Rock Band

Meet the new boss; Same as the old boss

Rock Band is an amazing game made impossibly more fun with a fully formed foursome of wannabe rock stars. I don't need to tell you that. You have already heard it from every corner of the World Wide Web, as fans and critics describe struggling through falsetto abominations of Boston's Brad Delp in Foreplay/Longtime or unleashing the otherworldly scream of adolescent rage that is Roger Daltrey in Won't Get Fooled Again with infectious enthusiasm. You already understand that Drum Hero alone may be worth the price of admission, a nuanced article of play that perhaps makes you feel more like playing an actual instrument than the artificial guitar ever could. You know that Rock Band meets expectations, offering a playstyle that calls back the Guitar Hero series while introducing a new dynamic to the experience.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/rockbandlogo_2.thumbnail.jpg)

You do also know that you should own Rock Band, right?

There are several definitions of the word review, and the one that I think best describes this exercise is less the noun and more the verb. I'm willing to take it for granted that you've already been exposed to the evangelized idea that Rock Band is a game of such base pleasure that to not play it is to not know joy. In a season of great games, Rock Band has already been established as a verifiable hit, so rather than simply heap my own identical praise onto the pile, I thought we could explore another definition of review; take the things we've already heard and see how it all balances out. So, let's review:

Awesome things -

1) Song list and note chart – Almost without exception this game offers songs that are fundamentally enjoyable to play. Crossing decades and genres Harmonix has a reliable grasp for figuring out which songs provide the best kind of experience for the instruments, and then demonstrate the ability to layout a note chart that enhances the play experience. This is a success not to be understated and defines the subtle difference between say, Rock Band (fun) and Guitar Hero III (much less fun). It is not necessarily quantifiable in a precise and objective way, but having played both for far more than mental health professionals would likely recommend, it is clear that Harmonix is working on some other plane of fake-rock-fun.

It's kind of like coffee. Coffee is just, after all, running water through some crushed beans. You can't really look at the process and easily see why one man's coffee is a divine expression of flavors and another man's is an exploration of what it must be like to squeeze a skunk above a cup of pond water and then drink it. The conceit is simply that colored bars or circles fall and you hit the buttons at the right moment in the song to accumulate points, but the strategy employed by Harmonix is clearly superior to that of Red Octane. Where Guitar Hero III sought fun from difficulty and repetition, Rock Band spends more time in crafting a stylistic experience of play.

Anecdote time! In Guitar Hero II I could play Jessica time and again, enjoying it more with each effort not because it was terribly difficult. It wasn't. In fact, bearing down through the struggle of sincere difficulty can obscure the pure sense of just rocking through a song, which is the cornerstone idea that makes these games so compelling. What made the song great was that there was a balance of flow, difficulty and the occasional impression that you were not playing a timing based puzzle game, but that you were making music. Rock Band repeats this sensation with amazing experiences like playing drums in Gimme Shelter or Won't Get Fooled Again or riding the notes through Foreplay/Longtime or Don't Fear the Reaper.

2) I am a Rock Star – This is a blend of animation, setting, sound design and character creation. These are all elements that are miles better than previously seen, with venues that feel gritty and real. Your avatar shimmies, shakes, jives and plays more like a real rock star and less like a malfunctioning animatronic robot. When Bon Jovi sings "I've seen a million faces, and I've ROCKED them all" the lead singer _should_ leap at the camera and scream it right in my face. That's how Mr. Jovi managed to rock all those faces to begin with, and if my on screen avatar isn't going to rock my face too then I feel left out!

I know it's a little unfair to compare Guitar Hero III to Rock Band, but it's an inevitable result of the split between developers, so I'm going to do it some more. In Guitar Hero III it feels like I'm leading a complete sell-out of a band as we make our video on the back of a flatbed with spinning rims, the Pontiac logo splayed everywhere while Red Bull cans wait at the edge of the stage. I'm playing ZZ Top, but I feel like Sugar Ray.

It's not that brand names aren't in Rock Band, but that the venues feel both more alive and I feel like it's all about the music, man.

