With the state of music games nowadays, it's surprising to see a new entrant in the genre. It's even more surprising to see the new entrant come from a completely new developer and publishing studio. Seven45 Studios has decided to enter the field of plastic instrument rhythm games, a field already crowded with the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. In order to stand out from the field, Power Gig: Rise of the Six String ditches the five-colored button scheme of the guitar in favor of an actual guitar complete with six strings. As promising as that may sound, though, there are a bevy of things going against the game, including the fact that one of the bigger music games already beat it to its own gimmick.
Power Gig offers two major gameplay modes. Unite the Clans acts as the campaign/story mode. In the city of Ohm, two brothers find a guitar filled with mystical power. One brother wants to use the power for good and spread peace through the city. The other, however, lusted for power, and once his sibling was murdered, he took the power of the guitar for himself. Dubbing himself the Headliner, he was able to capture the hearts and minds of the people while banishing other rock groups from playing in the city. The rival clans, who have all been wronged by the Headliner, put aside their differences and team up to overthrow him and restore balance to Ohm.
The mode plays out like many other campaign modes from other rhythm games. After a song has been selected, players try to score as many points as possible depending on the role they play in the band. Singers try to match the pitch of the given section as the song plays. Drummers hit any of the four symbols as they enter the hit zone and use the foot pedal to simulate a kick drum when that line also enters the hit zone. Guitarists strum while holding down one of five fret colors as their symbols enter the hit zone. For guitarists, there is one new element here: the open note. Depending on the song, there is a line that scrolls down the path with no colored icon attached, and it must be hit by strumming on a string without holding down any of the colored frets.
Unite the Clans mode has a few design decisions that are, at best, questionable. There is some emphasis on choosing certain characters for certain boosts to your performance score, but it never felt like those powers did anything. For example, one character's power is to help you achieve a higher percentage of perfect note hits, but when I played the same song in a band with and without this character, the amount of perfect note hits remained the same.
The other design decision that didn't go over very well has to do with song availability for any given set. A bulk of the game has you trying to win the favor of the clans to build up a large enough force to take on the Headliner. To do so, you'll need to play songs aligned with a particular Mojo meter icon to progress toward the goal of unity. While the game will give you the choice of any available song for set list play, only about five at a time are eligible for actual progress. The selection changes randomly after every set, but with such a small set of songs to choose from, the appearance of a wide selection is very beguiling. Furthermore, with the ability to only choose a maximum of three songs for a set list, progress in this mode feels very slow.
The other major mode is Quick Gig, and while the mechanics are the same as Unite the Clans, it focuses on one aspect that other rhythm games have ditched long ago. When you start the game and enter this mode, only half of the game's 70+ songs are available to play. What you're given is a decent selection, but in order to unlock any of the other songs, including material touted as exclusive to the game, you'll have to play through Unite the Clans mode first. In an age when music games let you access most of the library (if not everything) from the get-go, this feels archaic and will be an unwelcome surprise to music gamers who are used to having everything at their disposal.
In general, there are a slew of other gameplay problems plaguing the title. For starters, the load times are quite long. For any given song, it will take over 30 seconds to load. It takes a few more seconds for the game to show the band tuning up and then another few seconds to mention the song's title and artist while the camera shows more of the environment before the song count-in begins. With close to a minute of inactivity before a song begins, the wait feels agonizing compared to the quicker song loads by the competition.
The note chart presentations also feel archaic, as they are presented in a flat, 2-D perspective. The presentation also doesn't leave much of a preview for the note chart before the symbols hit the strike area, failing to give players time to plan for any upcoming notes. Xbox 360 players have more of a disadvantage since the system notification area is in the bottom middle of the screen. While short notices only cover the score, long notifications can cover the strike area entirely, making a difficult situation more impossible should you get a notification that causes you to guess if the incoming note is in the strike area. This gives you a better appreciation of how far music games have come in terms of presentation and functionality.
The multiplayer takes some of its cues from the older entrants in the music genre, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Local multiplayer is restricted to three people instead of four, with each person taking on the role of drummer, guitarist or singer. There is no option for a bass player, and multiplayer is limited to band co-op only. If you wanted to do a guitar duel with someone, you're completely out of luck as such an option doesn't exist. You're also out of luck if you wanted any form of online gameplay since that isn't an option, either. With no form of online versus or co-op and only three people able to play the game simultaneously, the experience becomes a very limited one, making Power Gig a game that isn't recommended for party situations.
