A tongue-in-cheek take on the music business, Rock Manager puts players in the role of a band manager and tasks them with creating the ultimate rock band. The game takes place in the fictional world of Rock City, where players begin by assembling a motley collection of musicians needed to fill the necessary slots in their band. The various musicians encountered will be rated in categories such as Star Quality, and each will have a different cost associated with them based upon their abilities.
A god-sim in the vein of Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper, Rock Manager requires players to balance various factors in order to create a successful band. Record executives must be pleased and relationships must be maintained between the various members of the band, among a host of other trials and tribulations. Each of the scenarios presented task the player with completing specific objectives, such as making the daughter of the local mafia boss a star.
Spanning eight original scenarios, players will need to do whatever it takes, from bribing the media to buying their own records, in order to make it to the top. Between all that, they'll need to name their band and record a song demo, which can be mixed in real-time by adding echo effects, adjusting volume, and selecting variations of the standard guitar, bass, and drum sections. Additionally, players will hire (and fire) musicians, shoot music videos, design record covers, buy gifts to keep the bandmembers happy, and eventually, embark on a world tour.
Rock Manager is an interesting concept, it gives you the chance to take a bunch of no-talent, tone-deaf "musicians" and make them rockstars, dealing with all the headaches that come along with the job. Given the circus that music production is - remember Milli Vanilli? - the possibilities are wide-open. So why is Rock Manager thin on fun and short on entertainment?
The first direct kick to the crotch is the lack of menu options. With a game like Rock Manager you'd expect to have a sandbox mode at the outset to allow you to start from the bottom and work your way to the top. (This knocks a few points right off the top.)
The game takes place in Rock City, which is apparently the nexus for everything music and acts as the main interface. It's a cartoony landscape with a few animated touches here and there and it's how you travel to the music studio, your concert venues, etc. This is all straightforward and no one should have problems grasping what's available. (The same can be said of all the other in-game menus.)
An essential part of Rock Manager is the recording studio - which is much hyped but as far as I can tell has no bearing on the progression of the game. I produced two drastically different recordings on one mission, and the music producer loved both.
Attempting the same style using two different songs resulted in a split - he loved one, and not the other. If there's a rhyme or reason to the music, I'm obviously missing it. Rock Manager allows you to mix some pre-fab tunes and actually save that work to your hard drive to listen to later - although why you'd want to is beyond me.
You'd think a game titled "Rock Manager" would want to imbue itself with rocking tunes. Rock Manager provides a bunch of limp tunes that, even when mixed, are utterly lifeless and boring. (And I spent a lot of time mixing them.) This can also be applied to the characters found in the game. Forget about cleavage, forget about Britney Spears eye candy, forget the haze of smoke, forget the thunder, forget everything associated with real-life music personalities - Rock Manager churns out a few bland rocker stereotypes from grunge to bluesy characters with varying personality quirks: some nasty, some nice, some clueless. Sure, they get into trouble often enough but all of them sport cartoony looks and this does not work in Rock Manager's favor.
There are a few amusing moments - most of these stem from the cartoony characters that like to work in profanity. But "fun" - with all its broad definitions - seems to be in short supply. (I'm sure if you're in the industry you might some in-jokes.) Frustration is abundant though. One misstep and you'll be cursing that you didn't save your game sooner.
Because you're the manager, you have to deal with a plethora of issues such as internal conflicts, booking dates, organizing world tours, designing album covers, scoring interviews, dealing with shady characters, etc. But you'd better be able to think on your feet because the game speed is incredibly fast and there's no way to turn it down or pause it to explore your options. This results in many play-overs (if you have the patience) and makes Rock Manager more frustrating than it needs to be as mentioned before. There is no free-form mode available from the start to create your own dream band, just the 9 "campaign missions" (from putting a rival music company out of business to keeping quarreling band members together) which shouldn't extend your playtime more than a couple of weekends.
Rock Manager has good idea at its core; unfortunately the idea is only 1 of the way there. Ultimately, don't bother with Rock Manager unless you're a huge music industry fan.
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