Are you ready to rock it real? Brought to the world by Seven 45 Studios, Power Gig: Rise of the Six String is the first music game to feature a peripheral that is modeled to feel and play like a real guitar, complete with strings and even an amp plug in! And although the presentation could be much better, the fun that can be had along with the fair price point gives Seven 45 a nice first step with room to improve.
Power Gig features a similar layout to other music games in terms of presentation, gameplay, and modes. The main selection that is comparable to "world tour" is Unite the Clans. As the title would suggest, this "campaign" experience is a little more involved than simply getting five songs, playing four of them, then moving on to the next venue while unlocking more songs along the way. And this aspect has good and bad parts to it.
The story introduces you to the world of Ohm, a planet where music is like a religious experience, and represents power. At one time, Ohm was a peaceful, blissful place where musicians (Rocker Clans) existed and played in "harmony and happiness." But as all good things in games go, it comes to an end, this time by the hand of a monarch called Headliner, who has concentrated musical power by collecting the Three Divine Instruments. In lieu of this, the Clans said "we're not gonna take it!" and attempted to rebel. But Headliner issued the Edict of Silence, which outlaws the playing of music by the Clans in the capital city of Resonance, which forces them to play in make shift venues in locales like junkyards, subways, and forests. Ohm's only hope is the combination of the musicians from the three main Clans (Rise, Riffriders, and Zehn) to bring an end to Headliner's reign and bring tranquility and equilibrium back to the world. This is where Unite the Clans mode picks up and places you at the front of this resistance by rockin' out with the different members from each group.
As I said before, there are good qualities and not so good qualities about this format. I will say it is much more interesting to play along side a story like this than simply having venues and "rocking the house" night in and night out to eventually become a world renowned act. This narrative arc gives purpose to the characters and gives you motivation to work towards the goal of getting better at the game and unlocking all of the content the game has to offer. On the flip side of this, some people will be a little turned off by the fact that there is no customization options to be had in this game. You play with the musicians and bands that were created for the game and that's it. That personally doesn't sting me too much, but for some, this is a big hindrance. The second "misstep" in Unite the Clans is the way the "leveling up" system works in general. In an nutshell, this is how it goes: the "notes" that are played aren't just that, but orbs of power that can be attained by playing them correctly (as they fall from top to bottom in the usual red to orange pattern). With proficient playing, you gain Mojo (like Star Power from the GH series) that helps you get higher scores, makes the crowd go in a frenzy, and transforms the venue through Mojomorphosis. The more you get, the quicker this process goes until you complete the Mojomorphosis and get the maximum progression towards the goal of "uniting" for that particular set in that particular venue. This sounds like a good solution, but they added some unnecessary complexity that takes away from the fun of playing the game.
The first problem exists choosing the right clan members. Each venue has a "preferred" Clan that can get Mojo the easiest from good playing. In total, there are three Clans with two playable characters a piece, which forces you to pick a third member from an outside Clan. For example, if you play a venue that features the Rise Clan, you can play with guitarist Becca and singer Dante. This means you have to pick the drummer from either Zehn (Kira) of Riffriders (Orpheus). If the whole thing is to pander to the crowd and give them what they want, wouldn't it make sense to have all of the band members available for them? But this complaint is not as heavy as the other one. So, besides just picking the right Clan members for the venue, you also have to pick the right music. Instead of just having a limited number of songs to choose from each time you visit a venue, you have to play "match up." There is a triangular symbol that is displayed to the side of each track available in the game, this symbol must match the symbol for the particular stage at the time you play it. So the crowd at "The Grove" may want to hear songs like "Hands Down" and "No Such Things" the first time, then be asking for "Cherub Rock" and "Blurry" the next. This is in yet another effort to draw the orb energy and gain the power needed to take on Headliner. If all of this seems convoluted, confusing, and seemingly unnecessary, it's because it is and I personally think Seven 45 could have come up with a much simpler system around the story they wanted to tell. I apologize for this much needed explanation, and will now turn to what most of you want to know, how it plays.