3) The Band Experience – Playing Rock Band by yourself is an amazing experience with endless hours of play, but getting three friends to fill out the set is transcendent. Yes, I just used transcendent to describe a video game, a word of such ridiculous hyperbole that you might be excused from thinking I'm in my right mind, but allow me to explain. By playing with four people, the band moves beyond the virtual screen as the drums tap out time and the lead singer is clearly and often painfully audible. The music of the real world even overlaps and meshes with the gameplay experience, and the simulation of the thing partly becomes the thing. You're really singing, and you're really playing drums, and in a way you're really playing guitar. There is sound, tactile experience, sweat, laughter, maybe embarrassment and very occasionally you all will slip into the groove of the song and it will feel like the real thing in a way that not even Guitar Hero could. It transcends that simple experience of playing a video game where you are expected to invest yourself inside the fictional world. Instead, that fictional idea of being a Rock Band moves the other direction.

4) The Crowd Sings – This is a small point, but it deserves particular mention. Even when I'm doing my best Richie Sambora -- assuming that he practices Dead or Alive all alone next to his son's fold-out Thomas the Tank Engine sofa and a curiously troubled cat too -- that the virtual crowd follows "I'm wanted" with the requisite "Waaaaanted" in a glorious chorus of all that is great about rock adds a level of detailed immersion into the game that is worth singling out. I've been part of that singing cacophony that is the rock crowd enough times, belting out favorite lines from favorite songs in the secret hope that the singer will point to me and invite me up on the stage like I'm Courtney Cox in Dancing in the Dark, and bringing that element to the game is a stroke of unfettered genius. Whoever thought of it should be given a raise and named King of Fake Rock for a day.

5) All the Other Things – An effects bar on the guitar. World Tour mode. Rock endings. Giving me an excuse to bang on things with drum sticks. Tap frets for fast solos. Replayability. Downloadable Content. Online play. Etcetera.

The Less Awesome -

1) The Actual Equipment – Like making a gourmet meal and then spilling the plates on the way to the table, it's a testament to how great this game is that there isn't even more acrimonious outrage over how shoddy the drums and guitars actually are. One thing I'll give Red Octane, as proved with the outstanding accouterments to their overall mediocre Guitar Hero III, they know how to make accessories.

While I am grudgingly growing accustomed to the Strat that comes with Rock Band, its mushy and apparently flimsy strum bar is a decided step down. I have trouble keeping time in rhythm sections because I don't have a firm sense of striking a note. The feeling of the click in previous guitars, while perhaps noisy, was a familiar analog to the distinct sensation of striking the strings of a real guitar. The Stratocaster feels like trying to play guitar using a pillow as a pick.

But, what's really unforgivable is the failure rate on the instruments. My own guitar had questionable overdrive activation, and doesn't seem to connect properly with the headset. Sticking buttons, double strikes on the strum bar and other problems seem to be rampant, and there have been equal problems with the drum kit, though I've been fortunate so far. It's admirable that EA has been quick to respond to malfunctions, but they'd have all probably saved everybody a lot of time and money by getting it right the first time.

2) No online World Tour – Are you kidding me?

3) Price – This might have been easier to overlook if I had been happier with the packaged equipment, but once it became clear that malfunctions were common I begin to wonder exactly where the hell that extra $100 went.

Rock Band is a commitment, and you better be sure ahead of time that you'll be playing it longer than most other games. It's not like you can use your drums later on to play Madden or Mass Effect. They are as specialized an accessory as the confluence of buttons and joysticks had been for Steel Batallion. While Harmonix seems to be making good so far on their assurance that new songs will be a weekly endeavor, with an additional charge, if you get bored with the fundamental gameplay in a week then it's money essentially lost. It's not entirely unlike actually spending the money on an actual instrument.

4) Noise – Well, this can be a positive or a negative depending on your situation, but you can't get four people together to play Rock Band and expect to be quiet any more than you could get four people together to play grunge music in the garage and expect to be quiet. You will be hitting pads with drumsticks and singing like a rock star. To try and mute those efforts is both futile and distracting, so if you live in an apartment or with someone who does not particularly want to share space with someone caterwauling Creep then there may be an impasse.

