Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rock Legend Review

Rock Legend, developed and published by Positech Games.
The Good: Multiple options for daily activities, meaningful feedback and helpful suggestions, slowly growing the band is fun and rewarding, interesting social interactions between needy band members, randomly generated names
The Not So Good: You’ll generally repeat the same activities over and over and they don’t change as you rise in popularity, no “real” songs
What say you? It’s an addictive but tedious life as a musician: 6/8

Everyone wants to be a rock star. The money, the fame, the girls: they are all very appealing (although not necessarily in that order). Of course, most of us have absolutely no musical talent, so the life of a rock star is out of the question (that hasn’t stopped some people). Lucky for us, Positech Games has made Rock Legend, adapting the Kudos engine to a simulation of band dynamics. Can you lead your ragtag followers from relative obscurity to the title of Greatest Band in the World?

The graphics of Rock Legend are similar to those of Kudos, although they are slightly improved. People expecting a dynamic rock environment with slick 3-D graphics will be disappointed, but for a simulation or strategy game, Rock Legend features clean and easy to navigate graphics. The game is rendered in 2-D but it features decent graphics for a 2-D game: a nice variety of different heads for your band, large icons, and some minor special effects are just some of the inclusions. As long as you go into Rock Legend with the right mind set, the graphics are adequate. For a game based on music, you would figure that the soundtrack would be pretty good. Surprisingly, Rock Legend features very subdued sounds with a limited amount of licensed music by small artists. Since you write and compose your own songs in the game, you would figure that you’d get to listen to them, or at least a facsimile thereof. Honestly, I doubt this mechanic would work well, so it’s actually better off not to be included than to be done poorly. The game still has good-quality snippets of various types of music that plays when appropriate. Since I review a lot of low-budget wargames and puzzle titles, I’m not disappointed in the graphics or the sound of Rock Legend; as long as the gameplay is good, who cares what it looks like?

In Rock Legend, you’ll guide your upstart band from their humble beginnings to (hopefully) international status. To start with, you’ll need to name yourself, your band, and choose a 3-D render from a variety of hairstyles and skin tones for both male and female performers. Rock Legend has a random name generator for characters, bands, and songs, and it comes up with some appropriately generic combinations. I would like to see Rock Legend incorporate parts of well-known songs in addition to more random components (“Stairway to Teen Spirit” could dominate the charts). Once you have named your band, it’s time to find some band members. You can hire new members to play guitar, bass, and drums, and expand your entourage to include a keyboard or saxophone. While hiring members, you are given a skill rating and special skills for each of the three candidates; while hiring the most skilled people might seem like the most logical action, there are some valuable special skills and having all really good people might become a problem later on making everyone happy.

Rock Legend is a turn-based game, where each turn is a day and each month lasts a week. There are a number of different activities you can engage in but you can only do one per day. First, you’ll need to write original songs. This is done through a little mini-game where you match up series of notes to form a complete song. You get bonus points for matching adjacent note colors; this results in a more appealing song. Your band starts out with the ability to just do basic notes, but attending shows can unlock more advanced notes to compose better songs. Once you write a minimum number of songs, you can produce a CD to sell at shows. You’ll mix the CD, changing the influence of each band member’s instrument and adjusting the overall quality of the CD; obviously, you’ll need to balance the quality of the CD against the morale of your band members since poor but egotistical members might be a little miffed their part was tuned out for a better overall album. It’s an interesting mechanic that can greatly affect your band’s confidence. After a while, older songs will need to be retired and replaced; while I understand retiring crappy older songs, you should be able to keep “classics” around for a longer period of time.

Once you have a set of songs, you can rehearse for live performances in different locations (more expensive locations yield better results). This is a simple procedure that’s completely automated and entirely the same at any point in the game. Once you band is good enough, you can book gigs at that cost different fees and have varying capacities. Before your show, you’ll need to put up flyers promoting your upcoming performance, although once your band is famous you can rely in interviews to promote your band. Concerts, like rehearsing, are over instantly and a rating is based off of several factors: your musical ability, concert experience, song quality, rehearsal level, and overall performance. I would like to see a more dynamic or interactive concert experience, possibly something along the lines of Guitar Hero. There is a mini-game when you hone your skills, however. It plays just like Simon, substituting the electronic beeps with guitar, keyboard, or drum sounds. The min-game ranges from very easy to quite challenge, and it’s a nice diversion from the normal gameplay. The money you earn from playing shows can be spent on improved instruments, better lighting and effects for shows, merchandise you can sell, and hiring staff. You can also spend a little money on a CD to learn more advanced notes for songwriting purposes.

Rock Legend provides just enough variety, at least in the beginning, to keep you interested. Having to improve your skills while maintaining good relations with your members requires some good strategy. Plus, there is an emotional investment made following your band from its infancy through adulthood (and, in some cases, post-adulthood). Rock Legend provides some very good feedback from your band members to guide you along. If they want anything (new instruments, riders, et cetera), they will let you know. You’ll need to balance your income, anticipating potential needs before they become a problem. If band members don’t get what they want, they can refuse to play shows (resulting in a really big problem) and you might have to fire them. In general, Rock Legend is initially fun to play but the game becomes quite monotonous after a while. This is partially because everything that is available from the beginning never changes: gigs are the same, mixing CDs is the same, purchasing items is the same (although you can eventually afford better stuff that, frankly, is the same), improving your skills is the same, and writing songs is the same. There are a lot of things to do, but they remain the same from beginning to end.

Rock Legend is a well designed game that expands upon the foundation of Kudos. I like the random names and the interface that gives meaningful information and guidance during the game. There are a number of different activities to engage in, although they do tend to get tedious after a while. Rock Legend requires striking a delicate balance between improving your band, exhausting your band mates, and catering to their needs in order to be a success. There is a fair amount of replay value, since you can opt for different band members with randomly generated skill sets each time you play. I think that Rock Legend will lack long-term appeal since the title becomes quite monotonous after a while, but it is quite entertaining for a short period of time and that’s probably worth $23 if you enjoy this type of game.