Monday, February 28, 2011

Lost in a Dream - DJ Hero 2 Trance Anthems Mix Pack

Following news of my favorite rhythm series’ demise, It’s difficult not to write this with a bittersweet taste in my mouth, or at least pangs of regret and latent annoyance. By now, it’s no secret that Activision has officially shuttered all “Hero” game development moving forward in 2011, and with what is either a sick sense of humor, farewell gift or recouping of losses (I’m betting on 3), the existing DLC will still be available. This pack was the second to last pack released, and even though I’m admittedly a bit late, can you see why the sentiment is so bittersweet? I’ve always thought that the DJ Hero series just needed the time Guitar Hero did before the greats of its respective scene would recognize and contribute. If the release of the sequel wasn’t telling, what with its Deadmau5, Tiesto, RZA, and even Chemical Brothers shenanigans, then this Trance Anthems Mix Pack would’ve moved even the most stubborn artist. How far it’s come! Here we have Armin Van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, Paul Oakenfold, ATB, and even Paul Van Dyk in my DJ Hero. Excitement doesn’t describe. Pride doesn’t encompass the feeling.

..and yet, it’s a feeling that is hard to enjoy because the franchise is technically over. But is it any good? I’ll chew through my personal bias against their publisher’s tactics to find out, though I have little doubt..

DJ Hero 2 "Trance Anthems Mix Pack" (Downloadable Content)
For: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii (Songs sold as individual tracks)
Publisher: Activision/Freestyle Games
Price: 640 Microsoft Points, $7.99 PSN, 300 Wii points (per track)
Release: 1/18/2011

Reviewed on Expert difficulty; Individual songs on a 1-5 point scale, overall is by 10 and not an average.

Armin van Buuren - Imagine vs. Ferry Corsten – Punk

Punk is a dark, sinister sounding track with a raspy voice threatening to drag you into its abyss. By contrast, Imagine is a wondrous track that feels elevated and limitless, akin to soaring in space. I have a feeling FSG felt the same way, as the track sinks low in the beginning by rasping Corsten’s Digital Punk phrase early off, juggling its beats until Imagine intrudes, then nearly dominates the song completely until its climax. The feeling of sinking only to soar later can’t be savored however, as the song is not only high tempo, but loaded with simple scratches and fades rapid fired at you with nary a chance to breathe. Some oddly creative scratches (Down, Up, Drag down, Up, Down, Up?!) manage to sneak their way in as well, and the song really can keep you guessing by firing scratches and taps at a relentless pace from start to finish. Overall a pretty fun track, and definitely one for the reflexes as well as the sound.

Rating: 5/5

ATB - 9PM (Till I Come) vs. Paul van Dyk - For An Angel

Evoking more thoughts and feelings of wonder from me is this track. Even though it seems to favor the heavier, more side of the equation from ATB, the songs sound so similar that they practically complement each other to a tee, For An Angel actually softening the blow of 9PM’s beats. The crossfading in here is insane, choosing to bounce between tracks like mad, establishing their individual sounds before making you forget that they’re even different at all. Another interesting note is that despite more than a dozen challenging parts of its own, it never feels out of control of the player. In fact, this song has a chance to become unique between players as its LOADED with freestyle effects and crossfades, all of them sounding as superb as the turntablist can muster. The only question is really, whether or not you’re willing to endure a bit of a challenge for some creative freedom.

Rating: 5/5

Paul Oakenfold feat. Ryan Tedder - Not Over

It’s something to fear every time you’re dealing with a straight up remix in this game, but while the ethereal nature of the song is retained (helped greatly by Tedder’s lyrics), it loses a bit of that in favor of a higher tempo and wide range of effects that make the song much snappier. Distortions and samples abound, the song has an immediacy to it now that translates into its above average difficulty. For me, part of the fun of DJ Hero comes from occasionally being surprised by a difficulty spike akin to the quality of the track, and this one is one of the best examples of the rule. At every turn where you think you’ll be able to rest, there’s another tricky scratch, or series of spikes that will correct you in an instant. It’s that quality that’ll have me returning to this one again and again, honing my skills. If only the song spoke of the franchise..

