Version tested: PC
Miranda Veranda are having some problems at the moment. After a string of sell-out gigs frontman/songwriter/manager Shiloh Manners (that's me) stupidly spent a large chunk of the band's funds on merchandise. The splurge on t-shirts, sweatshirts, and posters left enough cash in the kitty to line-up a couple more dates (perfect opportunities for shifting the aforementioned souvenirs) but, crucially, not enough to rent a decent rehearsal space, or buy depressive bassist Ray the fancy MegaBass he'd been wanting for ages.
As the concerts loomed, Ray's mood plummeted like an apocryphal hotel TV. A tiring fly-posting excursion on D-Day minus 1 (Why-on-Earth didn't I give everyone that day off?) seemed to push him over the edge. Twenty minutes before we were due on stage he did a bunk. The gig and the one following it had to be scrubbed; we lost thousands. To get back into the black I was forced to lay-off our roadie (Ray got the boot too, of course) and sell our van, smoke machine, and fibreglass Stonehenge set. The things we'd worked so long and hard for were gone in an instant. Rock and roll: It's a shit business.
Actually it's pretty hard to do really atrociously in this warm, compulsive little music industry sim. Cliff Harris' titles tend to stress the journey rather than the destination and provide lots of opportunities for recovery and re-growth. In this one you've got five years to build a band and take them 'to the top'. There are no scenarios or difficulty levels, no lengthy tutorials or illogical concepts; basically, you just sit down and start playing. The immediacy is refreshing.
The game works a lot like its predecessor Kudos. Each day there's time for just one activity. At the start that might be 'hold an audition' or 'write a song'; later it could be 'make a record' or 'do a TV show'. While this system obviously isn't completely realistic (Unless you're Ozzy Osbourne, it doesn't take 16 hours to pop down the shops and buy a new plectrum) it is - like so many other elements of the design - extremely elegant. One of Kudos' weaknesses was that its actions were often little more than menu choices - you told your character to take a bath, go for a stroll, or read a book, and that was that - the decision would magically nudge some variables and a new day would dawn. In Rock Legend there's more depth. Let's say your inspiration level is high and you decide to pen a hit; after clicking the relevant tab you're presented with a selection of yellow Post-It notes each scrawled with a cluster of coloured quavers and crotchets (you can improve the choice by buying and listening to music, attending concerts, and peopling your group with inspirational characters). By arranging the bits of paper in dense, flowing sequences great ditties are produced.
Just play the feckin' note!
There's no audio element to songsmithing, and no way to listen to the finished tunes once they've been created (an understandable limitation). The closest thing the game has to interactive music making or performing is the practice mini-game. Repeating short note sequences in a Simon-style memory game boosts the generic 'musicianship' skill of band members. Making a record involves a simple but engaging sub-game too. Using a mixing-desk style interface you must find a fader arrangement that pleases punters and doesn't tick-off too many of the band. In isolation these simple diversions would be trite. As quick interludes in a dense, fast-paced play experience they work rather well. Kudos feels repetitive in comparison.
OK, first minor misgiving. Rock Legend is superior to its nearest PC rival in almost every respect, but is a lot more timid when it comes to depicting the grittier aspects of the music scene. Apart from the odd background image of a label-less beer bottle there's no evidence whatsoever of carousing. Some band members have character traits like 'disruptive' or 'pessimistic' but no-one is flagged as a lush, or a drug fiend. It's a similar story with fisticuffs and fornication. Incompatible band members cause friction but there never seem to be on-stage punch-ups or skirmishes with pushy paps. However big you get you'll never get pelted with warm knickers or pounced on by insatiable groupies. Shame.
Possibly the biggest/oddest omission is the absence of touring. Cliff appears to have something against foreign travel (there were no holidays in his last life-sim), which is a pity as everybody knows the biggest bust-ups and the best songs happen on the road.
Sleep when you're dead
I may just have been lucky with management and musician choice but my bands rarely seem to squabble. The deepest pitfalls by far are financial mismanagement (see intro), overwork, and chronic de-motivation. If you cram too many dull, wearying activities into the schedule eventually performances will begin to suffer, and everyone will take to their beds. Accept an interview offer straight after a gig and you'll probably be the only one that shows up. Why does that matter? Different band members bring different skills to activities. An 'articulate' axeman will boost the publicity effect of an interview; a 'businesslike' drummer means you get discounts at the mall.
Ah yes, shopping is almost as important as music making in Rock Legend. Ensuring the band has the best possible instruments, lighting, stage gizmos, transport and staff, is vital to success. Most days you'll find yourself faced with tricky economic choices. Get some fancy lasers to pep-up the stage show, or buy a top-of-the-range horn to pep-up the saxophonist? Pamper the band's buttocks with a swish stretch limo or pamper the band's buttocks with an energetic Swedish masseuse? The hours can slip by very easily as you scamper from decision to decision. Before you know it you're gazing at the rather anti-climactic end-game summary screen and wondering why there isn't a hi-score table (it would be nice if I could compare Miranda Veranda's achievements with those of my previous bands - The Panzers and Misery Loves Timpani).
Fresh, but slightly sanitised, Rock Legend isn't a game you're going to play intensively for months. However, note the price (GBP 12.50), and purchase anticipating two or three weeks of quirky, leather-trousered amusement, and you shouldn't be disappointed.
7 / 10
You can check out the Rock Legend demo or, indeed, buy it, over on the official website.