Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution – Rock Band 4 Impressions

Rock Band 4

Rock Band 4 is awesome. It’s everything that I wanted from the return of my favorite music game. It’s the core features of what made Rock Band great, honed and updated to current-gen standards. In fact, my only gripes are super minimal. I wish that they carried over All Instruments Mode, that way I could see the vocal line while playing Guitar. And I would have loved a way to just import my whole DLC library in one fell swoop, but it looks like that’s a technical impossibility; as well as make sure that all owned DLC is clearly noted (currently there’s a weird glitch where owned songs are shown as not owned, but still can be installed for free). Beyond that, Rock Band 4 is exactly what I wanted it to be.

With rhythm games like this, there are two things that are the determining factor in whether they’ll be great or just okay. First is the note recognition. In the hours I played yesterday, I didn’t notice any sort of note dropping on my new Stratocaster guitar controller. In the past, I clung to my Gibson Explorer controller from Guitar Hero 2. I don’t need that anymore – I have a wireless guitar that works, and works great. Even with tremolo picking sections, the strum bar kept up and I didn’t see any misses that were because of hardware. That’s a good thing and I actually think upgrading instrument controllers isn’t a terrible idea.

Rock Band 4 Setlist

The other super important part is the actual set-list. If the songs are stinkers, what’s the point of playing them? Luckily, Harmonix has a great ear for picking both huge hits, and deep cuts. I played through the first few tours in career mode, so the easier tier songs and found a couple songs I’ve never heard that I immediately wanted to go buy; while also playing some songs that are in regular rotation on my iPod. That’s perhaps the most important thing that a game like this can do. Just like a Let’s Play can show you a game you might never have seen before, rhythm games like this can teach you all kinds of awesome new music. You just have to take the plunge and play them.

In addition to playing a few career shows, I had to try playing one of the harder songs in Quickplay mode, if for no reason other than to test my skills to make sure I haven’t gotten too rusty. I went with “Hail to the King” by Avenged Sevenfold – it’s marked as a “Devil Tier” song on Guitar and I actually think it’s one of the easier A7X songs. The charting on it made me really happy though – it’s a good split between playing the lead lick and the rhythm guitar line, with the solo feeling really well charted. If future DLC keeps that in mind, I think I’ll be putting plenty more money into the Music Store.

One new feature on guitars that’s worth mentioning is the Freestyle Solo. It lets you put in your own little touches through pre-programmed solo licks that you play during the guitar solos. It seems kinda weird at first, but it actually works really well – you have a little bit of leeway with note streaks when you’re hopping between low and high frets, and even if you decide to just ignore their prompts and go wild, you’ll only count as missing one note, not failing out. My biggest issue with them is just that I’m not used to them – sometimes they’ll have you end on the high frets and I lose my fingers when the chart begins again. That’s something that will come with play though.

All in all, Rock Band 4 is absolutely a return to form for the series. With Guitar Hero Live coming soon too, I do think that we might see a resurgence with the rhythm games. They’ve always been a great party game, and the current-gen consoles were missing something like this. If you like music games, or really if you like finding new music in general, I think this is a definite purchase.

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Weekly News Recap – Week of May 11, 2015

Busy week in news this week, on all points on the spectrum; from good to weird to exciting. Let’s dive in.

Konami Logo - Classic

KONAMI DOUBLES DOWN ON MOBILE, LEAVES CONSOLES
I went with a whole article on this earlier on in the week, mainly because I still can’t wrap my head around the logic here. Konami, one of the longest gaming developing houses, is all but stopping console development. The future is super uncertain as to the details with how this will impact classic franchises, but it really looks more like they’ll be more inclined to appear on mobile platforms. It’s a cost-saving move, but at the same time it feels like it could be a risky venture, potentially alienating fans. We’ll see how this ends.

MICROSOFT ANNOUNCES E3 PLANS, BRINGS IN THE FANS
This week Microsoft announced their schedule for E3 week. On June 15, at 9:30 am PDT they’ll hold their press conference. If it’s anything like last year’s conference, I expect we’ll see a ton of games, including a couple heavy hitters, like the Gears of War leak from this week. They also announced a fan event on the 14th of June, for 500 fans in the LA area. E3 is starting to shape up, which is always an exciting part of the gaming year. This year could be a pretty intense show – I really think we’re going to see a lot of news and big reveals this year. It’s going to be fun.