The biggest knock against the game is with its controls, namely the included six string guitar. The good news is that the guitar is a real one that can be plugged into an amp when you're not playing the game. The guitar uses real strings, has some weight to it, and the bundle comes with three extra replacement strings and two picks. The bad news is that while the guitar is functional as a guitar, it isn't functional as a game controller.
With the exception of power chords, any string can be strummed to be registered in the game. The big issue comes with the five colored frets. In order to maintain its use as a real guitar while acting like a controller, the fretboard is programmed so that a string must touch both metal sides of the fret to tell the game that it's being held. Unless you're holding down on the right spot for that fret, the game fails to recognize that it is being held at all. The spot is very small, and even the slightest movement can tell the game that the fret isn't being held, so even the beginner difficulty level is a chore since it won't register the green fret being held down all of the time. Power chords really heighten the issue since it becomes impossible for the game to detect both frets and specific strings being held simultaneously. With the guitar's failure to function even at the most basic level, chances are that even the most skilled guitar players will abandon the guitar after a few minutes. It functions better when you use any of the standard Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitars, but Mojo power can only be initiated with a button press instead of a guitar tilt.
We didn't receive the Air Strike drum kit for the review, but if various Internet reports are to be believed, this may be a good thing as players are reporting the drum kit, which requires you to strike the air above the sensors as opposed to physical drum pads, has a poor sense of detection. Though you'd probably be better off using the drum kit from Rock Band or Guitar Hero, you'd be unable to activate Mojo Power unless you had a second drum pedal attached.
Graphically, Power Gig is serviceable. The character models for the major characters look fine and have a caricature style. In a way, it's reminiscent of the Guitar Hero character modeling before Neversoft took over the franchise. Unfortunately, the stiff animations for those games also seem to be in effect here. Everyone, from the singer to the guitarist to the drummer, looks robotic as they move from one animation to another. The animation pieces don't look too great, though, as you never feel that anyone is truly enjoying their performance. There doesn't seem to be any vigor to the drummer's motions, the guitarist never acts out while strumming, and the singer simply stands around looking bored as he or she belts out the words to the song.
The appearances are further hampered by bad camera work, which either shows the performance at bad angles so it looks like nothing exciting is happening or prolongs a shot at one member for too long when nothing is going on. The environments also mimic the characters in that they also look like they came from the old Guitar Hero games. Most places are dark and dingy, which is fine as it mirrors what should be happening in the story. However, there's no real detail to make one place stand out over the other. There are also a few little touches, like a bouncing subway car in the train station, that make you wonder why they bothered since everything else has a more serious vibe.
As important as sound is in a rhythm game, it is surprising to hear that the overall quality of the sound isn't up to snuff. The musical choices aren't that bad, though there's a great deal here that you've heard before in other games, like "Tick Tick Boom" by The Hives and Living Colour's "Cult of Personality." The exclusive artists — like Dave Matthews Band, Eric Clapton and Kid Rock — have some memorable stuff, which should please their fans. The issue is with the overall music volume, which is a bit quiet. Compared with the default volume produced by other music games, it seems like the volume level is a few notches below the competition; it's an oddity since rock music tends to be loud by nature. There are a few other curious audio choices. Completing a song or a gig is accompanied by a Kenny G-like riff, which feels completely out of place in a rock game. Its appearance really takes you out of the moment. There are also plenty of moments when the crowd noise doesn't bleed into the beginning of a song or falls quiet during a song's performance; it feels like the crowd only responds on command as opposed to spontaneously cheering like in a real concert. The sound feels flat overall and doesn't inspire you to rock out.
It's too bad that the one thing going for Power Gig: Rise of the Six String, the electric guitar, doesn't function as well as it should. Without the included guitar, the game falls on the lower end of the music game spectrum due to its mediocre presentation, limited multiplayer and lack of online features — save some upcoming DLC. With the included guitar, the game feels even worse since the controller isn't that accurate of a device when put through the paces of gameplay. If you get it as a present, you can feel somewhat good about getting a real electric guitar minus the accompanying amp. If you're looking at this as a music game, stick with either Rock Band or Guitar Hero. They might not feature real guitars that you can plug into an amp, but at least you'll get a better gaming experience and more players with whom to share the experience.
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