the course. Even if you feel that the game isn’t as creative as the predecessor, playing feels like a joy because everything is refined. Every game I mentioned above is a victim of the current game industry’s insistence on DLC.

I suppose Uncharted 3 did feature a full campaign, but the multiplayer component handles far better. The controls aren’t sloppy and the level design is tight, other than the lack of maps (which got rectified by plenty of DLC). The general feeling I get is that Naughty Dog wanted the game to sell more map packs instead of provide the tight, scripted and funny campaign that the previous games had.

Bethesda happens to be a product of its own ambition. Oblivion redefined the Western RPG and Fallout 3 showed that first-person shooters could adapt to the RPG template very well. Both of those games followed an oddly similar template, though, and after trekking through three individual Bethesda games before touching Skyrim, I feel that the company just has no tricks left.

Oblivion started the DLC craze and Skyrim just put it into overdrive. I haven’t heard a single good thing about any of the packs released and they all feel like content that could have been included in the base game. I remember mods for Oblivion that allowed you to own homes, yet Bethesda made sure to not include that in vanilla Skyrim.

I remember other moments in my life where anticipation ruined the final outcome. Halo 2 stands as the worst let-down of my teenage life. I was never a giant fan of Halo, but the first game was so much fun with friends and was wholly unique for a console FPS that everyone had to have the sequel.

When that day came, though, I was treated to sloppy graphics, copy and paste level design and a very strange game feel (the field of view is zoomed in too far). The rest of the game continues down this path, too, making for a wholly polished but entirely soulless story.

Not to mention the game doesn’t even have a conclusion, but I couldn’t stand anything else about the experience. The multiplayer may have been a monumental achievement for consoles, but the balance of the weapons is ludicrous. Whoever has the biggest weapon wins, every time. There is no hope for someone spawning with the dingy pistol.

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Working all the way towards nothing. Feels great, right?

Why bring this all up? Well, along with Daft Punk’s latest material finally getting unleashed on the world, Microsoft is set to reveal the next Xbox on Tuesday. The Internet is buzzing about how badly Microsoft ruined goodwill and how all the rumors of always online might be enough to spur people away from another Xbox.

I cannot say I have much anticipation for whatever this next generation brings. Maybe that will work in my favor. I do not regret buying a Wii U, but I can’t claim to be infatuated with the device. Nintendo definitely dropped the ball in that regard.

So hopefully Microsoft does something right. Even if they don’t, I know that for once in my life, the sting of disappointment will not be festering within me. I’m glad I finally got over that, too.

Indie DLC = Old School DLC

I’m not sure if I’m too old school, but all of this recent DLC is starting to wear me thin. Every time I see a new game come out, I immediately think, “Might as well wait for the GOTY/Ultimate edition!” A few of my friends have been playing Forza 4, but I refuse to buy it and see that “complete” version a week later.

This past week, though, I recently bought two packs of DLC. Two of my favorite games from last year, “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse,” released full scale expansions. Both include gameplay that is roughly half the length of their main campaigns and feature other cool, optional extras. How the hell could I pass that up?

This is the kind of stuff I gladly paid for back in the late-90’s, early 2000’s. Every time a game I loved had an expansion, I was all over it. The Quake series has some great examples of long campaigns with expansions that increased the length two-fold.

Even “Battlefield 1942” gave us discs that were more than simply map-packs (even if Road to Rome was a glorified one). I miss those days were my extra content wasn’t some gimped experience with a $10 price tag.

You can make the counter-argument that most of the expansions from the past were $30 where as DLC is significantly cheaper, but then I’ll ask you to show me an example of DLC that wasn’t free in the past. “Call of Duty’s” DLC is some of the worst, but it’s actually not that the value of the maps are in question.

No, what makes it suck is how Epic Games has never charged for a single “Bonus Pack” in the “Unreal Tournament” series and each pack included about 8-9 maps. Think about that. “Call of Duty” expects an extra $60 for a total of 20 maps when Epic gave away nearly double that for free on each game.


Entirely free and it was on PS3! What gives?!

I also take particular offense on “Free-To-Play” games that charge you a dollar for weapons and skins. I do understand that they need some kind of money, but I’m really struggling to figure out why there are count-down timers and cool-down periods for things you buy with actual cash. I remember the days where extra skins were unlockable and even fan made!

Not every modern developer is milking DLC for all it’s worth, though. Rockstar Games did wonderful things with the expansions to “Grand Theft Auto IV.” While the two episodes weren’t as full length as Vice City or San Andreas, neither one was a slouch in replay value or story content.

I know this will lead into the debate about how length of content shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but I’m getting sick of paying what is now a premium DLC price for content that shouldn’t even have a price tag. Developers are losing a lot of faith with their userbases and I think changing DLC policies to something more old school would be the way to fix things.

I know Activision will never listen to reason, but why not give away some maps from time to time. If you want people to play your stupid and shoehorned multiplayer modes, give them a reason that isn’t attached to their wallets.

If you want people to experience more single-player content, make it justifiable for them to drop money. Provide either another complete campaign, or give us short experiences loaded with extra content and easter eggs to discover.

It’s just strangely telling how I refuse to purchase DLC for big budget titles, yet I immediately (and without question) bought the expansions to two indie games. Maybe if EA or Ubisoft didn’t make such awful add-ons, I wouldn’t have problems like this.