Rating: 4/5

Even though I started this one one a bit of a somber note, not even the impending death of the franchise can’t dilute the amount of life it contains, and this pack is proof. Similar to the way that trance translates emotion into sound as proven by its auteurs, FSG proves time and again that they have the ability to take the works of the greats themselves and put their own mark on it, creating something amazing. Even with the music genre in a decline, it’s nice to see that similar to the way Guitar Hero put rock music back into the limelight and gave it a new audience, that DJ Hero can do the same and place turntablism in the light it deserves, recognized by the artists themseselves. Here’s to the ascent.

Rating: 9.0

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Of Heroes and Bands

First Rock Band, now this?

I can't say I'm surprised, Activision's merciless exploitation of the music genre in the height of its popularity may have something large to do with this, but as of right now, the Guitar Hero franchise is dead. Much to this writer's chagrin, this means DJ Hero is gone as well.


Losing the former isn't much of a concern to me. The series descended into self-parody and a caricature of it's former self the minute Harmonix jumped ship and chose to innovate elsewhere with Rock Band. Activision spent an unusual amount of time trying to play catchup, in turn choosing to oversaturate the market with titles and costly controllers instead of innovate on a fundamental level, and consumers responded by closing their wallets. For me at least, the Guitar Hero series died in late 2007 when the Neversoft developed Legends of Rock came out.

Even Slash can't completely cover up mediocrity. See what I did there?

I digress though. Losing the latter franchise? Hurts a bit. I saw the DJ Hero series as a fresh new start for the music genre, and one that was sorely needed after overall music sales began to decline. It was innovative, fun, and most of all, it had a boundless sort of creative potential that could've lasted. This didn't change the fact that it suffered an expensive controller of its own, and even I felt something was amiss when despite how excellent I felt DJ Hero 2 was, none of my friends or even customers I've spoken to shared my enthusiasm. Overstocked game/turntable bundles selling for $59.99 at my local Best Buy didn't soothe my nerves any better, though I saw it as an opportunity for the game to reach a wider install base. Baseless optimism.

Regardless, with these cuts come statements of intent from the mega-publisher, and they're already making me laugh:

"..In 2011, the company will allocate the majority of its resources and focus toward opportunities which we expect will afford us the greatest competitive advantages and the greatest potential for best-in-class quality, high-margin digital growth, and long-term success.."

Loosely translated? Continue collecting revenue from World of Warcraft and continue to exploit the Call of Duty franchise. It's funny watching this happen repeatedly. At the start of this generation, Activision was busy wringing the once-untouchable Tony Hawk franchise for every last drop. This was a process that doomed the series with consistent mediocrity leading up to the ill fated Tony Hawk: Ride and its plastic skateboard. Guitar Hero was a revolution, but after Harmonix's departure and success with Rock Band, Activision elected to release so many Guitar Hero titles that consumers wouldn't know which one to buy, and now the series has been killed following the story based rhythm "quest" Warriors of Rock. Men made mice. Gods made mortals.

The success of a franchise is not a go-ahead to beat us around the head with it in various untelligible shades until we're sick of your chicanery, Activision.

"Hey man, I don't know what they were thinking either."

Get ready, Call of Duty, with your $15 map packs and annual releases. You're about to be killed too.

I know I'm already sick of military shooters because of this franchise. How about you?

Sources: Neoseeker,Eurogamer

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Does it stand for No Game Plan?

So the NGP has been announced, finally. The rumors of its power, of its capabilities, how far off, etc. can be finally put to rest. All the original concerns seem to have been addressed, and even augmented with even better features. Quad core CPU and GPU, twin analog sticks, Touchscreen on the front, touchpad on the back, new flash storage media, and a new online store promising a focus on more digital content has been promised, and even demoed before the excited press. This thing isn’t looking to merely compete in the portable space, it feels like it’s designed to take over, providing a PS3 experience like for like, but in the palm of your hand, a claim that no other handheld device can make.

So why am I not excited?

