Video Games

Video Games: Get ready for the battle of the ‘Rock Bands’

It’s finally time to get the band back together — and pledge allegiance to a brand.

After a five-year break, Activision’s “Guitar Hero” franchise announced its triumphant return on Tuesday, April 14. “Guitar Hero Live” will come out this year and promises a score of new features, including interactive music videos.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after Harmonix, the developer that created “Guitar Hero,” revealed that it will renew its “Rock Band” franchise this year after a similar hiatus. The angry little brother of the two franchises also promises a few gimmicks — though not as many as “Guitar Hero.”

Make no mistake — it’s gimmicks that will win this war.

The competition between the two has always been one of personal preference. Both franchises were created by the same people with the same goals in mind. The new entries, like the previous ones, will release on the same consoles.

It’s important to note that we still have a lot to learn about these new titles; Harmonix and Activision subsidiary FreeStyleGames are both hard at work creating these bad boys. But we know enough to get started, and the only logical way to size the two games up is to weigh the gimmicks.

I am most interested in Guitar Hero TV, a “Guitar Hero Live” feature that will apparently allow players to play along with hundreds of music videos in an online player vs. player format. The game will rely heavily on cloud storage, which should give gamers access to an extremely large library of playable songs.

In theory, two friends in different time zones can meet up in an online lobby and play against one another and along with the real band simultaneously inside an actual, new music video.

I will believe it when I see it. Maybe I am missing a step or seven, but there are an awful lot of moving parts to this.

What, if anything, are the recording artists getting paid for all this? Surely they have to get something.

What about the artists who don’t like these games? Prince has famously spoken out against them, saying that kids would be better off learning to play a real guitar. His music is probably on the cloud, so will I be allowed to shred “Purple Rain” to pieces even though it is against his explicit wishes?

Prince is right, by the way. I am certainly a fan of both music gaming franchises, but I’ve also played the real-life guitar for more than 10 years. Real musicianship is a much more rewarding and useful skill.

What kind of a toll is this going to take on Activision’s networks or — better yet — my already battered Internet connection? It seems as if thousands of players will all be playing an online game and streaming video at the same time. These are two of the most taxing things you can do to an Internet connection. I don’t know if Mortimer and Ezekiel — the two hamsters hard at work in my AT&T U-verse broadband box morning, noon and night — can handle the stress.

“Rock Band 4” seems as if it will take the opposite approach. Instead of insanely complicated new features, Harmonix is promising the same old “Rock Band” experience with only a few minor tweaks, such as the possibility for additional band member in-game interactions.

Unlike “Guitar Hero Live,” the “Rock Band 4” controllers will remain the same. Harmonix is even trying to work out some way for our clunky plastic instruments from the last generation to work on the current group of consoles. I would be absolutely shocked if this panned out, though, as there’s millions of dollars to be made by forcing all of us to buy the massive “Rock Band” controller rigs all over again.

This could be a huge gamble.

Sure, the old formula worked well the first time. I am actually quite glad Harmonix decided to keep the original “Rock Band” controllers. I thought they were vastly superior to the full-band “Guitar Hero” controllers, which were abandoned by Activision in favor of weird six-button guitars.

But the world is a different place. As much as it pains me to say this, I am no longer a carefree 21-year-old banging away on plastic drums and drinking buckets of Bud Light at house parties. We’ve probably all changed in five years. “Rock Band 4” will need to grab a new, younger audience that may have no knowledge of past iterations or worse — they only remember the catastrophic crash of the entire music game genre.

I certainly hope the publishers of “Guitar Hero Live” and “Rock Band 4” haven’t forgotten the day the music game died. Activision and Electronic Arts — the two undisputed kings of console game pushing — penned an entry on over-saturating the market that has probably already made it into game-related textbooks.

The buzz is good, and I think the world is ready to go on tour again. Don’t ruin the reunion by announcing four sequels on the day your game releases.

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