I know DLC is here to stay and that my voice probably isn’t going to do anything, but I just lament the passing of the old days. Games may not have been better values back then and I fondly remember spending upwards of $70 for N64 cartridges, but DLC is just getting out of control.

Until I get something akin to “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse’s” expansions in the future, I’m just not going to be buying much in the way of DLC.

Beatles: Rock Band – Review

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After a few days of completely destroying The Beatles Rock Band, I can rest assured that a final verdict is ready. I’ve seen nearly all of the games challenges and conquered them and I’ve managed to play the harmony sections with a friend, so I definitely think everything is covered.

The Beatles Rock Band is Harmonix’s next game in the highly regarded Rock Band series. Instead of trying to focus all their effort into creating a mixed setlist, Harmonix focuses their efforts on one band and does everything to the fullest. You will not be displeased with this title if you are a Hardcore Beatles fan.

What may displease you is the gamer inside. Now, I’m a massive fan of the Beatles. I own all of their albums and even their 2 B-Sides collections and Live Albums. There is not a Beatles track that I don’t have in my possession. But what irks me about Beatles Rock Band is how nothing is dramatically changed over the previous titles in the series.

To start off, the game launches you into a story mode where you and 3 friends will follow The Beatles throughout their career with some animated cutscenes that detail little to nothing about the actual event you will be playing. The arenas and areas you play at are locations like “Shea Stadium,” “Abbey Road Studios” and “Apple Corp. Rooftop,” which all take the form of Chapters (there are 8 in all). While this is definitely an amazing touch in providing fans to see how the Beatles existed, it definitely leaves out the parts where Ringo and Lennon quit or any of their in-discrepancies.

Still, the setlist is what matters the most in this game and it definitely delivers the goods. Every song is a hit, though some may be a bit boring on Bass or Drums. The only real problem I have is that not enough is offered. The Beatles have 14 studio albums and while every one has at least 1 track in the game, some albums only have 1 track in the game. The game offers up 45 hits and this is a marked improvement over both Guitar Hero band based games, but it still amounts to about 3 hours of gameplay, at best.

Why not pull more from the catalog to give fans a more enticing package? Considering Rock Band 2 shipped with 84 songs and another 20 for free as DLC, thinking about why Harmonix chose to leave out such a large chunk of their work (and even singles like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Penny Lane”) is puzzling.

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Never been better.

The graphics in the game are something to behold. There is definitely a slight cartoon edge to the look of the group, but their charm has never been capture in a digital form any better than it is here. Each song showcases its own music video of sorts in the background and the more trippy songs from the catalog have equally trippy backgrounds to accompany them. The only problem you may run into is running this on an SDTV, as the bright colors can often be distracting.

The note charting on the instruments is the weakest part for hardcore fans of Rock Band. Virtually nothing will give you challenge other than trying to 100% a few songs. But, even at my worst, I managed 98’s on songs (even on Drums, which I am quite awful at). The way this game tries to add challenge is by giving you achievements that relate to songs.

The achievements sort of work like the challenge based career mode that Guitar Hero 5 exhibits. Things like, “Play Dig a Pony and hit every hammeron/pulloff without Strumming” is neat, but relegating them to the achievement screen means a lot of players will simply never bother to figure out what is next.

There is a challenge mode in the game, but it simply tasks you with playing each chapter from the story mode with the songs running back to back (almost like an endless setlist). You never have to play the entire game from start to finish, but even replaying the game without any added challenge makes it worthless. Why not give gamers something unique to perform while replaying the game?

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Harmonies can definitely be a pain, but they also provide some fun.

The one new addition to the gameplay is vocal harmonies. While these are not a dramatic change, their implementation is flawless. Harmonix made the game so that you can connect 3 microphones to your 360 and have 3 players singing at different pitches all at once. But instead of just assigning mic 1 to harmony 1, the game never tells you which part you need to specifically sing. This allows your friends to help you out of tough spots or even just have 3 players singing 1 single part.

Even with that innovation, this feature is not something that a lot of music games will adopt. There is limited appeal to singing in the first place, but having a group of people who even want to try singing together is just asking for trouble. What doesn’t help with the harmonies is the way the screen looks during these sections. Words for Mic 2 and 3 are shown on top, but Mic 1 is at the bottom. Since we’ve been trained to stare at the bottom of the screen since Rock Band 1, trying to look at the top is just confusing (there is no real other way to fix this, though).

What does help this game along is the promise of DLC. Harmonix plans to release full Beatles albums in the coming months to further flesh out the games catalog of music. If the entire discography of the group were to be released, this definitely would be the ultimate band based title you could ever buy. What hurts this feature is how the music is not exportable to other Rock Band titles (nor does the DLC even work in other games). You will always need to have this disc, which means that you can never expect a sequel to improve upon any aspect of the game you feel is weak.

Also, you have to think about the appeal of this title. If you truly don’t like The Beatles, there is absolutely nothing in here that will change your mind. I have nothing against all Beatles songs in a game about them, but trying to market this to other players seems impossible.

So for my verdict, I have to say rent this game. If you truly are a hardcore Beatles nut who needs everything with the groups name on it, just buy the thing. If you are getting extremely tired of music/rhythm games, there is nothing here that will sway your opinion. The game is of extremely high quality, but the gameplay aspect is so unchanged to really make waning fans take notice.