"No one is more authentic than Kid Rock."
As soon as it came out of his mouth, I knew I had to write it down. I also probably convulsed for a second or two, trying to contain myself and not burst out into laughter at the notion of Kid Rock's "authenticity." The man speaking was a marketing dude working on PowerGig: Rise of the SixString, a new three-player rhythm game built around the idea of presenting a more realistic experience, complete with a guitar that has six strings and can actually be jacked into a proper amp, if you like. It's a neat idea that, despite its unique guitar peripheral, seems like it's in the process of going completely off the rails with a fairly sizable authenticity problem of its own.
Kid Rock is one of the three exclusive performers in the game, along with Eric Clapton, who will provide "Layla," and Dave Matthews Band. The game will also include several non-exclusive tracks, such as "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour. Like previous band games, the songs are split up into multiple parts. However, PowerGig has no respect for bass players, as it's a three-player game for guitar, drums, and vocals. I feel that I can't get by this point without embedding this Kids in the Hall video on the subject of bass player respect, so here you go.
OK, moving on.
We first saw PowerGig: Rise of the SixString just before GDC. The core idea is simple and effective: rather than building a plastic guitar with buttons that don't approximate the act of actually playing a guitar especially well, the developers went out and built a real guitar that had enough sensors and doohickeys in it to also work as a video game controller. The result is an axe that can be plugged into an amp or an Xbox, depending on what you're feeling like doing.
By default, the gameplay is no different than Guitar Hero or Rock Band, using the first five frets of the guitar. I got the chance to use one recently, and it's functional. The advanced modes will require you to do more than play it like a Rock Band guitar, and the end result is that the game will have you doing basic power chords, requiring specific string and fret work. It sounds like the note tracking won't be 100 percent accurate to the real songs, though, which seems a little strange. I mean, it's a real guitar, right? Why not go all the way? The guitar's kind of neat, though playing it really illustrated the amount of finger strength actual guitar players have. As a guy that essentially types for a living, you'd think that I would have stronger pinkys... but pegging that fifth fret down took a bit of work.
The guitar is interesting for all the reasons you'd expect it would be--it's a real instrument that you can also use for a video game. That philosophy is also why the game's drum controller seems so awful. The guitar approximates something similar to the real thing, while the "AirStrike Drum Controller" is more about simulating air drumming. The kit is essentially invisible, with floor sensors that trigger the in-game actions when you cross their path with goofy, oversized drumsticks that also contain sensors. This means that you're swinging through the sensors with no actual feedback other than from the game itself, and no rebound from actually hitting a physical object. This makes playing the inviso-drums a bit more tiring than the real thing and I also found it to be absolutely no fun. It feels like the different peripherals are trying to answer two different questions. The guitar is extremely realistic and feels well-made. The drum controller feels like a cheap cash-in aimed at people in dorm rooms and apartments--people who would benefit from an entirely silent drum kit.
Anticipating this reaction, the developer's pre-E3 press release attempts to head off this line of thinking with the following quote:
Not to be a dick about it, but true drummers actually hit stuff with sticks. With none of that on offer and its big, goofy drumsticks, the AirStrike Drum Controller feels like a bad toy. It doesn't help that the game itself looks kind of chintzy, with note charts that, like Rock Revolution before it, lack any sort of perspective or timing lines. The backgrounds also don't look great, but since it's not a final version of the game, I'll give that stuff the benefit of the doubt.
“We know that people may be skeptical of the AirStrike drums at first glance when they see there’s no actual drums and can’t understand how that’s a match to our SixString guitar which is a fully-functioning electric guitar,” said Seven45 Studios Chairman and CEO, Bernard Chiu. “But we also know that as soon as people sit down to play it, they are going to see how much more real and authentic it feels to be moving much the same way true drummers do when they play, without the limits of the drum kits already on the market. Just like our guitars, the AirStrike drums are a step forward for authenticity in the band game genre.”
Authenticity is PowerGig's core issue. You'd think that by offering a controller than doubles as a real guitar, this would be as real as it gets. But the drums dismantle that entire story. After getting a demo of both controllers, I was more confused than anything else. Why would anyone want to play this way when other, more fully featured options are available? And that doesn't even take into account the Kid Rock factor. Hey, at least Clapton's pretty unassailable, right?
Here's some video of the drum controller, taken from what looks like some sort of in-game tutorial.