It’s an unwritten rule that any rhythm action game lives or dies by its track selection. It’s a fairly obvious principle to understand; make a music game with pitiful music and, well, you’re all but doomed to failure. On the contrary, the anticipation for Activision’s upcoming Guitar Hero: Metallica and the ongoing success of Harmonix’s Rock Band are both testament to the fact that getting your music spot on can be fruitful. But Konami, it seems, hasn’t quite grasped the concept.
Largely derivative of songs to have graced previous rhythm action titles (Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’, Soundgarden’s ‘Spoonman’ and The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ bulk up the 41-strong playlist), it would perhaps be unfair to criticise Rock Revolution’s track list for the songs on offer, rather the obvious cost-cutting going on in the background. As Harmonix realised early on with Guitar Hero, filling your game with lousy cover versions is no way to bring in the fans, yet Konami has thrown caution to wind with Rock Revolution, filling the playlist with awful substandard knock-offs. And the majority really are horrendously bad. Don’t believe us? Click here. With set lists (and everything else for that matter) between the two titles quite so similar, it seems an odd decision to make when returning to the market late in the day, and one we fear fuelled purely by its economical advantages.
Similarly, nor do Konami take heed of their competitors’ ambitions to innovate; the ‘rock revolution’ proving to be nothing more than a lethargic ‘me-too’ effort than the titular genre shake-up. It comes as a surprise: Konami’s pedigree in the genre is, after all, somewhat remarkable, having bestowed the Dance Dance phenomenon unto the world in the late 90s before introducing a rock twist with their Bemani series half a decade prior to the current genre leaders. You’d assume it would be a safe bet, then, that two console generations later the fathers of rhythm action would have created quite the show-stopper. But you’d be wrong.
Instead, Rock Revolution’s ten-year heritage is (unfortunately) evident in every department. From its headache-inducing vertical note chart and antiquated structure (the game’s primary mode consists of a tired list based around consecutively completing individual tracks, then replaying them at a gig), to its ridiculously low production values and restricted player support (singing has been reserved for Konami’s Karaoke Revolution, it seems), it soon becomes apparent that Konami is years behind the competition. Even more depressingly, Rock Revolution misses the fundamental basis of any game pitched around the idea of living out your rock star dreams, severely lacking in any of the personality, atmosphere and excitement shared by its two closest rivals. Alas, Rock Revolution’s realisation of a Metallica performance is as heart-pumping as a rendition from Susan Boyle, and equally unattractive.
Even the developer’s brave attempt at varying the one-note gameplay ends in disaster, with the various challenges that pop up throughout the career proving to be either incredibly easy or incredibly frustrating. One particular challenge-type sees you memorising a section of a track to play back later without a note chart, and it proves to be particularly ill-conceived. It’s not that the idea itself is bad per se, but that its demands are completely unfeasible, tasking you with remembering the position of upwards of forty notes and chords at a time rather than smaller, more manageable sections. Needless to say, the whole experience isn’t entertaining at all.
It may also be just the opinion of this writer, but even in spite of the poor cover versions and lacklustre presentation prevalent on the disc, it’s the vertically scrolling note chart that proves to be Konami’s worst design choice. Eye-straining at the best of times, its impracticality is highlighted during some of the faster, note-riddled tracks, and makes perfecting songs on higher difficulties an all but impossible task.
So Rock Revolution isn’t quite the revolution it claims to be. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a game that cuts every corner possible to create a soulless, low-cost venture that happily plays second fiddle to its competitors. It might not be appalling – by default any rhythm action game holds a certain amount of playability – but Konami’s willingness to settle for mediocrity unfortunately isn’t enough.
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