For continuity, I played with four different instruments to make sure I took in most of the possible ways people could potentially play the game (with the Six String, drums, mic, and a standard "button and strum bar" instrument). Using the Six String was surprisingly rather easy to pick up and play. The peripheral itself is about 2/3 the size of most electric guitars and is about three times as heavy as a usual music game guitar controller. I didn't really notice how heavy it was until I played with the Les Paul from Legends of Rock, so the weight isn't really an issue. The color scheme is the same in other guitar based games, and coordinates in the same way as their controllers: the top fret space is green, the second is red, so on and so forth. While playing the game, you are able to either press down on one string with the coordinating fret and pick that one string, or press down on all of the strings while strumming all of them, or some other combination. For those of you that were hoping for a game that teaches you how to actually play the songs that are in the game, this unfortunately is not it. The only real aspect of gameplay mechanics that resembles actual playing is the ability to play real power chords (which are represented by bars of orb energy that have a particular number that coordinates to the correct string(s) that must be played) instead of the combination of two different colored orbs played at the same time. Other than that, the game feels really awesome to play with the Six String and adds to the imagination of the experience as a whole.
I also used my Rock Band and Guitar Hero peripherals to test out the playability to see how the game holds up without it's prized possession. The game was definitely designed to be played with the Six String because when I used my Les Paul it became clear how simple the guitar parts were in comparison to other music games. Power Gig features five difficulty levels, which are needed considering the learning curve that is attached to the title. I played on the first two for about a day or two, then ramped it up to Virtuoso (the fourth level). This one felt very close to "Hard" on RB/GH which is what I usually play. With the Six String, it was challenging to nail a good number of the orbs and turn in a good score, but using the Les Paul, it felt much easier and revealed the lack of "creativity" that exists in the note design. I then used the Rock Band drums to see how that mechanic was, and it was also pretty solid. The orbs were more oval shaped than the round guitar orbs and made it a little difficult to follow at first. After the first song or two, you will start to pick it up and it feels exactly the same as any of the other offerings on the market. The only thing that was different, and kind of weird as well, is the kick drum notation. It shows up as a bigger round white orb in the middle of the tom toms, snares, and cymbals. I am so used to it being a bar that goes across the entire scroll that it was an adjustment that I never fully got accustomed to. The last thing was to try the vocals, and I was really impressed by them. It won't pick up the slightest hint of noises and really forces you to belt out the lyrics and get into singing. The vocal telemetry is almost the same as the one in any other game, and is on the same level in terms of functionality. By this time you may have noticed one glaring omission: bass. Sadly, Power Gig only goes up to three players, and does not support a playable bass line. Looking at the trademark Six String it makes sense, but in terms of competition, it's such a mundane part of other music titles that it seems necessary to have it in some form or fashion.
The other two main parts of the game besides Unite the Clan are Mojo Dojo and Quickplay. Mojo Dojo will teach you everything you need to know up front on how to play the Six String from basics like placing it on you shoulder, to more complicated stuff like playing those power chords I referenced earlier. But there is no "practice" mode to speak of that lets you play certain parts of songs at certain speeds to help you build up skills on higher difficulties. So, Quickplay is you only option in this regard. You are able to pick up to three tracks at a time and play them solo style or with others. Quickplay works like "party mode" as people can come in and drop out at their leisure during the middle of songs, which is a really nice for a social experience. And since you won't be playing any songs you want in the campaign, Quickplay allows you to play "Layla" as many times as you want even if the crowd at the junkyard doesn't know what masterful guitar playing is!
This leads me into the worst component of this otherwise fun game. The presentation is just plainly bad. One would think if the studio is going to limit the ability to make characters, at least make the ones that are playable really awesome. Regretfully they didn't. The character models are bland and have no integrity to speak of. The big problem is that they are super stale while on stage and are hardly animated. The first time I played a song, I peaked over to look at the design and action of the stage and it was a huge turn off. The vocalist simply looks onto the crowd (towards the screen) with a blank, zombie like stare while holding the microphone. And at some points, he/she looks out of sync with the words. The same complaints can be said for the other members of whatever "power trio" you may be playing with and really take down the value of Power Gig. The only "saving grace" is the good musical selections that includes exclusives with artists Eric Clapton, Kid Rock, and Dave Matthews Band. 70 songs in total are featured in the game, and Seven 45 promises DLC sometime in the near future.