Rock Band 4

ROCK BAND 4 GAMEPLAY REVEALED, FIRST 6 SONGS ANNOUNCED
Today at 3pm EDT Harmonix will show off the first gameplay footage of Rock Band 4 over on IGN. In advance of that show, they’ve announced the first six songs of the setlist. The first six hit some pretty varied genres – modern metal with Avenged Sevenfold’s “Hail to the King” (which should be a lot of fun to play), classic rock with Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun” and The Who’s “The Seeker,” and good ol’ 90’s rock with Spin Doctors “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” It’s a good mix, especially adding in the other two songs – The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” and Jack White’s “Lazaretto” – which has me thinking that the whole setlist is going to be a winner. Guitar Hero Live also shared a couple songs from their list, and with the exception of Skrillex, I think they also have a good start. It’s a good year for music games again.

A Question to Ponder: What Games Would be the Best to Jump Into?

Dragon Age: InquisitionI’ve had this thought bouncing around this week – if you wake up tomorrow, with the ability to hop into any game universe you want, which would be the best ones? The thought came out of playing a TON of Dragon Age: Inquisition lately. It, much like any BioWare game, has such a high level of immersion to it. It’s very easy to lose yourself into the world, thanks mainly to the superb writing. This isn’t the first time I’ve had similar thoughts either – I found myself thinking something along the same lines when I played Skyrim and Oblivion. So I thought I’d run with it this time. Before we start though, let’s set a couple ground rules. First, assume that when you hop into the world, it’s just the same as playing it – you are the main character, and by proxy, the action revolves around you. There’s more to the universe than just the story of the game though, so there’s plenty of blank space to work with. Second, we have to also assume that the game mechanics are still in place – you still have mana/stamina reserves to maintain, it’s just known inherently. That keeps you from breaking beyond the scope of the game. The whole point of this thought is to enter and enjoy the world – not alter the entire state of it. The last point to keep in mind is the big question of death – let’s just say the penalty for “game over” is kicking you back to the real world, and barring you from re-entering that game for some period of time. Now that the ground rules have been set, I came up with a few examples of what I think would be fun/exciting game worlds to hop into.

Dragon Age Origins

DRAGON AGE
Let’s just start with the game that got me thinking this question. Each game in the series presents a world that’s insanely full with life, even in the face of the incredible dangers. The games are limited in that only certain characters can be interacted with, of course, but that wouldn’t exist if you can just hop into the world. Secondary, background characters have even more life now. Add in that you are the main character, and that helps you shape the world with even more detail than you could just playing the game. The game is also limited with the dialogue choices you have – that disappears with you actually being the character. Combat is still a part of the experience, but thanks to the game mechanics, death isn’t a super threat – even should you fall, as soon as the combat is over, you pop right up. So I think Dragon Age would be a fun world to experience first-hand, you’ve got action, you have a world rich in history, and you have people that are around you to make it a living world.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT
On a similar note, the Mass Effect games would basically be the same sort of deal as Dragon Age. A universe that’s full of history and incredible places to visit. Characters that fill that universe with life. And action that will keep you busy, while again, not having a huge worry about death. The threat is perhaps a little different though – the Reapers are certainly an intense threat. Putting you actually into the shoes of Commander Sheppard would perhaps be a little stressful, but that’s where the down-time comes in. The game isn’t pure action, start to finish – there is a lot of down time on the Normandy, and with that comes all kinds of options for you to do. Take the Mako out for a spin to explore some planets, and I think it’d be a fun world to explore for sure.

Saints Row IV

SAINTS ROW
Switching gears a little bit in terms of genre, I present a potentially surprise choice. I think that the knee jerk game choice with this question would be Grand Theft Auto. The problem is that the game makes it really easy to be constantly in life-threatening danger. On the other hand, Saints Row is essentially the same style game, but taken beyond the limit of normal. Death is no concern because of the upgrades you can get – eventually you’ll be invincible. You can still drive any car you want, or cause whatever mayhem you feel like – hell it’s part of the game after all. And as the universe expands, eventually you have access to a bunch of different super powers to play with. Sure the story isn’t as deep as the previous choices, but sometimes you just want to blow shit up and not worry about all that pathos.

Rock Band 3 Cover

ROCK BAND
Another surprising choice I think, this one might be one that appeals to a more limited audience. Essentially it’s the same world as the real one after all, except you’re part of the greatest cover band in history. You can play literally any song presented to you, immediately. If we take the story into consideration, you go from bar band to biggest band ever, so you have no worries at all – and death isn’t an issue, so you’d be able to hang out in Rock Band world as long as you want.

Super Mario 64

MARIO
Finally, the one universe that probably provides the most fun factor – the Mario universe. Not only could you save a kingdom from threats of a major villain, but then the next day, everyone is out playing tennis. Or golf. Or go karting. Or baseball. Or soccer. Or having a board game party. It’s a universe that’s got all kinds of potential – threats are limited, fun is maximized. The characters have certainly grown in depth over the years too, so you won’t need to worry about being alone. It’d be a fun one to go through for sure. Add in the Super Smash Bros. factor and you’ve got even more potential for action.

