Review: Rock Revolution (Sony PS3)

Rock Revolution (PS3)
Developer: Zoe Mode
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 10/15/2008

Sometimes I can be a bit out of touch with what’s going on in the world. You know what it’s like; you just get caught up in work, or a really good book, and you completely miss out on what’s going on in the world at large. So please, help me out here.

Was there a movie called Rock Revolution that was recently released?

I only ask because I haven’t been watching much television lately and I assumed I missed the ad campaigns. It’s just that the only games I’ve played before that were this bad were based off of movies, so I naturally assumed… no? No movie? Ah.

Well then.

I see.

1. Story/Modes

There’s a pretense of a story when you first start on career mode, but it’s basically just that you’re a band, you make albums, and you want to get bigger. Not the most in-depth, but hey, that’s not what we’re here for.

Each “level” is an album and you’ve got to play X amount of songs before you can release your next album. Meeting the goal makes your record go gold, and completely all the challenges will make it platinum. There’s a way to make it go double-platinum, but that doesn’t matter because however it’s done, it is more than likely that you’ll have given up playing before you ever find out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Each album has a few regular songs, and then a couple of those songs with additional challenges for you to play through. The challenges can be pretty cool actually, ranging from playing across difficulty levels as the song progresses to playing the song from memory.

There are also several modes to choose from on the main menu. Besides career mode you can play a quickplay song, play multiplayer (online or at home), practice a song, or head on in to the studio to record.

I should mention that multiplayer is set up as quickplay only, so you can’t actually play the game, per say, with more than one person. Aparently “Revolution” means that you’ve ousted the other band members and claimed the throne of rock for you own. Or they just assumed you had no friends.

So after wallowing through the gameplay (oooh… foreshadowing! I wonder how the gameplay section is going to rate?) I was looking forwards to trying out the studio. I’d always thought it’d be nice to create a song to play. You know, come up with an original composition to challenge your friends? (oops, sorry, forgot you don’t have any. How inconsiderate of me). At the very least look up some tabulature off the internet and finally get to play Ana Ng on a game. So yeah, studio here I come. Or not….

Now I don’t profess to be a musician or a recording expert (sorry if this ruins the review for you) but I was looking forward to something more complex than a tape recorder sitting in front of my speaker. Because that’s about all you can do here. Sure it shows you the note you’re playing, you can record to different tracks, and you can change the sound of your guitar, but is that what people really wanted out of a guitar rhythm game? To mess around with a toy guitar or banging on pots and pans and recording it for mommy to listen to when she gets home from work? It’s like when Casio keyboards became popular and had a record function. You could mess around, record your stuff, play it back and play over it. That’s about the level of technology we’re dealing with here. My PS3 that was recently listed as one of the top supercomputers available is being used to simulate a keyboard from the 80’s. I expect Pong to be available on the PSN any day now.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

2. Graphics

Credit where credit is due, the characters look pretty good. Of course there are no customization options, when you play the game they just kind of stand there, and the options seem to boil down to “girl in tight leather” and “douche-bag in a trucker cap”, but they look well rendered.

The “standing there” was a bit of an issue for me, though. My lead singer just held them mic and, well, stood there singing. No dancing, no wandering, just standing. And his mouth wasn’t always in synch or even on time. My guitarist did jump up and down a bit. A lot, really. But it was always in one spot, like there were magnets holding her down (which would mean something if your body was made of metal, but go with it). The drummer had the most motion out of the group. One of the animators must love drums, I guess.

The apathy wasn’t constrained to the stage, by the way, it spilled out into the crowd as well. The first few songs I played I thought that the entire crowd was moving in unison. After close examination I came to conclude that only half the crowd moves in unison at any given time, and the rest are about half a wavelength off, like singing “Row, row, row your boat” in rounds. So at any given point in a song, exactly 1/2 of the audience is beating their fists in the air simultaneously, and then resting while the other half takes over on air-punching duty. Perhaps later in career mode there’s a great twist where you find out your audience is completely animatronic and you’ve been trapped in a Disney sideshow the whole time. I’d bump up their Story score for that.

The arenas themselves are pretty nice. Sparce, but detailed in what is there. There’s the occasional attempt at camera effects, but they give up pretty quickly; mostly just wide shots of the band on stage with sporadic close-ups. Adequate, but not impressive.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

Let’s take a quick spin through the 41 playable tracks, shall we? Played it, played it, played it, played it, played it, played it, played it… you get the idea. About half of the songs are new, and all but two of them are covers. There’s a disproportionate amount of newer music (in my opinion), so if you’re a fan of Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, All American Rejects, and the like, you’re in for a treat. Of course, if you’re a fan of their music you may be a bit disappointed by the covers.

Heck, even if you’re not a fan of the music, you may be disappointed by the covers. They have the same lackluster feel that the animations of the characters did. There’s a lack of enthusiam to the singing, and the occasional sour note as well. And why should we even have covers? A console ago, I could understand it; the genre was just getting off it’s feet. But now, Rhythm-Guitar/Drum-Games are big business and you can’t compete by cheaping out on the songs. For a game that’s all about the music, the music is certainly lacking.

Sound Rating: Poor

4. Control/Gameplay

Let’s be reasonable here for a second. The guitar game is a simple thing. Notes scroll past on the screen and you hit a matching button. Sometimes it involves strumming, and sometimes it involves hitting things with a stick. In theory, this is something they could teach chimpanzees to do (note to self: contact zoo regarding research grant, contact TBS regarding new show). What I’m trying to say is that not much is required on the control/concept end of the stick. Anyone could do this in a flash game if they wanted to. So how could you mess it up?

