Version tested: Xbox 360
No one sets out to make a bad game, or so the saying goes. But sometimes someone seems to have set out to make a game in the shortest time and with the smallest budget possible, just to cash in on the latest trend. They might not mean to make a bad game, but it's hard to make a good one for four pounds in three days. Games companies aren't stupid; they know this. However, games companies are companies; they don't give a toss.
You can guess where this is going. Rock Revolution is Konami's contribution to the craze for music games, and it's rubbish. It's an unoriginal, watered-down mess that doesn't even have some of the features you'd expect as standard. Rock Revolution is to Rock Band what Panda Pops is to Pepsi, what Lewisham is to Las Vegas, what Richard Blackwood is to Will Smith. It's being promised dinner at the Ivy with Elton John, and getting an egg sandwich on the forecourt of a Travelodge with Daniel Bedingfield.
Unlike other, better music games, Rock Revolution doesn't have its own set of instruments. You can buy a special drum kit for it in the States, but that doesn't appear to be available here. The good news is you can use Guitar Hero and Rock Band controllers to play the game instead. The bad news is you'd have more fun using your Guitar Hero and Rock Band controllers to batter yourself to death.
The other news is you can't use your Guitar Hero or Rock Band microphones, as there's no singing in Rock Revolution. For those who don't have enough confidence, talent or vodka for karaoke, this will come as a relief. But why leave out a feature that's been appearing in music games since 2007? Why not at least give people the option? It doesn't help that its absence also limits the multiplayer modes to three people, but more on those later.
Having chosen whether to play lead guitar, bass or the drums, your next task is to pick a song. At first glance the selection isn't bad. True, there are an awful lot of tracks that will appeal to teenage Americans who are unnecessarily cross about something, such as "Falling Away From Me" by Korn. There are contemporary chart hits like "Somebody Told Me" by The Killers and "Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne. But there are also a few classics such as "Cum on Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot, "Heading Out to the Highway" by Judas Priest and "Theme from CSI: Miami" by The Who.
Or rather, "as made famous by". For unlike other music games (such as pretty much everything since the first Guitar Hero), Rock Revolution does not feature music by the original artists. Instead you get a load of duff old cover versions. They're not terrible but they're not the real deal, and they're not good enough to make you forget that.
There are over 40 songs to choose from, which is around half the number featured in Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour. Still, you can always download extra ones from the Rock Revolution store - unless you're playing the PS3 or Xbox 360 version. Downloadable tracks are only available if you're using the Wii game. Which seems bizarre, not least because of the Wii's limited storage capacity, but we double-checked with Konami and they confirmed it.
(Just to add an extra twist, Rock Revolution Wii is the only version of the game that won't work with Rock Band or Guitar Hero controllers. You have to use the remote and nunchuk. We haven't tried this out, but according to Kotaku, it's no good.)
At least the Quick Play mode works all right - there's no tedious unlocking, just pick a song and start playing. However, it won't be long before you realise "Quick Play" actually refers to the amount of time you'll want to spend on it. The main problem is the notes don't travel down a tilted plane as in other music games. Instead, the plane is vertical and flush to the screen. This means notes scroll down much faster and you can't anticipate what's coming next. You might hope this makes for gameplay that's a bit more frantic and fun, but it just leaves you feeling frustrated and a bit sick.
Otherwise, the game works pretty much as you'd expect. Coloured icons scroll down and you press the relevant keys or whack the appropriate drum pads to play the notes. Guitar players can perform hammer-ons and pull-offs, while drummers get to muck about with fills and rolls. Regardless of which instrument you're playing you have to be heavy-handed; the game only seems to respond to the firmest of key presses and the hardest of pad whacks. I found it would only register drum notes at all when hitting the dead centre of the pads with force and precision.
There's an obligatory Star Power rip-off, here called the "Atmosphere Meter". Perform well and the meter will fill up. Then, to get a bonus and make the screen go blue for two seconds, you tilt the neck of the guitar. Or, if you're on the drums, simultaneously hit the left and right pads and press the kick pedal, which is more complicated than it really needs to be. You can also earn score multipliers up to a maximum of 8x. If you play badly the crowd will start booing and you'll fail the song.
In short, it won't take you long to familiarise yourself with how Rock Revolution works. Then you might fancy forming a proper band - after all, the Career mode is a highlight of many music games. But not Rock Revolution, where it is just one of a shattering array of lowlights.
Customisation options extend to being able to pick a name for your band. There are a range of avatars to play as, but the choice basically boils down to Man With Stupid Facial Hair, Woman Wearing Tight Trousers or Woman Wearing Skirt Stolen From Child. They have names like Riker and Duke. It's impossible not to hate them.
To progress through Career Mode you have to complete "albums". Each of these features four songs, and you must play through three of them to unlock the next album. Each one also offers two challenges, featuring two of the songs you've already played. They involve trying to reach a minimum high score, often while attempting to hit "poison notes". These look like regular notes except the middle is blacked out, and if you play five of them the song is over. This is one of the worst ideas in the history of games, as trying not to press buttons when their corresponding icons appear is no fun at all.
It's a good job the Career mode is so rubbish, because this means you won't be disappointed to learn it's not available in multiplayer. In fact, very little is available in multiplayer. Up to six people can compete in Versus mode, but only on guitar, and they must all play either lead or bass. The three-player Co-op mode features no progression whatsoever - it's just like Quick Play, with zero reward for finishing songs. There's no system where players can save each other if they get knocked out. It's quite hard to get knocked out anyway; it's possible for one player to get through an entire song even if the other fails to play a single note.
The multiplayer modes also work online, or so the menu system suggests. We tried all the various options at several different times of day, and failed to find a single player to compete against or play co-operatively with. Let's be fair, we were playing before the game hit the shops in Europe. But let's be honest, it's been out in the US since October. According to data trackers NPD, just 3000 copies were shifted in the first month of sale. It wouldn't appear that any of those 3000 people are still playing.
The final mode on offer is the Studio, where you can play and remix your own tracks. It sounds like a nice add-on, but in practice it's a useless gimmick. Somehow, the Studio manages to be overly simplistic and frustratingly complex at the same time. The options available to you are both limited and difficult to explore. It's impossible to produce anything that sounds good, and it's almost impossible to produce anything at all thanks to an interface that's as intuitive as a potato. Even if you miraculously manage to knock out a tune you're proud of no one will know, as you can't do anything so crazily futuristic as share your songs online.
To recap, then: Rock Revolution for Xbox 360 doesn't support one of the controllers other music games use. It has half the number of tracks, no music store, no tracks by the original artists and no co-op Career mode. At least Konami's only asking GBP 24.99 for it, which would suggest they know it's not worth full-price.
But is it worth the money if you just want a few dozen extra tracks to bang away to with that drum kit gathering dust in the garage? No. The gameplay mechanics are rubbish, the progression system is limited and the multiplayer options are pathetic. There's nothing revolutionary about this game and there's certainly nothing "rock" about it. For 25 quid, you could hire Richard Blackwood and Daniel Bedingfield for the afternoon and still have change for an egg sandwich, a Panda Pops and the bus to Lewisham Travelodge. You'd have more fun.
3 / 10