Ultimately, this hypothetical question boils down to which game worlds are not only immersive, but also have a high potential for a fun existence. It’s a fun question to ponder on when you’ve got a few minutes to day dream. I like to think it adds a little bit more to the game experience as well.

Weekly News Recap – Week of February 16, 2015

There were a couple interesting bits of news that I saw floating around this week. Here’s a couple of the more intriguing ones.

The Order: 1886

GAME LENGTH IS ALL THE RAGE
Talk about game length has been all over the blogs this week – every sight has been talking about it thanks to the reviews of The Order: 1886. Since it’s apparently really short, it’s been provoking a lot of thought about the length of games and the value of games. I wrote a post this week with my thoughts on game length – short version is that I don’t necessarily think it’s the be-all and end-all determining factor for value.

Rock Band 3 Cover

BLOOMBERG POTENTIALLY BREAKS BIG GAME NEWS
This week there was also a report over on Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, so take that for what its worth, saying that Harmonix is planning on bringing Rock Band up to current-gen. I think we were all thinking that when they announced the return of DLC back in January, that it was a way to test the waters – and the survey they sent out in their newsletter definitely got me thinking we will see something big Rock Band related this year. Harmonix has also been really pushing their presence at PAX East, which has me thinking that we might not have to wait till E3 to see what they have in store.

Destiny

ULTIMATE GAME SALE IS STILL GOING ON
This week has also been the Ultimate Game Sale over on the Xbox Live Marketplace. There’s some pretty good deals on big games if you haven’t picked them up yet – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, and Shadow of Mordor are all marked down pretty substantially. There are also some special weekend only sales that just went live today. Generally these Ultimate Game Sales tend to be pretty awesome – I’ve picked up a fair share of my digital games through them over the years, so I really recommend looking at the deals this weekend. You never know what might pique your interest.

More New Rock Band 3 DLC From Harmonix

Rock Band 3 CoverIn yet another somewhat surprising move, yesterday’s Harmonix newsletter again announced that there would be more new DLC for Rock Band 3 today. Last time we got three songs, while today we’re only graced by two new tracks. That said they both look fun, and both are pretty damn good songs. Let’s take a quick look over them.

“RIZE OF THE FENIX” – TENACIOUS D
Fresh off of their Grammy win for best metal performance, Tenacious D return to the Rock Band 3 setlist with a song off of their most recent LP. “Rize of the Fenix” wasn’t a standout like “Tribute” or “The Metal” had been, but it’s still a really solid song all around. It’s got all of the standard Tenacious D flair – clever, funny lyrics, Jack Black’s surprisingly awesome singing, and a great mix of acoustic and rock guitar work. The charting looks like a fun one – it’s not exactly my cup of tea, since it’s got a lot of somewhat tricky chord changes with a lot of strumming in there. But it does look like a song that guitarists and signers will both really enjoy.

“BACK TO THE SHACK” – WEEZER
Another band that’s got a pretty solid track record – as well as history with rhythm games – we get a new Weezer song this week. Weezer had songs on Guitar Hero 3 (“My Name is Jonas), as well as on the first Rock Band (Say It Ain’t So), along with a number of DLC songs for both series. “Back to the Shack” was the first single off of last year’s new Weezer album, so we get a nice, fresh song. Like a lot of Weezer songs, there’s nothing super complicated going on – lots of power chords, with a few flairs throughout. The solo definitely has some weird strum patterns in the chart, but still the whole song looks like a pretty fun and easy one. The lyrics are great, drums would be a great one to pound out – all in all a solid choice for a couple bucks today.

It’s still hard to really say just what Harmonix is up to with this return of Rock Band 3 DLC. I really don’t think we’ll get back to weekly DLC until we see a new full game, but if this monthly DLC is their plan, at least until E3, I think that’s a great sign of potential future games. They are being pretty sneaky with it too – these DLC announcements have come on Monday’s the week they come out, which makes it hard to really predict where we could head with them. No matter what, I’m really glad that Rock Band 3 is getting some more love these days – it really is an incredibly fun game.

What The DLC for Rock Band Means

Rock Band 3 CoverI have always been a huge fan of the Rock Band series. So with this week’s surprise DLC announcement and subsequent (rocky) launch, it got me thinking about other songs that really need to show up on the game. I did a similar post a few weeks ago, but I’m going to take a little more specific approach with this one. Instead of looking at classics, I’m going to look at more contemporary songs.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – “PLANETS”
Since this recent DLC pack included a song off the same album, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility to think that we could see another song off of Hail to the King make an appearance. While the lead single off the album was the title track, which does feature some really kicker shredding; my choice would be the more atmospheric “Planets.” The chorus in “Planets” is so intense, that it alone I think warrants inclusion to the game. Great instrumentals, and it may just be the heaviest song on the album. Honorable Mention goes to the ten minute epic “Save Me” from Nightmare.

