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Review: BandFuse: Rock Legends

Nov 29 // Ian Bonds
BandFuse: Rock Legends (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Realta Entertainment GroupPublisher: Mastiff GamesRelease Date: November 19, 2013MSRP: $69.99 (Artist Pack:  game + 1/4" to USB guitar cable), $79.99 (Band Pack: 2 guitar cables, mic, 4-port USB hub, acoustic guitar adapter - game NOT included), $179.99 (Guitar Bundle - Guitar Center Exclusive: game, guitar cable, & Fender Squire Bullet guitar) All right, so we know that this isn't the only game out there that wants to teach you how to play guitar with a real instrument. Plenty of games have tried this approach, with only one really having any great success with it. So, what is it that BandFuse does differently?   For starters, the layout is much more user-friendly. Rather than having the note highway diagonally, or seemingly flying at you, the fretboard looks as though you're looking straight at your guitar. Simple number icons and colors on each string are used to determine which finger and which fret you use, as everything is set up in standard tablature. The game is built with the beginner in mind. There are a series of video tutorials, led by the games "mentors," such as Slash, Bootsy Collins, Zakk Wylde, and more that walk the player through even the most basic of steps. And while some of the lessons may only seem as though they're reading the key points off a cue card (and Slash mostly seems like he's barely interested in being a teacher), these are still valuable skills for beginners like me. For those more familiar with the guitar who want to improve their chops, the difficulty can be increased through five different levels of skill. I will admit, however, that there is a bit of a learning curve from beginner to the next, but the game caters to all skill types. The tutorial videos are the biggest help here, and can of course be revisited if you're not quite moving with the pace or need refreshers on terminology or technique. As I said, however, there is a bit of a noticeable jump between difficulties. While the beginner mode is great for a guy like me, for an intermediate player, transitioning to one of the harder difficulties can be more taxing than anticipated, as they throw a lot more notes your way. Still, there's more than just tutorials. If you just want to play songs, there's plenty to chose from here, and plenty of ways to play them. Shred U is where most of your lessons lie, but there's a whole career mode to play through, where you begin as an opening act all the way through headliner. You can even play this multiplayer, hooking up multiple guitars, bass, and even vocals. The vocal sections are especially of interest, as these can be done solo as well (for a whole karaoke take on the game) as well as essentially being a borrowed asset for the game. That's right, the vocal note detection and regestration of those notes is the same technique developed by Harmonix for its Rock Band games here, and Realta has licensed it for use in BandFuse. Very cool. Beyond that, there's the Lick Lab, which allows you to dissect any song into as many parts necessary to learn how to play it. There's even a section for true virtuosos that provides a wide variety of generic backing tracks for several musical genres that allows you to play along as you see fit. The thing that most impressed me with this title is the attention to detail as far as sound is concerned. Realta has made sure that latency and lag will not be an issue, and the accuracy and responsiveness of the game was a constant treat. There's even an adapter for the Xbox 360 version (included with the package) that connects to the back of the system allowing for sound to pass through to your TV or sound system -- or even directly to headphones -- to ensure an accurate response. This is only necessary if your set up is connected primarily via HDMI, as there tends to be latency issues with sound via that single connection. It's impressive to see a game such as this, focused on not only teaching you how to play guitar, but also how to have fun with it. The multiplayer extensions are a blast (if you have that many guitars, or friends that can play), and the karaoke and backing track selections can really further the creativity. While the jumps in difficulty can be drastic at the higher levels, there's still plenty of ways to adapt, and BandFuse surprises at each step.
BandFuse: Rock Legends photo
The road to rock stardom
My family is very musically inclined. My father sings, and my mother sings and plays guitar. My wife's family is also musical; playing piano, guitar, drums, etc. between her, her brother, father, aunt, and so on. When I was a...

