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Brutal Mode is the best thing to happen to Rock Band in years

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And the toughest

Harmonix rolled out an update for Rock Band 4 earlier this week that included a whole bunch of unexpected additions. It's impressive in its scope. A lot of the changes were meant to make Rock Band 4 feel more like a complete game after its trim launch -- online leaderboards, more detailed post-song statistics, and an expanded wardrobe are all good examples.

Those improvements aren't necessarily the type of things that will make people say Rock Band 4 is a better game. Think of it like vacuuming. No one gets credit for a particularly well-vacuumed floor. It's just "Okay, this is how it should be." But, when they miss a spot, it sticks out like a sore thumb and that's all anyone notices. The omissions of online leaderboards and others were missed spots, and Harmonix just now cleaned them up.

But, (and this is where the metaphor really falls apart) while housekeeping, Harmonix decided to build an entirely new room in the House of Rock Band. It's more like an exclusive lodge, actually. Anyone can enter, but not everyone will be welcomed. Hell, no one will be truly welcomed. That's what makes it so great.

This added-on room is the new Brutal Mode for Rock Band 4, and it's the best thing to happen to Rock Band in years. It's a mode where the notes disappear as they come flying down the track, but it's still your responsibility to play them in time. There's an invisible gate that determines where the notes cut off, and it's tied to your crowd performance meter. The worse you're doing, the longer you get to see the notes.

Take a look at this video of me playing. It'll give you a greater sense of what actually makes this difficult. Sometimes I play well, other times I play poorly. At no times, however, am I playing comfortably.

For those who have spent countless hours honing their Rock Band proficiency, this is the perfect addition to the game. It forces the hardcore community to play differently than they've played before, but while still using the same skills. This is built for the people who chase full combos and won't accept anything less. It taps into their meticulous drive to play well, and beautifully flips it on its head.

Brutal Mode is maddening and it's not because of the vanishing notes. It's because of the psychological mind games the mode plays. Any well-versed player will tell you that they don't watch the notes reach the bottom of the track. Instead, they reach a sort of inner-harmony where they immediately internalize the note and play it in time while doing the same for every other note that flows downward. It's not a sensation that can be easily explained to anyone who hasn't felt it.

This mode's brilliance lies within the fact that it changes the Rock Band experience from a visual one to an audial one. Sure, there's a preview of the upcoming notes, but it's on you to know the correct time to play them. Feeling the music is necessary; disconnecting from the music and trying to brute force the notes on what seems to be the right beat will just result in awkward plunks and wails. Overthinking it is a formula for failure.

Ironically, when you're failing is when Brutal Mode is maybe at its toughest. It'd seem natural that the inverse is true; the worse you're doing, the longer you can see the notes. That should be easiest.

It's not, though. Not even close. Any fluctuation in the process can temporarily damn you. Seeing those notes and thinking about them switches your mindset back from audial to visual. As it turns out, your brain can adjust to sticking to one of those; flip-flopping is where you get confused and freeze up. The invention of Brutal Mode is a staunch informer that being able to see the notes is a huge crutch, even if it doesn't seem that way. 

In 2010, Harmonix tried to advance the Rock Band experience by introducing Pro Mode -- a way for players to actually learn the instruments they were simulating. It didn't fare all that well. The barrier to entry was high and the learning curve was steep. As it turns out, a lot of people who spent a bunch of time mastering Rock Band and Guitar Hero didn't want to start from scratch on a new skill; they wanted to build on the ones they already have.

Brutal Mode feels as if it were built for that audience. It's an extension of the toughest Rock Band has to offer while managing to change the way the game is approached. Anyone who's good enough at Rock Band to take a serious try at Brutal Mode has long ago lost the magic that comes with improving at the genre. This helps recapture some of that. That's a win by any measure, brutal as it may be.

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Brett Makedonski
Brett MakedonskiManaging Editor   gamer profile

While you laughing, we're passing, passing away. So y'all go rest y'all souls, 'Cause I know I'ma meet you up at the crossroads. Y'all know y'all forever got love from them Bone Thugs baby... ... more + disclosures


 


 


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