Conclusion

It's easy to brush aside the negatives that come along with Rock Band and just gush all over the awesome in a box, but that's probably not a good move. The fact is that there are some serious questions to be raised about the quality of the actual product, and while it's easy to forget when screaming and sweating through Run to the Hills, the moment you can't activate overdrive or don't have your strums and drum hits register properly the reality of the problem hits you like a beer bottle to the head.

Still, the fun of playing Rock Band in its purest form - when everything works! - is really unparalleled. It is a better single player experience than perhaps any Guitar Hero game available, and then an even better game with friends. Harmonix seems to grasp if not the reality of being a rock star then at least the dream of it in a compelling way that propels you into the moment and lets you bring some friends. From a pure game perspective it is some of the most fun I've ever had pretending to be something I'm not.

Comments

It's not that brand names aren't in Rock Band, but that the venues feel both more alive and I feel like it's all about the music, man.

The irony that the Activision game feels more like an EA sellout title than the actual EA title does tickles me. That said, I totally agree, Rock band has some magic to it that just isn't replicated anywhere else.

Actually that's pretty typical for Activision. They have the fewest new IPs of any major publisher over the last five years, the most movie-tie in games, and among the poorest scores for their games. Guitar Hero is really their only major critically successful franchise at the moment.

The difference is that Rock band doesn't have advertising that feels forced. When you see reviews of games like Need For Speed Pro Street that single out the advertising as actually being detrimental to the game experience the Rock band approach is decidedly refreshing.

Oh, I agree. Obviously.

This is no more an EA game than Orange Box is. EA only has a distribution deal and they are looking into making a game of this type themselves.

This is a success not to be understated and defines the subtle difference between say, Rock Band (fun) and Guitar Hero III (much less fun). It is not necessarily quantifiable in a precise and objective way, but having played both for far more than mental health professionals would likely recommend, it is clear that Harmonix is working on some other plane of fake-rock-fun.

Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band comparisons are like arguing about which Led Zeppelin song is the best, it comes down to personal taste. If you love music, love Guitar Hero, and love the songs in Guitar Hero 3, the essential elements haven't changed all that much. Now, some of the songs in GH3 are like real music, you need put some time into them to enjoy them. A passing glance will do worlds of disservice to GH3.

I do agree that the Guitar Hero 3 engine has sold out and very skank. I would be careful playing certain characters and venues in front of the girlfriend out of respect. For some people that difference is huge and I respect that.

However, this review is about Rock Band. Game of the Year. Period. Better value than Orange Box, too.

A passing glance will do worlds of disservice to GH3.

Probably true, but I put dozens of hours into the game. It's an absolute step down in quality. I know there are plenty of people who like it just fine, but its awkward note layout and sloppy precision are just the top of a list of problems with the game. There are certainly parts that have to do with personal taste, but I'd argue that weaker mechanics and precision are not one of them.

Game of the year in my opinion too. There are very few games that made the wife play with me like Rock Band and GH2 did. We are not sure why, I can't quite put my finger on it, but we are enjoying Rock Band a lot more than GH3. Even though we are playing only guitars on RB for now, the same exact thing we do on GH3.

RB feels more "genuine" when it comes to that fake-rock star feel.

Elysium wrote:
A passing glance will do worlds of disservice to GH3.

Probably true, but I put dozens of hours into the game. It's an absolute step down in quality. I know there are plenty of people who like it just fine, but its awkward note layout and sloppy precision are just the top of a list of problems with the game. There are certainly parts that have to do with personal taste, but I'd argue that weaker mechanics and precision are not one of them.

Fair enough.

I didn't mean to turn this into a GH3-vs-Rock Band throw-down, Rock Band deserves better. I am reminded of a recent 1Up podcast where Garnett and Shane were comparing Ratchet and Clank with Mario Galaxy. One is a fun shooter/platformer, the other is the best platformer of all time. Rock Band is definitely approaching Mario Galaxy levels of quality, polish, and fun. Best $170 I've spent in a long time.

I didn't mean to turn this into a GH3-vs-Rock Band throw-down, Rock Band deserves better.

