Just because the plastic guitar is seemingly dead doesn't mean that music games are dying off. After Activision oversaturated the genre with one too many Guitar Hero releases, game developers were forced to innovate if they wanted to move the genre forward. Harmonix did this by introducing a keyboard and pro mode to Rock Band 3. Ubisoft did it by supporting a real guitar in Rocksmith. Now Realta is looking to take the next step with BandFuse: Rock Legends.
When we sat down for the demo, it quickly became obvious that BandFuse had all of the basics down pat. What we wanted to know was, "What makes BandFuse different?" In order words, what is the team doing that is going to make people care? The answer to that can be summed up in one word: authenticity.
Simply playing with a real instrument wasn't enough for the BandFuse team. They wanted players to get the whole experience of playing, and that is reflected in both the feature set and the presentation of the game. For example, the most notable item that sets apart BandFuse from other music games is the fact that it uses actual guitar tab notation for the note highway. There are simplified versions of tablature shown on the easier difficultly levels (you can change difficulty levels on the fly), but if you play a song on hard, you're getting the original notes shown to you in a standard form. This should make the transition from game to real life (and back again) an easy process.
Another visual differentiator is the use of real music videos in the game. Forget digital avatars or generic band members. While you're playing a song, the original artist video plays in the background.
In-game, the developers claim that the BandFuse engine is the most accurate audio engine currently available on game consoles. According the Realta rep who showed us the game, BandFuse rates players separately on both pitch and timing. If you're good at one and not the other, the game will highlight your weakness and make recommendations as to how you can improve your performance. For example, if your timing is off, BandFuse may suggest playing with a metronome.
Also helping new players to learn how to play is BandFuse's support for elastic timing. You can dynamically slow down a section of any track in order to make it easier to learn difficult sections of a song.
Career mode within BandFuse is focused on touring and performing. You won't unlock songs while playing. Every song, amp and audio effect is unlocked from the start. Instead, while touring, you will be presented with video interviews from real artists as you progress through the game. Some examples given during the demo include Nancy Wilson, Slash and Zakk Wylde.
One interesting bit that was touched on during the demo, but hasn't really been fleshed out yet is the BandFuse metagame. In order to add realism to the touring aspect of Career mode, the developers have added a resource management layer with combos and cards. Combos are earned by performing well, but you can boost the combos by playing cards in a timely manner. For example, one card may boost your fans by having you sign autographs, while another will result in Slash making an on-stage cameo during your performance. If it's done right, this is one aspect where BandFuse could stand out from the pack.
With that said, the coolest feature in BandFuse is the one that practically guarantees the game will never see the light of day on the Mac or PC: song sharing and collaboration. With BandFuse, you will be able to record your performance and then share it with friends. You can even have multiple people in different locations record different sections (bass, guitar, vocal) and then merge them into one. The game will take the individual track recordings you provide and use them to replace the original bits.
In addition to basic sharing, BandFuse also has cloud support. You can upload all of your recordings to the BandFuse cloud and then manipulate it on another device, like a table. So if you wanted to add a few effects or tweak a vocal track, you can do that before saving the final product.
The song recording and sharing isn't limited to the included tracks either. BandFuse will allow you to record original works and share them. In addition to sharing with other BandFuse players, the game also supports exporting to Facebook.
Hardware-wise, BandFuse is planned to be available in a few different bundles. At the high end, Realta expects to have a guitar bundle that includes a Fender guitar, guitar cable and custom breakout box for around $200. The exact guitar style hasn't yet been determined, but since Fender is a partner, they're hoping to include an entry-level Jassmaster or Stratocaster.
Players who already have a guitar can look for the game, guitar cable and breakout box at a target price of $70, while a "band pack" with the game, two guitar cables, an acoustic adapter, microphone and breakout box is targeting $80. At this point, the prices are still estimates, but it gives you an idea of the ballpark range the company is trying to hit.
The breakout box mentioned in the bundles is a custom design that plugs into the multi-AV out on the Xbox 360. In addition to the standard ports, it also provides a headphone out. The acoustic adapter clips onto a standard acoustic guitar, allowing you to use it with BandFuse. Without the acoustic adapter, you would need an electric guitar to play.
Finally, there is the song selection. Realta promises that BandFuse with ship with at least 60 songs on the disc and additional 40 available as day-one DLC. No pricing estimates were given for the DLC.
The announced song list includes:
- Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know"
- The Allman Brothers Band - "Jessica"
- Blind Melon - "No Rain"
- Blue Oyster Cult - "Godzilla"
- The Clash - "Should I Stay or Should I Go"
- Coldplay - "Yellow"
- The Crazy Ones - "Stellar Revival"
- Fall Out Boy - "Sugar, We're Goin Down"
- Five Finger Death Punch - "The Bleeding"
- Fuel - "Hemorrhage"
- Heart - Barracuda"
- Incubus - "Drive"
- Judas Priest - "Breaking the Law"
- Living Colour - "Cult of Personality"
- Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama"
- Maroon 5 - "Harder to Breathe"
- Pantera - "I'm Broken"
- Pearl Jam - "Alive"
- Rick Springfield - "Jessie's Girl"
- Rush - "Limelight"
- Slash - "Back From Cali"
- Stellar Revival - "The Crazy Ones"
- The Strokes - "Reptilia"
- Yes - "Roundabout"
When it comes to music games, Ubisoft raised the bar with last fall's Rocksmith. If what we saw at E3 2012 is any indication, Realta's BandFuse stands poised to raise it even farther. With two companies both pushing the envelope and competing for the eyes (and ears) of guitar fans, the future of music games is looking bright indeed.
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