Well, for starters you can have the notes be the exact size and shape of Skittles, so that gameplay looks like you’re being attacked by a child with ADD on a sugar high. Then, you can ignore how music is actually composed and just have the notes fly by at a speed that ignores the tempo.

Seriously. I checked this a few times and if I’m not mistaken, the game limits the visual equivalent of one bar of music to two notes. That means if you need to play more notes, say some quarter notes, instead of having four Skittles in a bar, the bar simply flies by twice as fast. This works out great for those really fast solos and the like. I don’t know that I can really describe how irritating this is without asking you to play it yourself (which I would never ask of you, it’s just too cruel). Imagine you were reading a book that only allowed one word per page and turned the pages for you automatically. As long as you were reading two word sentences, it works out well. But when the author puts in a longer sentence, the book starts flipping pages faster to make sure everything stays on pace. Yes I know it doesn’t make sense. Do you understand now?

I should say that it’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re not very good at this sort of thing, the game is very forgiving on missed notes. Your multiplier only drops one level at a time when you miss a note, and your “health” is quite robust. At one point we got bored of playing and just stood there and it took 30 seconds or so before the game was over. Of course, the game is less forgiving in building the multiplier. You see, only “perfect” notes count. “Good” notes don’t penalize you, but they don’t help you either. That’s what you get for only being “good”, I suppose.

But that’s not the only bizarre gameplay choice; there’s also a “power meter” which builds with each correct note and when it finally fills up to a blazing blue burst of energy you can tilt your guitar up and down to… refill your health! And any extra energy goes into your score! And your guitar glows for, like, a second! Woooo! Rock and roll! Wooooooooo!

Seriously though, the whole experience comes across as simply a very poor attempt at making a game. I’d hesitate to use the phrase “trying to cash in on a fad” (firstly because of their history with rhythm games and secondly because Rock Revolution has been out a little over a month and Amazon has already slashed the price by 40%, so there’s no cash to be made) but it really does come across that way. There’s no love for the genre here, just globs of light on a screen.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Poor

5. Replayability

As is always the problem with a bad game, it’s tough to judge Replayability indepentantly of the awfulness that was the game. If you just finished playing a rousing game of Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick, you logically understand there is some replay left in the game in that you still have one functioning eye; it’s just that there’s no desire to continue on with that self-destructive enterprise. Rock Revolution is a lot like that.

So, looking at this objectively, I can confidently state that there are new characters to unlock, songs to perfect, and music to record onto your new Fischer-Price My First Tape Recorder studio recorder. So yes, the potential is there for replayability, just like every unsuccessful suicide attempt gives you another chance at getting it right.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

The balance on this game was an odd thing. I was never quite sure if I was hallucinating, or if the difficulty just seemed to change randomly. I want to be as accurate as possible, so it would be irresponsible to say that difficulty swings wildly within a single difficulty setting which is in turn within a single difficulty class of songs. But that’s certainly how it feels. I don’t think that Medium should ever be nothing but ever other quarter note, but they do offer a Beginner level in addition to Easy, Medium, Hard, and Extreme, so perhaps my sense of balance is off slightly.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

This is the third entry into the genre, years after it’s been established, and consists almost exclusively of cover songs. So no, not that original. The challenges are a nice addition, and the horribly crippled Studio is something new, but just because someone takes a dump on your front porch in a shape and color you’ve never seen before doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

Originality Rating: Very Bad

8. Addictiveness

Is it possible to give a negative score? No? Huh… well then, let me put it this way. If you ever found yourself addicted to rhythm guitar/drum games and you wanted a way out, you’ve found it. Just play through the first level of Rock Revolution and you’ll either be so bored or so frustrated that you’ll be able to kick the habit without a problem. No night-sweats, tremors, or babies crawling on the ceiling. You know that drug they use for alcoholics that makes them puke when they drink? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

Addictiveness Rating: Worthless

9. Appeal Factor

If you are in desperate need of playing a cover of Sk8r Boi then this is the game for you. If you are looking for an enjoyable experience that you can share with your friends, then this is not for you.

If you get lost easily during gameplay, or simply want to watch the pretty colors scroll past the screen, then this is the game for you. However, if you want an enjoyable challenge that makes you feel like a rock star, then this is not for you.

If you in any way think that the preceding paragraphs were an homage to the great wit and bon vivant that is Jeff Foxworthy, and not just another literary device to keep the reader’s attention in a category which can really be summed up as an obvious one word answer, then this is the the game for you.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

Let’s be honest, playing guitar games is primarily about wish fulfilment. It’s about the living the rock and roll life style regardless of your ability to afford it. It’s about standing up, rocking out, and having a good time with your friends. It’s about having fun.

So does playing Rock Revolution make you feel like a rock star? Is it a fun, bonding experience? Is it an ass-kicking, rock-n-rollin’ good time?

Or is it a glorified game of Simon that you can play on the television?

Do you really need me to answer this for you?

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Bad

The Scores
Story / Modes: Poor
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Poor
Control / Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Very Bad
FINAL SCORE: PRETTY POOR GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
I’ve heard people say that if you’ve never played a guitar game before that this is a great starting point. These are the same people who tell you that it’s okay to relieve yourself on the chain link fence, as it is clearly not electrified, while they stand there blocking the warning sign and surreptitiously getting out their camera for the inevitable YouTube posting.

To put it more succinctly, if waterboarding is “enhanced interrogation”, then Rock Revolution is “enhanced gaming”.

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