SLIPKNOT – “THE DEVIL IN I”
Slipknot returned last year with the first new music since Paul Gray’s passing, and while “The Devil In I” wasn’t technically the first single off the album, I think it’s the stronger of the two pre-release singles. I would personally pick this one off .5 The Gray Chapter purely for the drum work during the bridge section. Slipknot’s already featured on the game, with songs from each previous album, so I don’t see why a song or two off the new one can’t join the fun.

WE HUNT BUFFALO – “BLOOD FROM A STONE”
With a bit of a surprise choice here, we have Spotify to thank for this one. I was trying to find King Crimson on there one day, and instead found We Hunt Buffalo’s cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” and then looked to see anything else they had. I found the title track off of their EP and fell in love with it. “Blood From a Stone” is a great example of a modern sludge drone song – it’s got a killer riff that drives the song. Give it a listen, then hope Harmonix puts it on the game.

ENTER SHIKARI – “THE LAST GARRISON”
A band that I’ve never really understood how they haven’t showed up in the game yet. Blending a whole bunch of genres to create a sound that is purely their own. With their most recent single, “The Last Garrison” they use their electronic music side to create a pretty intense breakdown during the verses. Musically it’s varied, with both heavy sections and clean melodic ones as well. It would need a little censoring to show up on the game, but it’s worth the effort.

BRING ME THE HORIZON – “DROWN”
With one last pick, I went with the most recent single from the British metalcore rockers, “Drown.” It’s a little more straightforward than their other singles, but it’s got a really good feel to it. The groove is strong – with a feeling to it that keeps the song moving forward the whole time. There really isn’t anything super over the top with this song, although there is a pretty solid drum-roll section during the bridge. It’s just an all around great song choice that would fit well in the game. If we’re talking about a song off their previous album,Sempiternal, I would go with “Sleepwalking,” “Shadow Moses,” or “Antivist.”

Rock and Roll Ain’t Dead After All

Rock Band 3 CoverIn a surprising move yesterday, Harmonix announced a brand new three-pack of songs for Rock Band 3. This new set of DLC is the first new content for the game since April of 2013. Whether this means that consistent DLC is back for the game remains to be seen. My personal thought is that seems unlikely, but this is encouraging that there might be some more coming along the way. So to celebrate the release today of the three songs, let’s take a look at them.

ARCTIC MONKEYS – ” R U MINE?”
The indie choice of the three-pack, this is a pretty solid rocker on all fronts. It’s definitely got a great guitar riff that repeats through the song, with some really solid drum work to go with it. That said though I think the “instrument” that really shines on this track from the English rockers is the vocals. Alex Turner has a really strong voice that carries weight with the song – it’s got a smokey feeling to it, kind of like some of the rock singers of old. I’m not the worlds biggest Arctic Monkeys fan – I think I just missed their radio play when they got big, but this song is definitely a strong opener to the return of DLC.

FOO FIGHTERS – “SOMETHING FROM NOTHING”
It wouldn’t be a DLC pack for Rock Band if there wasn’t a song from the Foos. A band that is featured incredibly prominently in the existing DLC for the series, this song is off of their most recent album, Sonic Highways. Like a bunch of the newer Foo Fighters songs, this is a bit of a slow burner – it starts with a nice low-key verse or two, before the guitars really start to pick up the pace. It’s got a pretty nice riff, that’s pretty reminiscent of Dio’s “Holy Diver” – different for sure, but it echoes it. It’s a pretty standard Foos song, solid on all instruments, with a great use of dynamics; and complete with a hell of a solo out of nowhere in the final minute or so. If you’re burnt out on Foo Fighters, I can understand skipping it, but I think it’s a pretty damn solid song.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – “SHEPHERD OF FIRE”
Rounding out the new three pack, we get another old favorite band, Avenged Sevenfold. While the band might get a bunch of flak from the metal know-it-alls, I think they’re a really great modern metal band, and the new album, Hail to the King has a few really good choices that I think would translate well to the game. They picked the more recent single, “Shepherd of Fire” which is pretty typical of the band’s sound, but definitely works well. Great guitar riffs through the song, strong drums, and great vocals – M. Shadows’ voice is so unique and sounds great on this song. Add in a killer solo from Synyster Gates at the bridge section and you have a winner for the final song in the new three-pack of songs.

Hopefully this new pack of DLC can revitalize the game a bit – even though it’s a last-gen game. I would really love to see there be a bunch more packs, especially since there’s no word on a new full game release. Rock Band 3 is one of the few games that I still play consistently on the 360, and I’m super, super happy to see more come out.