BandFuse: Rock Legends may not be the first game to claim that it will teach you how to play guitar, or bass, or how to sing, but it’s already looking like the first one that will hold players’ attention for long enough to become half-way decent at them.
For all it did well, last year’s Rocksmith had two large flaws: it had a lot of long load times, and its onscreen note guide only displayed part of a virtual guitar’s neck at a time, often making it difficult to follow. The latter was largely a result of Ubisoft’s decision to avoid guitar tablature in the game – a baffling choice given how much simpler and more economical (not to mention ubiquitous) tab is compared to the system that Rocksmith eventually employed. Realta's BandFuse skips both these potholes, and offers a whole lot else besides.
In song mode, the game plays in a similar fashion to the likes of Rock Band using a real guitar, with points, fans, and money accumulated for playing correct notes and stringing phrases together. Tablature notation – literally a number on each virtual guitar string – scrolls along the screen at sixty frames a second, signalling to the player where each note is on a guitar fretboard, while a colour-coding system identical to the one in Rock Band tells them which finger to use. Meanwhile, that song’s official video plays in the background.
But there are no shortcuts to rockstardom, to get any kind of proficiency happening, players will need to practice. A plethora of seemingly well-designed skills tutorials for anyone from utter beginner to advanced are available, and more than 2000 licks are included. Of course, the rhythm and lead parts of the game’s included songs may also be learned at varying difficulty levels and speeds should the player prefer the familiar.
A mode that moves through a song at the speed the player plays it is great, allowing infinite gaps between notes without any of the competition’s silly auto-rewind functions and timing issues. As is expected in software of this calibre, single phrases of these songs may also be isolated and looped so as to be mastered.
Speaking of songs, BandFuse’s catalogue is the only part of the game that isn’t currently looking completely outstanding. There are songs from the likes of Coldplay, Fall Out Boy, Pantera, The Strokes, and Rush, and although all are suitably fun to play, none of the game’s 19 announced tunes stick out as a stone-cold must-learn classics or inspire the way Rocksmith’s catalogue does.
That said, it’s all a matter of personal taste, and BandFuse will ship with 55 songs on disc and another 45 available as paid DLC anyway. BandFuse game director John Hiner isn’t concerned: “Once they see the product artists wanna be involved,” he says. Honestly, it’s not hard to see why.
BandFuse also features a great freestyle mode, wherein players can jam along with more than twenty different backing tracks that cover all the expected genres along with unexpected stuff like a track for every scale mode (Dorian, Lydian, and so forth). Regardless of what is being played, the game records everything from the moment it is booted up, and these files may be saved for playback later or, no doubt, shared with the community. BandFuse also allows the creation of user sounds via a neat amp and pedal customisation screen, and all these toys are unlocked from the beginning, including its neat polyphonic tuner.
It would be easy to look at the list of features in a game like BandFuse and think that it offered little that was new, and on the face of it, that’s mostly true. However, the game’s brilliantly intuitive interface, unfussy menus, and minimal load times are what set it apart, ensuring it will inspire wannabe shredders rather than confound them. Besides which, there are only so many ways to learn how to play a guitar.
So despite its incomplete status, BandFuse is looking like one of the most enjoyable ways to learn guitar – so much so that during a frantic E3, we went back to its booth twice just to have another go. It may be endorsed by big-name guitarists like Slash and Zakk Wylde and feature a song written exclusively for the game by the legendary Bootsy Collins, but it’s what is beyond these things that matters. From what we've seen, BandFuse looks to have nailed it.
BandFuse is set for release in the US on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 later this year.