Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oscillating challenge - Pendulum Mix Pack Review

"We don’t do this just to fulfil a corporate aspiration – we want to make credible music games."

I fondly remember that quote, as it’s from Jaime Jackson, creative director at FreeStyle Games. Against all odds, DJ Hero released right at the point where the music genre was peaking in its oversaturation, and many, myself included doubted the game, on one level its credibility as a legit musical experience, and another as a competent game. Fast forward to now, two games and over 200 original mixes later, and not only was the game a huge success, but it brought fans of several genres together in a way that even Guitar Hero couldn’t manage. I know it introduced me to more than a few artists I never would’ve experienced otherwise, and this is a fine example. I think—no, I KNOW part of the fun of making a rhythm game must be the opportunity to collaborate with all kinds of artists in order to keep things fresh for the audience. In that respect, I think the quote above was fulfilled. Their efforts have never spoken of any corporate nudging, and more of artists doing just that, making genuine art.

Usually, their mixes are all original mashups, but every so often, they’ll single out an artist and do a few spirited remixes, putting their own mark, and sometimes even besting the originals. Now they’ve teamed up with Australian band Pendulum for their latest, and very likely last mix pack. Did they end this party with a bang, or was their unexpected last pack a dud that ends the series with a dull thud?

DJ Hero 2 “Pendulum 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.

Pendulum - Salt In The Wounds

Crossfade spikes are actually my weak point, and this song has a TON of them, right out of the gate. Crossfading is one of my favorite parts of the DJH experience, as moving about between tracks with precision and rhythm is an intuitive feeling that’s second to none. That having been said, this is most definitely a crossfade track akin to 5th Symphony or Groundhog, where quick switches are balanced with on-switch taps and scratches to great effect!Sat in the Wounds was already a great piece of electronica, swift, yet dirty in the spots where it needs to slow down. Little has changed in FSG’s interpretation, as it’s still a very high energy song that sounds surprisingly like it plays. While it has a great deal more effects than its original version, the augmentations only serve to “Hero-ify” the track and turn it into a tricky challenge at best, and a more than suitable remix at worst. Quite nice.

Rating: 5/5

Pendulum - Set Me On Fire

This song was one of my favorites from the album—and with good reason, it reminded me of an old-school videogame, something that wouldn’t sound out of place aside a mid or final boss character. Its chiptune-like nature aside, the intensity it would lack as a rhythm-game song has been augmented heavily with a difficulty spike the likes of which I’ve never seen. The song starts off innocently enough sounding a bit too much like the original, then around the midway point, it goes absolutely mad and descends into a mélange of crossfades, scratches of unknown density, taps during holds, taps during scratches during holds—it’s madness. What all these elements do to the song is once again commendable, as the added scratches and voice samples to the track sound quite welcome, but be warned. You won’t walk away from this song with the same feeling you had as when it started. I know it threw me for a loop.

Rating: 5/5

Pendulum - Watercolour

Subdued compared to the other electronic, dubstep flavored offerings, this sounds more like a traditional electronic rock song, complete with “cry for help” lyrics. This isn’t a negative though. Being able to relax after the first two seems like a blessing…until you realize that it has the SAME difficulty spikes as the last track. It’s jarring, and a nice wakeup call to perhaps polish my skills a bit. Several segues into playing the drum or bassline are a nice touch as well, and really gives the feeling that you’re controlling the song, and simply not just playing along with the track. Again though, it’s really not for the easily frustrated. Why do they keep making me scratch and tap and spike at the same time? Blindsided twice in the same mix pack. Who would’ve thought..

Rating: 4/5

Being a bit late to the party doesn’t mean it’s over. With these tracks, FSG has solidified their position as some of the best developers ever to grace the rhythm action scene. It’s a shame that their last pack couldn’t be another fantastic addition to their library of original mixes, but this is nothing to sneeze at, because their remixes were of a similar quality, and is embraced all the same. This Pendulum pack is something great, a proof-of-concept in retrospect, and I do hope that at some point, we’ll have the opportunity to hear them out once more. It’s a shame to see their light burn out at the perceivable height of their popularity (Have you seen the DJ Hero 2 Facebook?), but all hope isn’t completely lost. The fate of the studio hasn’t been decided yet, and talks are underway as to how things are going to turn for them. Perhaps even though my dream of a Deadmau5 pack has been dashed, the ability to rock on with FSG in future endeavors will be eagerly anticipated, turntable controller or no.

Overall: 8.5

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