If Guitar Hero made you feel like a rock star wait until you play the latest musical love fest from Harmonix: Rock Band. From the legendary Ramones and Rolling Stones to Weezer and Fall Out Boy, the range is exceptional.
If you’ve played Guitar Hero III and like the sort of challenge that makes your fingers bleed you won’t find it here. That doesn’t mean you will be picking up the drums on expert your first go around, or even that you won’t run into difficulty, it’s just that the game isn’t made to leave you in a crumpled pile of defeated goo. For $166.99 you get a wireless guitar (dongle), wired mic (plenty of cord), wired drum kit and 45 licensed tracks plus an additional 13 bonus songs. While the higher initial cost may frighten the meek (and foolish, if I may), you get more bang for your buck on this game than most other titles out there.
The career mode is engaging (no bass career mode), however the multi-player is really where the beauty lies. Sure you can play online, but why do that when you can hand your friend a beer, the mic and get him to sing Mississippi Queen? For the Band World Tour component you’ll need at least two players, and remember, you are only as good as your weakest link. If you have an expert guitarist and a rhythm-less monkey for a drummer you will only be scored on the drummer’s level.
Unlike Guitar Hero, Rock Band is a cooperative effort competitive only with other bands. One facet of this is that each band member can accumulate star power – er, I mean “Overdrive” – which, when activated, causes a 2x multiplier. When activated at the same time as the rest of the band, the multiplier jumps to 8x. Overdrive can even restore a failed bandmate, though you’ll get booed right offstage if the band member isn’t saved or fails three times. One singular improved to the system is that energy can be accumulated even after Overdrive is activated.
Another teamwork element is the unison bit. During a song the guitarist(s) and drummer will have to nail a section for a bonus. Certain songs use the same idea at the end of the track: the guitarists, drummer and singer can freestyle but the former two have to hit the final notes of the song for a big finish. These seemingly small components all add up to a game that makes you feel more like a band, which is ultimately what makes Rock Band different from other music based games.
In BWT mode you will begin playing small clubs and limited sets. The number of fans accumulated springboards you to larger venues (40 total, all over the world) and new set options. Fail, however, and you will lose those precious fans and even access to larger venues. You will also acquire things like a manager and a tour bus, roadies and a jet, all in your efforts for induction into the Rock Band Hall of Fame, no easy task. For those still not sated, fear not, the Hall of Fame does not signal the end of your tour; there are still venues to play and songs to conquer. This all before you delve into the vast world of downloadable content!
In BWT you will have to replay a number of songs which can get tiresome if, say, you are not a fan of the Blue Oyster Cult. The downloadable content at $5.49 (3 songs) to $1.99 (one song) is an easy fix. Challenges also pop up on your BWT: things like forgoing a paycheck on a charity show in order to double your fanbase, or taking a gamble on getting five stars on a set for quadruple the fans (gambling your fans is definitely not for the faint of heart).
Singing in Rock Band is a novelty of a gaming experience. While you don’t have to be a great singer, you do have to match the pitch. For the average person this is achievable with varying levels of success through most songs on Hard. On Expert, however, you better have some sort of training, and in a party situation you will likely prefer to play on Medium. Instead of notes the singing component breaks the song into phrases measuring your performance based on how well you can match the pitch. You can track your progress through a phrase in the tiny meter below the lyrics; it fills as you do well. Fill it completely before the phrase is over for a rating of “Awesome”, and boost your multiplier. Songs like Sabotage, however, skip the pitch measure in favor of lyric accuracy. This adds some variety and is fun enough, especially if you are as big of a Beastie Boys fan as I am, but if you don’t know the song you are guaranteed to botch your multiplier. The tambourine and cowbell elements give the singer the chance to really look like the tool most frontmen are. While singing is tons of fun and often the easiest thing for non-gaming friends to pick up at a party, the singer is also most likely to be demoted to roadie: they’re just not as integrated into the band.
Phenom guitarists looking for the challenge that Guitar Hero offers might find something lacking. The songs are not designed to be difficult. Experts will find themselves in the role of savior, or just trying to play with the guitar behind their backs. The effects switch is neat, and fans of a smoother fret board will be pleased. That the fret buttons were flush drove me crazy at first, and you may frequently lose your place as you adjust.
The bass is for the friend that you might otherwise kick out of the band. Most songs seem over-simplified with fewer notes than everyone else and most of the job is rhythm based. On the Hard or Expert levels, however, the smoother sailing bass parts mean that the bassist is well-equipped to bail out struggling bandmates. Definitely the least-clamored for instrument, the bass is a safe bet for the drunk in the corner, it just doesn’t rock as hard as the other instruments.
The drums are easily the most true-to-life musical experience, and playing on Expert will actually teach you the real drum parts of the song. Unless you have a chair or table of just the right height, you will want to use your (or a friend’s) drum throne. The drums will be the most fought over, and barring the presence of a drummer in your midst they will be the most frequently failed instrument. The drummer is also pretty rowdy (outside of the game), thumping the foot pedal and banging away on the drum pads. Thus, playing with someone butchering the drum parts is wholly unpleasant, and their alternate version of the song will easily throw off other band members.
Notably, there have been hardware issues. Guitar loss didn’t ruin my life, but it did set the band back a week. If your guitar does go bust or your drunk friend falls through the drum kit, choose the expedited method of replacement, it’s worth it.
There is a character design aspect, which I was into for all of five minutes. Once I got a reasonable likeness going, the need to accessorize didn’t overcome me. Remarkably un-girly, I know, but the rest of the game is just too enticing. If you were to obsess over your character, though, you could change everything from clothes and makeup to design you own tattoos.
Graphically, Rock Band makes Guitar Hero look like its inbred cousin that got run over by a tractor. The band actually appears to be playing their instruments, and the singing is close enough to lip-synching to continue the illusion. Crowd interaction is great, and they will even sing along as band does well.
Online mode comes with some choices. Quickplay, which means your band is playing some songs but they are unrelated to career mode. Duel is a battle between two players for the highest score on the same song. Tug of War demands that two players on the same instruments play separate sections of the same song, with the more successful player gradually winning over the crowd. Online is nothing compared to BWT.
Rock Band truly raises the bar for the genre, and with continually updated downloadable content it’s no one night stand. Career mode will please casual and hardcore gamer alike, while the multiplayer makes this the best party game to date. This game is built to last, unless of course, you have no friends.