Friday 11 June 2010

Guitarmageddon, Round II

Mods vs Rockers, Punk vs Prog, East 17 vs Take That, musical history is littered with bitter conflict between violently opposed groups of fans, and the console age has added Guitar Hero vs Rock Band to the list. Pitched battles between gangs wielding plastic guitars, savage drumstick beatings, microphone cable garrottings, none of these things have happened, but some people have been quite cross on the internet and made some rather strongly worded forum posts castigating the rival franchise, sometimes even with multiple exclamation marks to really drive the point home.

Rock Band was the first full band game, of course, and has a formidable library of downloadable songs (over 1,100 apparently); Guitar Hero by contrast have released more individual game discs, drawing accusations of pumping out lazy sequels, milking the franchise etc. Were I to be a US-based XBox 360 owner I’d probably be firmly in the Rock Band camp, but seeing as the Wii version of Rock Band 2 took over a year to make it to the UK, arriving after Guitar Hero 5, I’m pretty evenly split between the two, though I’ve since found that Rock Band’s ever-growing array of downloadable content gives more reason to head back to it.

As E3 kicks off, the two titans are once again squaring off. I can’t recommend Plastic Axe highly enough, it’s a really excellent site and there’s a whole stack of exciting news there as details of Rock Band 3 emerge. Harmonix are picking up many of the nifty features of Guitar Hero 5 like making it easier for people to drop in and out of playing, change difficulties on the fly etc. They’re improving the song sorting and selection, plenty of general quality of life issues to make it a better experience. Those alone would be welcome.

They’re also adding a whole new instrument, keyboards, with a full two-octave controller with MIDI-out. To go with that is a “Pro” mode; it looks like at the easier levels you can mash one of a bunch of keys grouped into the usual red/green/yellow/blue/orange colours, but in Pro mode you’re pretty much playing the actual notes of the song.

They’re extending Pro mode to the drums as well, with three cymbals to be added to the four-pad drum kit and an optional second pedal for hi-hat/double bass. A MIDI adapter will also allow players to connect their own MIDI keyboards or drums to the system.

Most exciting for me, even the guitar gets Pro mode in the form of two new peripherals. You can use existing controllers in normal mode, but for Pro there’s going to be a digital option, a 102-button(!) fret-simulating guitar with six individual “strings” to strum, and a Fender Real Actual Guitar-y Guitar with some added tech to feed back your finger positioning to the game. I’ve been tempted many times to have a crack at learning the guitar properly, but I don’t think I’d have the motivation to sit down with Burt Weedon’s Play in a Day (and certainly not enough to actually go out of the house for lessons or something), this could be just the thing.

There’s also going to be a new Guitar Hero game, “Warriors of Rock”. It’s going to feature… Gene Simmons doing some narration. Oh, and a new peripheral too, with the amazing feature of… being able to take the sides of the guitar off, and put different pieces on instead to make it look like a slightly rubbish axe.

I really did like the previous Guitar Hero games, and Warriors of Rock sounds like it’s going to be fun enough as Yet Another Guitar Game, but hardly bringing much new to the genre. About the only chance it might have had is if it took Harmonix another year to remember where the UK is, but the press release promises “Holiday 2010 in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other territories”. Alas, poor Guitar Hero; I knew it, Horatio.

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