Friday, December 12, 2008

I Want to Rock 'N Roll All Night, And Have a Really Nice Time

A Guitar Hero:World Tour Review.

When Harmonix broke away from Activision to create RockBand, the task fell to Red Octane and Neversoft to continue the Guitar Hero franchise. Their first effort, Guitar Hero 3, was basically more of the same. Progressing through the career and unlocking songs is all well-to-do, but fans of the series couldn't help but shake the sense that the rock-simulator game was getting a bit long in the tooth. Special guest appearances by Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Slash of Guns 'n Roses fame (and even Satan himself) only helped to pad the meandering path that Guitar Hero seemed to be taking.

Thankfully, the release of RockBand inspired Red Octane to kick the Guitar Hero franchise up a notch. Included with the newest outing is a wireless drum set and a microphone, changing Guitar Hero to sort of a "Band Hero" (doesn't have the same ring, though). By completely overhauling the traditional Guitar Hero trappings, Red Octance have breathed life back into the series.

The first thing you'll notice about Guitar Hero: World Tour is that the clumsy, cartoon-y graphics have been eschewed in favor of a more stylized interface. The actual in-game HUD is a lot cleaner, as well. Your Rock Meter and Star Power gauges no longer take up a large portion of the screen; they are instead relegated to a small part of the interface, but they never seem out of the way or unclear. Gone too is the giant flashing indicator that appears when you start note-streaks. It is replaced by a smaller, yet still visible, text line that appears over the note track and quickly dissipates. The new Guitar Hero is a lot cleaner, and it benefits greatly from it.

The characters, too, have gotten quite the make-over. The drummers are no longer rhythm-robots, owing in great part to the excellent motion-capture by professional drummers Travis Barker, Chad Smith and Stewart Copeland. The guitarist struts around stage with abandon, and the bassist does moves other than standing there, plucking strings. The singer gets probably the biggest changes; he (or she) will swing the mic stand around, make faces at the camera, and sometimes let the other band members join in some lyric-belting. All the changes make the on-screen rock-avatars (or rockvatars) seem more like a real band, and less like some bored actors going through the motions.

The set list has seen a significant upgrade as well. Where previous Guitar Heroes pandered to the Metal and Rock genres, World Tour expands its repertoire. You can still find your Rock and Metal selections, but the list includes songs from a wide variety of musical samplings. Blink-182, Coldplay and Paramore all have their spots on the list, additions that will surely please those looking for something a bit different. A welcome addition to the song list is the ability to create sets in Quickplay; you can load up six songs at one time and play through them in a steady progression.

Where Guitar Hero makes it's biggest changes, however, is the instruments included in the bundle. The new guitar is larger and more solidly-built, adding things like a longer whammy-bar and a star power button right beside the strum bar. In addition to these features, the new guitar features a slider button on the neck, below the regular fret buttons. With the slider, your can do some pretty neat licks, gliding your fingers across the pad. Unfortunately, the game doesn't give a lot of advanced indication as to when it's going to change from fret buttons to the slider bar, so you'll have to be quick with your fingers.

The drum set included with the game is also very well done. Bearing more resemblance to an actual drum kit, with the symbols residing above the other pads, actual drummers should feel more at home with the set than they would with RockBand's. (Fittingly, the request for elevated symbols was unanimous amongst the musicians brought in to help Red Octane develop the set) The only problem with the pads is that they are velocity-sensitive. It doesn't happen often, but you'll sometimes go for a bit without the snare or symbol hits registering.

The mic included with the bundle is your standard karaoke mic; nothing too fancy, but it gets the job done.

Overall, the new Guitar Hero takes the "press colored buttons to make sounds" formula and advances it to the next logical step. Even though Guitar Hero has a built in music creator, one must wonder where else this franchise can go before the plastic instrument fatigue sets in. Like all other wildly successful innovations, both Guitar Hero and RockBand will have to evolve their game if they wish to stay fresh and competitive.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Falling Back Sideways

Does everything have to make sense?
It seems that nobody can live day to day anymore.
If you spend all your energy worrying about tomorrow,
Then you've wasted the most precious gift that
Life has to offer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Like a Good Stew, the Plot Thickens...

The Azure Span, Two Days after the Reanimation of Cleric Vodaryn.

Shadow Army Aerial Transport, The Righteous Wind.

Gregg twisted the final bolt on his armor, and watched the steam be released slowly from the overworked hydraulics in his greaves. The old power armor, as life saving as it was, often needed repairs. After all, it had survived over two thousand years locked within a vault underneath the Great Forges of the Golden City.

Gregg gingerly removed the leg plates from his body suit, slowly disengaging the neural inputs. If done too fast, his lower body could suffer anything from numbness to temporary paralysis. After the last piece of his armor had been removed safely, Gregg stacked it in a large metal case at the back of the transport, and made his way towards a viewing window.

Even through the thick metal of the aircraft, Gregg could hear and feel the heavy thrum of the roof mounted blades, spinning quickly in order to the keep the ship afloat. Gregg’s mind was often boggled at the sheer complexity of technology found within the Forges. Having come from a simple farming community, Gregg was bewildered when an assault rifle had first been placed in his hands, wondering how mere men could manipulate wood and metal to function in such deadly concert.

Time spent in the army had made Gregg accustomed to the powers available to those who lived in the Golden City. Heating, light and quick transport were all taken for granted by those who lived in the high towers of the City. Only mere miles beyond the city’s border, the general population of Atlum lived a poor life, desperately eking a living of the sometimes harsh landscape.

The ten year winter was oncoming, and life for the people of Atlum was about to get much harder. During those trying times, the Praetor currently holding power usually opened the gates of the Golden City, allowing all those who could make the trip to enter the hallowed metropolis. However, safety from the winter did not always come without a price. The fit men of the family were conscripted into the standing army, and the women-folk were often made to toil in the factories. Gregg’s parents had considered these hardships small sacrifices compared to the near-impossibility of surviving a winter.

However, the current Praetor had not opened the gates yet. As the Righteous Wind neared the Shores of the Black Sands, Gregg peered out of the window and glimpsed a long, winding trail of bodies, lit occasionally by torches. These people had come from every corner of Atlum, seeking asylum within the walls of the City. Every day, the crowd milling outside the gates grew larger and larger, and often times, violence boiled over, inciting riots within the group.

Gregg feared that if the group got any larger, they may try to enter the city by force, and Gregg would have to play a part in preventing them from accessing the City.

A chirping in his earpiece interrupted Gregg’s maudlin thoughts; a communiqué from the pilot to let the Vindicator know that the landing pad in the marshalling zone was fast approaching, and that Gregg should strap himself in for the descent.

With a bump, the airship touched down upon the landing pad, and the pilot began to shut down the massive engine that powered the ship. Gregg clambered out of his seat, and exited the aircraft before the rotors on top had stopped spinning.

At the other end of the landing pad, a small man in a hooded robe waited for him. As Gregg approached, the man lifted his hood, and regarded Gregg with an imperious stare, despite his being several feet shorter.

“The Praetor would speak with you, Vindicator.”

Gregg nodded. He had hoped to visit his family before speaking with the Praetor, but one seldom gets what one wants.

“Lead the way, Savant. Let’s not keep the Praetor waiting.”