Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour have been dominating the headlines when it comes to this year's big rhythm games, but ever since it was first announced back in May, Konami's Rock Revolution has been looking to stake its claim as a viable third option in this burgeoning multi-instrument battle. From the outset, Konami's big selling point has been a more realistic experience; the drum kit it unveiled alongside the game sports a full seven inputs--two more than Rock Band and one more than Guitar Hero. But until this week, details on the rest of the game and hardware have been a bit scarce. This past week we spent some time taking a good long look at a nearly complete build of Rock Revolution to see just how it differs from the competition.
In the initial announcement, Konami told us that the game would not support vocals, but the possibility of a Rock Revolution guitar has been a little hazy. Opening the bundle reveals a drum kit, a copy of the game, and a friendly notice announcing that other guitar peripherals are supported. The bad news, it seems, is that there will be no guitar controller designed specifically for the game to match the drum kit's ambitious number of inputs. But when you consider the sheer number of Guitar Hero and Rock Band controllers floating around the living rooms of the world, it begins to make sense. The complete lack of microphone support is substantially more disappointing, but nevertheless we assembled the drum kit and set out to see what the game has to offer.
Like in any rhythm game worth its weight, you have the option to either jump straight into quick play or climb your way to rock stardom by progressing through career mode. In Rock Revolution, the career mode consists of a series of framed albums on your wall. Each contains five songs. When you beat three songs, the record turns gold and you can move on to the next record, but you also have the choice to beat all five songs to achieve platinum record status. A few challenges are thrown in here and there, like one that requires you to beat a set score with a certain twist: The notes start scrolling slowly and then rapidly build up in speed while your combo multiplier increases. There's another that throws poison notes your way that you need to avoid playing. From what we've seen, there doesn't seem to be any way to manage your fans, transportation, or collection of leather pants as you might in Rock Band.
Whereas most games force you to unlock songs through the career mode, Rock Revolution gives you access to its entire collection of songs--all of which are covers--in quick play right from the outset. You can form a spontaneous band with a drummer, a guitarist, and a bass player and select from beginner, easy, medium, hard, or expert difficulties. On guitar, we tested the Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and Guitar Hero III controllers, and they all proved to be compatible. The gameplay feels just as familiar as the hardware you're holding in your hand: You match the notes, hold buttons down for sustains, and jerk the guitar into the air when you've built up enough momentum to gain extra points. One unique element of the gameplay is the layout of the note lanes. Notes come down in a straight vertical line, instead of on a 3D fret board that fades into the distance. It feels like you can see fewer notes coming your way when it's done like this in comparison to Guitar Hero games.
As you might expect, the nature of using a new drum kit requires a bit more getting used to. There are six inputs on the face of the kit--three drum shapes, three cymbal shapes--and a kick pedal down below. This poses a significant initial challenge for anyone who has been trained on videogame drumming using the Rock Band kit, but that soon wears off as you get used to the layout and colors. From there, the experience feels familiar: You play what the screen commands, punctuated by the occasional fill sections that allow you to play whatever you want. There are a couple of quirks that remain with you, though. One is that the kick pedal is denoted as an individual note rather than a bar stretching across all lanes (which makes the drummer's chunk of the screen feel a little more cluttered), and the second is that the red cymbal on the left is best played with your arms crossed, but because there isn't any height differentiation between pads, this often leads to accidentally hitting your forearms together.
There's a large plastic shell that encases the drum's electronic insides. Between this and the fact that the drum sticks are quite a bit heavier than the ones that come with Rock Band, playing the drum produces an altogether different sound and tactile response. Rather than the "tack tack" sound produced by Rock Band's first attempt at drum hardware, the Rock Revolution kit produces deeper "thump thump" with a bit less bounce-back. In addition, the smaller size of the inputs makes it a little tricky to do cascading drum fills without accidentally hitting the plastic shell. However, we quite like the kick pedal. It's sturdy and doesn't bounce up during jaunty double-taps thanks to the way it's locked in under the metal kit frame (which you'll actually need to put together with the provided nuts and bolts). You can also store the drum sticks in two little slots on the right-hand side of the shell, which is a handy touch.
Our favorite feature in the game hands down is the music studio. You can take part in either a jam session or a recording session. In the latter, you can record up to eight tracks with any instrument combination of your choosing and a good deal of sounds like Latin percussion kits, banjo, and synth bass. On guitar, there's a different loop you can play for every single button combination you can press, with a slightly different sound depending on whether you strum up or down. Preplayed loops are also available, and you can set the tempo by hitting the green button four times as quickly or as slowly as you want. Once you record a song, there's no way to share it or play it back in the game proper (a la Guitar Hero: World Tour), you can only go back listen to it in the studio.
The most fun we found is in the jam session. Here you can have three players (a drummer and any combination of guitarists and bassists you want) given unfettered access to all the instrument and loop sounds, but in a free-form setting where they all play at once. If you get a metal drum kit and two metal solo guitars, you can unleash the fury of a Wyld Stallyns-like shred fest the likes of which the world has never heard--provided you don't mind a cacophony of wailing guitars and erratic drum fills. Of course, you can also take yourself seriously and lay down some pretty cool grooves, but it's nice that the jam session is versatile enough to allow for both respectable musicianship and unbridled insanity.
Visually, Rock Revolution complements your performances with a handful of musicians jamming out on stage. They are far more realistic looking than the cartoonish rockers you'll see onscreen in Rock Band or Guitar Hero, and tend to take themselves a bit more seriously, though sacrificing a good deal of personality in the process. Their movements match what's on the screen, though you never get close-ups of the guitar strings or a singer's face to really push the point across. In terms of audio, the vocal tracks fluctuate between solid recreations and strangely tepid mimicry, which makes you yearn that much more for microphone support.
All told, Rock Revolution isn't without its unique qualities. The music studio may not have the Web 2.0 content-sharing qualities of World Tour, but it does offer the ability to lay down some pretty neat tracks. And on top of this, the drum kit is at least compatible with Rock Band 2, as we tested for ourselves. You can expect to see Rock Revolution arrive on October 14.