Preview: Learn to play guitar with BandFuse: Rock Legends

Feb 22 // Bob Muir
BandFuse: Rock Legends (Xbox 360) Developer: Realta Entertainment Group Publisher: Mastiff Games Release: 2012 I'm no rock expert; my guitar experience begins with playing very simple bass guitar parts in a high school rock band and ends with an embarrassing amount of hours put into Rock Band. Luckily for me, Flixist's Max Roahrig knows his way around the strings, so we were able to test out how BandFuse works for both neophytes and experts. The first thing I noticed when playing BandFuse is how simple the game's fretboard is. Instead of trying to skew the perspective to simulate a vertical fretboard, all the notes flow horizontally from right-to-left. It wasn't until I had played a song that I realized how much this reminded me of guitar tabs, albeit professionally made instead of some fan-made approximation. It felt extremely natural and easy to read. All the current graphics are placeholders, so the layout could still change, but the scrolling tabs seem near-finished. The developers seem to recognize that when it comes to visualizing notes, simpler is always better. That doesn't mean there isn't still a bit of a learning curve to understand the tabs. As an unskilled bassist, my mind just doesn't "get" chords. So when they popped up in a song, I generally hit the first chord, then flailed around on the strings until some single notes started popping up again. However, this seems like something that would go away with just a little practice. Conversely, Max was able to jump right into Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" and hit most of the notes, chords included. Up to this point, we had stuck to the lower difficulty levels. The lowest level greatly simplifies the tabs, reducing riffs to just one note and removing chords entirely. The next level adds chords in, but still keeps you from getting in over your head. Curious to see how far the difficulty went, we bumped the difficulty up to the highest level, which included every note as far as I could tell. Higher difficulties also mix in palm-mutes and whammy bars, even noting how long you should bend the note. The added complexity could be overwhelming for those just learning to play, but the finished product will have a feature that allows you to slow down, speed up, and loop sections of the song, helping you figure out a tricky part. And if there's one section you just can't seem to get, you don't need to worry about failing out. For now, BandFuse has no "crowd meter" which will kick you out of a song before it ends. In fact, if you really want to, you can ignore the tabs, turn down the guitar track, and just freestyle. It's less about beating a song to get a high score and more about absorbing the technique. Realta is aiming for a set list of around 55 songs, with the usual mix of rock, metal, alternative, and pop rock. Some of the songs we got to play with included "The Bleeding" (Five Finger Death Punch), "Harder to Breathe" (Maroon 5), "Yellow" (Coldplay), "Sweet Home Alabama" (Lynyrd Skynyrd), and "Back from Cali" (Slash). That last song may be one of many from Slash, as he is involved with the game beyond just licensing a track. Slash is serving as the game's musical instructor, guiding the player through the game and providing advice on how to rock. There's still some room for improvement, however. Currently, feedback on how you're playing is very minimal. I'm not saying that BandFuse needs more bars and combo meters, but some confirmation that you're playing great would be nice. There's an electric effect that shows up when you play a note correctly, but it appears once you've completed the note. Realta wants to show that you've nailed the note, and that's a great idea for all the notes you hold longer than one second, but it can throw you off when the electrical effect shows up on a string the moment you start playing the next note on a different string. Of course, the game is in an extremely early state, and for now we're essentially judging the concept and the technology, and that technology is impressive. Something I didn't consider until it was pointed out to me is that there is no lag, or at least no perceptible lag. Deciding to test out this statement, I played a few fast notes, and sure enough, they played instantly in the game, even with added effects like distortion, chorus, and reverb. Compared to the noticeable lag while singing or performing a drum solo in Rock Band, this was quite magical. A lot of things are up in the air for BandFuse. It's being developed on Xbox 360, and there is a desire to port it to different systems, but no confirmation yet. A bundle with a guitar and the necessary adapter could be in the works, as Fender is a partner, but it's too early to talk release plans. Multiplayer will be present in some form, though it's unknown how it will be implemented. Most tantalizing is the hint of playing additional instruments like a USB microphone -- lyrics appear at the top of the screen, screaming out for some notes -- but there are no announcements for now. Still, the core game looks promising. Out of all the games which promise to teach you music, this one felt the most natural to me. Anyone interested in learning to play guitar should keep an eye on BandFuse.
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I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I was invited to see a new, previously unannounced music game. Internet hyperbole states that music games, or rather rhythm games involving guitars, are dead, killed by over-satura...

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Heavy Fire: Afghanistan releasing in November


Oct 19
// Kyle MacGregor
It's disappointing that games Medal of Honor and Six Days in Fallujah get punished for authenticity, yet things like Heavy Fire: Afghanistan are allowed to exist. We may never see that tasteful, yet horrifying depic...

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