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Rock of the Dead Review

Small game developers have a hard time these days. It may be easier for smaller developers to get their name out there with download titles on XBL or PSN, but when it comes to full featured retail titles they still have a hard time breaking through. That’s why I’m sympathetic to the plight of Epicenter Studios and their most recent title Rock of the Dead. This is only the studios third title, the first two not really catching the gaming community’s attention. If there was a game that could find a niche and make a name for Epicenter Studios it would be Rock of the Dead. The game has all the makings of a cult hit; it features Rob Zombie, his music, Neil Patrick Harris, and Felicia Day. People in the know will recognize Neil and Felicia from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog; most others will at least recognize Rob Zombie from his multi-platinum solo albums and as part of the heavy metal band White Zombie. Needless to say the game has an enormous amount of potential but fails to live up to what could have been.

The story follows NPH’s character as he ventures to save his girlfriend, played by Felicia Day, from an incoming zombie attack. As you continue on, you uncover a larger conspiracy that takes you to several different environments all of which looks pretty bland, but I forgive that because it is a budget title from a relatively unknown company. The gameplay consists of using a guitar or drum controls, like the ones used for Rock Band and Guitar Hero, to play a sequence of notes to vanquish the undead. This mechanic would work fairly well except for one small hitch; the way the notes are arranged is counter-intuitive to the way we have all learned to play rhythm games. You play the notes from left to right as opposed to a vertical orientation in which the notes are arranged according to the layout on the guitar. The game simply is not entertaining enough to retrain your brain to read the new note charts.

While NPH is usually hilarious, he is rather annoying in Rock of the Dead. His one liners fall flat and it is probably more due to the bad scriptwriting than to his acting ability. Felicia’s voice actually fairs worse as her lines feel stale and boring, and in the few instances where you speak to her face to face there is a very noticeable delay between the lip syncing and the audio. This lag can sometimes be as much as five seconds, and that is not acceptable in any game for any reason. Don’t expect much in the way of story, as you are simply in an on-rails shooter with a guitar controller. The entire story will probably take you 3 to 4 hours, which is just enough time before the game wears too thin to be bearable any longer.

The main draw of this game is Rob Zombie and his music. Alongside tracks like Dragula and Living Dead Girl, you also have classic tracks that are rearranged and played on guitar. The tracks, like Bizet’s Habanera, seem to fit fairly well but I get the feeling after licensing Zombie’s music Epicenter may have been trying to cut down costs for the rest of the project. Perhaps if they had used unlicensed music the rest of the game would not have suffered.

Despite all of this the game still has potential. You may find yourself getting lost in the absurdity of it all for a few hours, even if the notes do not always match the songs and the solos fade out at inappropriate times. Rock of the Dead is a rhythm game lacking rhythm. At best it is a mild distraction to hold you over until you have the money to buy something else.



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