I don't see anything promising in the announcement of a NGP, because all I see is a PSP 2. The original name is quite apropos, because I don’t see a new device. I see an amalgam of what’s popular right now. Touchscreen. Motion Control. Application store. ANOTHER proprietary format. The promise of the Playstation experience outside the home. Sound familiar?

I see the same empty promises, I see the same quest to be technologically superior, I see nothing other than the draw of taking my home console out of the house with me. I don't want to do that. While the allure of playing something akin to an Uncharted or Killzone is an excellent one indeed, those are PS3 experiences. This means a few things to me in this world of high definition displays and complementary home-theater-in-a-box setups. It means I don’t want it condensed. I want it every bit as grandiose and epic as the developer intended, because high definition assets are at a premium these days.

Killzone is a satisfying sci-fi epic that blew me away with its exceptional graphics and sound, a cushion that made its merely average gameplay a bit easier to swallow. Uncharted 2 is a blockbuster movie-like experience that took full advantage of my PS3’s ability to pump 720p visuals and 5.1 DTS into my brain. Why would I want to shrink that down to a small screen? Have my thumbs obscure screen real estate? Listen to it in stereo? It’s a waste of tech.

It's like James Cameron said, Watching Avatar on an iPhone is dumb.

This is Sony’s problem. They just keep rapidfiring portables at us, iteration after iteration of a Portable Playstation, trying to best everyone, with absolutely no idea why others continue to be above them in the portable space. No idea why all this graphical horsepower doesn't translate into instant success. It’s missing the realization that a portable gaming experience doesn’t need to replicate the experience of playing on console. It should, for all intents and purposes provide a different experience than what you can get in your home. Ports will be inevitable, but they’re a welcome convenience for a system that ISN’T trying to be the exact same one I have hooked up to my LCD. A 3DS is an interesting prospect because a 3D capable, dual screen, touchscreen device with internal and external cameras opens the door to all kinds of exciting prospects as far as game design. Even something older like Super Street Fighter 4 in 3D is an interesting revisit due to the 3D feature and its persistent challenge mode that utilizes the 3DS’ network capability.

What expierience does a NGP offer up that I can’t already do on my PS3? Take it out of my house?

I already said I don’t want to.

It’s a misappropriation of power as well.

Why couldn't this have been a PSN download as well?..

How many people have played MGS: Peace Walker, or either God of War game, or Grand Theft Auto on their PSP and wished it was on a console instead after the novelty of having a PS2 caliber game in your hands wears off? There’s always a bittersweet taste that comes with playing a high fidelity portable game, and it’s the fact that it would be better served on a console instead. Cost is yet another issue. If I’m going to pay a high cost, why not just shell out the extra dollars and get it fully uncompromised? Yet another boon of portable gaming has been trounced by the fact that my portable wants to be my console, and it's called being cost effective. DS games are affordable, very rarely touching the $40 range. Console competitive iOS games range from $5-10 dollars. Just how much are these PS3 caliber games going to cost on the NGP? The thought makes me flinch, along with the thought of how much the unit itself will cost.

Quick question: What happens when people are forced to pay premium prices for a digital experience they feel isn’t? Piracy.

The abominable situation surrounding the original PSP is proof of this.

It’s a situation I see being replicated in this one, if they aren’t careful. The NGP will come out, and when the novelty wears off, it will hard if they don’t have anything compelling lined up besides “Lol MGS4 portable”. When it gets jailbroken, and it most certainly will, I see this thing being used for more evil than those quad core processors were meant for. I see homebrew, hacks, and exploits aplenty as people push the boundaries that Sony themselves put in place, just because they can. I don’t see this being an NGP. I see it being a PSP2, being hacked, exploited, and ultimately used for the opposite reason Sony released it in the first place, just like the last one. The worst part is, there is legroom to carve out a unique portable experience yet. I just have a feeling it won't happen due to this endless chasing of a technological peak on their end.

It's frustrating to watch. Sony seems so out of touch with what its customers want at this point that it’s maddening. We just keep taking each new thing they throw at us, each time becoming more alienated in the process. Cool gadgets though?

I just hope I’m wrong in the end.

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