Actually, neither did I. Rock Band is outstanding whether we have GHIII to compare it to or not. Let's just all come together in our mutual love for Rock Band, and put all this band politics aside before it ruins the music!

I don't own Rock Band (yet) but I have to admit I have serious misgivings about having that much chintzy plastic crap cluttering up my living room - having two preschoolers pretty much maxes out my capacity for plastic junk, or, Plunk. Do the instruments store easily & unobtrusively?

Do the instruments store easily & unobtrusively?

Yes. The drumset in particular breaks down and stores nicely in the closet most of the time. I have a four-year-old too, so I'm keenly aware of what you're talking about.

As an aside, my son loves going into the Practice mode (where he can't fail) and playing drums. Gets some of that destructive energy out.

2) No online World Tour – Are you kidding me?

Any word on whether this might be patched to work in the future?

So between Bioshock, the Orange Box, Rock Band -- as you're saying -- and more tenuously, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, which one is the REAL GoW?

which one is the REAL GoW?

It's really hard to say for sure at this point. On the other hand, what a great problem to have!

Rock Band is Game of the year

Orange Box is Value of the year

CoD4 is FPS of the year(The killer feel of the Single Player plus the best MP idea in a long time...leveling up)

I loved Bioshock, played it all the way through and haven't touched it since. Just not much to go back to with that one. Of course the onslaught of AAA titles since it's release may have diverted my attention away from it as well.

I loved Halo, never finished Halo 2, and didn't even bother picking up 3 when it released...meh.

I just think that Rock Band is so ambitous and so good. The lack of online Band World Tour and the durability issues are the only thing that keeps it from being the BESTGAMEOFALLTIME in my mind. I picked up GH2 for the 360 the day it launched due to GWJ's overwhelming positive vibe for the PS2 version. Harmonix seems, like Valve does for the FPS genres, to really understand so much of the little things that make good games great.

With Guitar Hero they were able to make a complete musical imbecile like myself feel like a guitar god. I am sure by the time I am finished with Rock Band I will also know how to actually drum, albeit only poorly and also sing in front of other people without pissing myself in fear. And I will have an amazing time the whole while.

Stylez wrote:
It's not that brand names aren't in Rock Band, but that the venues feel both more alive and I feel like it's all about the music, man.

The irony that the Activision game feels more like an EA sellout title than the actual EA title does tickles me. That said, I totally agree, Rock band has some magic to it that just isn't replicated anywhere else.

Wow! Seriously, wow.

And they say EA isn't getting a fair shake these days.

Man...when games like Rock Band and Mass Effect come out it feels like publishers are kicking me in the balls for not owning an xbox 360. Ahead of time, I can always rationalize to myself that "Oh well, they might not be as good as the hype" and that "I'll have plenty of other games to play anyways". (Which is true).

But when the games actually comes out, and everyone is enjoying them....I just feel so left out, and I look at my Wii like the bastard stepchild i never wanted.

As a side note - can anyone elaborate on how much fun it is to play rock band extensively on your own? 1UP seemed to feel the experience was sort of sub-par, but I haven't heard much else. With the Guitar difficulty toned down, I wonder about the replayability of that as a solo experience - although the drums would be intriguing, I admit.

Dysplastic wrote:

As a side note - can anyone elaborate on how much fun it is to play rock band extensively on your own? 1UP seemed to feel the experience was sort of sub-par, but I haven't heard much else. With the Guitar difficulty toned down, I wonder about the replayability of that as a solo experience - although the drums would be intriguing, I admit.

In my opinion, it's quite excellent as a solo game. You have basically four different gametypes to choose from (Guitar Solo Career, Drum Solo Career, Vocal Solo Career, and Band World Tour (provided that you sing and play guitar or drums at the same time)). So, you get to experience most of what the game has to offer in solo play.

I'm a Medium level player in Guitar Hero, and I find that Rock Band offers plenty of challenge in the Guitar segments, and going through the solo drum career is really interesting and challenging. Then, you can really add to the difficulty by trying to sing and play guitar/drums at the same time.

I think it's worth it for the single player options. I'll spend most of my time with it in single player, and I don't have any qualms about that at all. Though, as others have said, it's most fun played with others.

