I remember playing a rock band sim a long time ago. It was a text-based DOS game, and the only thing I really remember about it is that you could take drugs, and if you took enough funny things would start happening to the game’s text. I think I ended up overdosing and dying a lot. Now I have Rock Manager from DreamCatcher Interactive. It takes a completely different view on the music industry -- it’s sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll without the sex and drugs -- and it would have been a nice, lightweight, family-friendly game, except that for some reason the developers threw in a whole lot of profanity. The profanity (easily) earned Rock Manager a “mature” ESRB rating, and it was just one of many curious decisions by the developers that will keep the game firmly in the bargain bin, even if that wasn’t where it was headed in the first place.
The objective of Rock Manager is pretty straightforward. You hire some musicians to create a band, you purchase the rights to a song, you record the song to form an “album,” and then you make as much money off the album (through record sales and concerts) as possible. Then, if you need to, you can eventually purchase a new song and start the cycle again. Along the way you might have to work to keep your band happy -- your musicians might not like each other or the type of music you’re playing, or maybe they’re just difficult -- but otherwise the focus of the game is on creating the song, and everything after that is cut-and-dried and mostly repetitive.
Luckily, creating the song for your band works really well. Songs in Rock Manager aren’t just theoretical blobs. The game actually comes with a couple dozen 20-second songs (mostly just the chorus) that do a credible job of mimicking today’s music. Plus, you can change the way the song sounds depending on the band you’ve selected. Each vocalist has a different voice, and although the musicians all sound the same, you can select different ways for them to play (like acoustic for the guitarist), and so if you want three bass players in the band, they can all contribute something different to the song. There are also some “special effects” available (like an echo), and so you can toy around with the song for a long time until you get it to sound just the way you want.
The problem with Rock Manager is that once you create the song, there aren’t that many things to do, and what you can do doesn’t change much from scenario to scenario, and so it gets repetitive. For example, you can shoot a video for the song, but all that means is you can choose a storyboard you like, and the whole process takes about a minute. You can also design an album cover, but then there aren’t enough options to make it interesting after the first couple times. Mostly what you can do is try to keep the media happy with you, so they write nice things about the band, and book concerts, so you can make some money, but those two efforts require doing the same things over and over again, and they get boring in a single scenario let alone in the campaign that comes with the game.
I think what Rock Manager forgot to do was pay more attention to the band. Band members have a rating for musical ability and for stage presence, and they have a genre of music they prefer, but they don’t have much in the way of personality. Plus, with sex and drugs (largely) omitted from the game, there isn’t too much trouble the band can get into, and so there isn’t much for you as their manager to do. You can buy them gifts to make them happy or send them on a vacation to clear their heads, but mostly you don’t have to do a whole lot once you hire the band.
Plus, Rock Manager doesn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of the music industry. Besides the things I’ve already mentioned (sex, drugs, and one song albums) country music and rap music aren’t included, the band isn’t allowed to write its own music, and the band isn’t required to practice. Plus, you can do some weird things, like stage a murder of a band member to bring publicity to the band. I think if the developers had improved their priorities for the game, they could have given it more depth, and they could have given the player more to do after the song has been created.
So, despite some nice enough cartoon style graphics, and despite some very nice music, Rock Manager is just too lightweight to be a lot of fun. You can probably run through the included eight scenario campaign in about five hours, and even though completing the campaign allows you to play a freeform game where there aren’t any objectives, the campaign more than enough shows you what there is to do in the game, and there probably isn’t any reason to play beyond it, unless you really want to try out all of the included songs.