Power Gig: Rise of the SixString strives to bridge the gap between pretending to play guitar and playing guitar with a game backed by a instrument manufacturer and an impressive list of previously reticent artists.
Power Gig's biggest selling point is the real electric guitar it ships with. But just behind that is the notion that this game may teach you how to really play. It's so powerful an idea that it convinced Eric Clapton, Kid Rock and Dave Matthews, all former music game naysayers, to get on board.
A guitarist wanting to game. A gamer wanting to play guitar. A rhythm game expert looking for yet another take on the popular blending of music games and guitar.
Where Rock Band and Guitar Hero got their start with game developers, the people behind Power Gig are firmly part of the music industry, for good or bad. When not trying to break into the video game business, First Act is a musical instrument manufacturer that specializes in producing instruments for children learning to play. They also produce guitars used an impressive list of professional arts, including Paul McCartney, Avril Lavigne and Paul Westerberg.
How is Power Gig: Rise of the SixString different than the oodles of Guitar Hero and Rock Band games already out there? There are a lot of surface differences. The game has its own look, its own feel, its own... story and its biggest selling point is that it exclusively uses a real guitar to play it. But I think the biggest difference between Power Gig and the other guitar games is that it is made from the perspective of a company familiar with musical instruments but new to the world of video games. This comes through in some basic mistakes in design and the relatively solid nature of the Power Gig controller.
What sort of basic mistakes? The biggest one is that developer Seven45 seemed compelled to shoehorn a story into a genre that Rock Band and Guitar Hero have proven doesn't need one. And the story, which has you using the power of the songs you play to wrest control from "headliners," is abysmal and confusing at the best of times.
Playing Power Gig is more than mentally taxing, it wears on your fingers too.
So ditch the story and you have a great game? If only it were that easy. The game also has some serious technical issues, issues that I don't think are fixable. The guitar controller is a real electric guitar. To play the game you pop a sensor up from the body of the guitar to hold the strings in place. What I found over time is that the sensor didn't always pick up when I was pressing down on a string. I suspect it has something to do with the tech that seems to require the string to touch the metal of the frets to work. If you don't press down hard enough on that string, it either doesn't sense it or, much more commonly, it stops sensing it a few seconds later. That leads to some major finger pressing and wear and tear.
That sounds like a deal breaker. It very well could be, which is too bad. Because there are some really neat things about SixString. I love how the game makes me feel when I finally land a hard section of a song, like the solo in John Mayer's take on "Crossroads." There's something very powerful about using a real controller to pretend to play music, and hearing those real notes play despite your general lack of skill.
Crossroads sounds like a great fit for the game. How's the rest of the soundtrack? It's an eclectic mix of music, but it's also a very shallow library. For instance, the game's biggest exclusive artist, Eric Clapton, only has three songs and many other of the game's big acts are just as under-represented. The library has a robust set of 70 songs, but Seven45 didn't take much advantage of landing some exclusive acts.
How hard is Power Gig? This is something Seven45 did really well. The game has five difficulty settings that ramp up the skill needed to succeed in a song nicely. Better still you can turn on "power chord" mode for any of the settings, requiring you to play not just single notes, but entire chords and the finger the proper strings.
The proper strings? Right, remember, this is a real guitar. With the power chord mode turned off you can press any string and strum anywhere as long as you have the right fret. With power chord mode activated you need to strum and finger the correct strings. It's like an entire second level of difficulty settings. It's a great design choice for those who want to transition from pretending to play, to playing.
Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is a brave gamble by a company fluent in instrument design, but new to the world of video games. It's also, unfortunately, not a successful one. I'd love nothing more than to say this is a third great option for fans of instrument-based rhythm games, but the technical issues require too much proficiency in real guitar playing to get around. If you already know how to play guitar, this might be a game for you, but then why bother playing it?
Power Gig: Rise of the SixString was developed by Seven45 Studios and published by First Act for the PS3 and Xbox 360, released on Oct. 19. Retails for $179.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the tutorials, played countless sets, watched my 9-year-old son play and played through a chunk of the campaign on Xbox 360.