I’ve been looking for a wireless Guitar Hero solution for the past couple of months, and the peripheral I’ve had my eye on is the Freedom V from The Ant Commandos. I’ve read numerous other reviews (IGN, GamerzEdge, 1up) and they’re almost universally positive. In comparison to other hit-or-miss third party offerings like the React Rocker or TAC’s own Shredder, the Freedom V sounded like the best choice. TAC’s online store has been sold out of the Freedom V for over a month now, so I assumed it was a popular product. I was also happy to see one in my local Meijer, after staring at the “out of stock” notice on TAC’s website for so many weeks.
This model was boxed in a package bearing the name “Rock Commandos.” The TAC logo was on the box and the guitar, so I figured it was the same model critics were showering with praise. Initial impressions did not disappoint. My new Freedom V was a shimmering candy apple red, painted in a metallic finish that made it look like a 50’s ‘vette. The strum bar, although a bit shorter than the ones on Redoctane’s guitars, was chrome plated, as was the whammy bar. TAC’s V is an undeniably beautiful guitar, with a class that the official controllers lack. It looks much more like a legitimate instrument than the toy-like SG’s from Redoctane. After actually plugging the thing in and playing with it, I found that unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold.
I afforded myself some time to adjust to the new guitar—after all a different manufacturer means a slightly different feel. The shape took some getting used to but I chalked that up to the V’s stylized design. I noticed something was very wrong only when I started screwing up really easy songs, the ones I can nail every time. I don’t want to be completely negative though, so first I’ll cover what the Freedom V gets right.
The wireless aspect of this guitar, being more or less the whole point, works very well. After plugging in the receiver and turning the V on, they both found each other within seconds. I never noticed any missed notes or control issues related to signal delay, and for all intents and purposes the V was just as responsive as a wired guitar. In regards to wireless, TAC has this one nailed.
The control mechanisms themselves work well enough, even if they are a tad different from their RO brethren. The strum bar as I said is shorter, but also has a quicker travel than the one on the SG. This makes it easier to hit those annoying sets of seven or ten notes in a row, and those back and forth passages are a bit smoother too. I noticed that it flaps a bit less, the one complaint most people have with RO’s strummers.
The fret buttons, usually where a guitar controller lives or dies, are acceptable but…different. TAC’s website says their guitars have a “Feathertouch” design to their frets, which makes them more sensitive than RO’s. The box for my Freedom V indeed lists this feature, so I expected some improvement over the vice grip the SG sometimes requires. The frets on the Freedom V are distinctly squishier than the ones on the SG, and they rock back and forth a little more than I’d like. All in all I didn’t notice any great improvement in sensitivity, and I prefer the more solid feel of RO’s frets. The V comes out pretty even here, but as I said I still find the SG more comfortable.
The bare necessities are functional, if not an improvement over the official models, but the rest of the V is downhill from there. The whammy bar, while decked out in shiny chrome, is otherwise a big disappointment. Other reviews have said that the V’s whammy bar is stiffer and more responsive than the ones on the RO guitars, but my V has an uncomfortably loose whammy bar. It’s set closer to the body of the guitar, and has a tendency to knock against the white pick guard. It also makes a horrible squeaking sound whenever I use it—I’ll take the SG’s flapping strum bar over the V’s creaky whammy any day. Worst of all, it seemed to function completely at random. I’d be hitting a series of long notes, whammying them and scoring star power, and then the bar would just cut out for no reason. I found that more deliberate movements seemed to get a marginally better response, but there’s still no excuse for it failing half the time. Redoctane’s whammy bars require only gentle modulation, where the Freedom V needs some serious coaxing and even then it flat refuses to work sometimes.
The biggest issue I had by far was the V’s star power sensor. Both the box and TAC’s website brag about the hypersensitive “Tickle Tilt” star power switches in their guitars, but I found no evidence of this miraculous technology in the V that I bought. A more accurate description might be “Sledgehammer Tilt,” as I literally had to stand the V on its end to get star power to activate, none of that gentle “tilting” TAC talks about. This was particularly problematic in multiplayer matches—my buddy would be holding his guitar to throw on star power, playing in an uncomfortable tilted position while I repeatedly tried to get the Freedom V to work. I could always use the “patented button cluster” to enter star power—the Select button is slightly easier to hit on the V. Still, an improvement in one area doesn’t make up for a glaring weakness in another.
After such an unpleasant experience with TAC’s Freedom V, I’m left puzzled as to what exactly I purchased. So many reviewers seemed to like it, ranking it as good if not better than RO’s wireless SG. TAC’s website has numerous links to glowing reviews of the V, but that won’t stop me from getting my $60 back for the inferior model I bought. Its whammy bar is flaky, the star power sensor needs a 90 degree angle before it registers anything, and to top it all off, the strum bar lacks the cool blue backlight I’ve read about in a number of reviews. I checked the serial numbers at TAC’s store, and my Freedom V’s number corresponds to their “Second Generation” model, so I can only assume that I have the genuine article.
So why does it have so many problems? Is it some kind of cheap knockoff, or just the victim of some unfortunate factory defects? Only the long passed 60’s guitar gods lounging on their golden clouds know the answer, and I don’t feel like building a stairway to heaven to ask them.
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