Ahh just a typo in the post.. thats Roger Daltrey not Pete with the best Rock scream of all time. Pete plays guitar!

Out of my circle of friends I find the complaint about the mushiness of the strum bar to be a matter of personal taste. I personally prefer it to the clicky solid feel of the GH2 360 controllers. It feels closer to GH1. I played GH1 and GH2 with my original GH1 guitar and never used the 360 XPlorer, so I never got used to that clickyness. I find the give in the strum bar makes you actually strum instead of just flicking a switch over and over again.

Pharacon wrote:

Ahh just a typo in the post.. thats Roger Daltrey not Pete with the best Rock scream of all time. Pete plays guitar!

I was gonna mention that but was afraid I'd sound too nit-picky, and I enjoyed the writeup in any case!
Thanks for fixing that, it did jump out at me.

I'm going to go ahead and comment on the controllers and agree with just limited play of a "brand new" set that best buy put out on day one of RB. The guitar would buckle easily in my hand coudn't comment on my lack of play with other drum sets but I was turned off by the guitar. However I am now saything that my xplorer is now the best guitar I have used in a long time. All it took was getting a third party "fender" strap for it. I guess because they used 'leather' for the ends it keeps the hinges stiff and steady. Thats the kind of feel I liked about the PS2 controller.

Let me also agree on game of the year. Just based on the variety of Single player and Multiplayer options. The practice mode is by far one of the understated features of this game. Its like that roady that tests the mic, people cheer for him but forget about him once the show starts. Just the fact of being able to change the speed on the fly at 10% incriments is the best thing to happen.

Stylez wrote:
It's not that brand names aren't in Rock Band, but that the venues feel both more alive and I feel like it's all about the music, man.

The irony that the Activision game feels more like an EA sellout title than the actual EA title does tickles me. That said, I totally agree, Rock band has some magic to it that just isn't replicated anywhere else.

I played GH3 last night. There are ads for the DVD release of Pirates 3 and the theatrical release of The Golden Compass in the venues now. I think they replace where Axe ads used to be. Personally, I don't mind because I am interested in those two bits of information but they're a little gaudy.

Hey, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about trying GH3 on the Wii. I don't own a xb360, but all the talk about RockBand, and MassEffect is almost too much to take. I NEED ROCKBAND, but I also don't want my wife to kill me Christmas morning when I give the "Kids" their new 360 So question, does anyone know if GH3 will have downloads on the Wii, or will RB be coming to the Wii. And if not, is RB really enough reason to buy a 360? I just need it to be a good enough reason to start with so my wife won't shank me with a wiimote. Thanks everyone.

I feel like I'm a homewrecker here but, as an owner of everything at this point, a dad, and someone who loves oversimplifying:

- There's essentially nothing truly kid friendly about the 360. No solid titles, nothing.
- The likelihood of solid DLC on any platform without a hard drive is minimal
- I seriously doubt RB will come to the Wii for both hardware and software reasons
- The Wii freaking ROCKS with kids. Super Mario Galaxies alone is worth the price of admission. Wii Play/Sports + Gamecube library is just a bonus

So in short, I haven't helped you at all.

Just to clarify, it's not the console itself, or the games that she might kill me over, it's just the fact of buying another console.

rabbit wrote:

I feel like I'm a homewrecker here but, as an owner of everything at this point, a dad, and someone who loves oversimplifying:

- There's essentially nothing truly kid friendly about the 360. No solid titles, nothing.
- The likelihood of solid DLC on any platform without a hard drive is minimal
- I seriously doubt RB will come to the Wii for both hardware and software reasons
- The Wii freaking ROCKS with kids. Super Mario Galaxies alone is worth the price of admission. Wii Play/Sports + Gamecube library is just a bonus

So in short, I haven't helped you at all.

I thought the Harmonix CEO has been hinting that a Wii version is coming.

Hmm. Here is an old article

Adam wrote:

And if not, is RB really enough reason to buy a 360?

This is like a curious and experimental college kid going over to the stoner fraternity for the first time and asking "hey, do you guys like weed?"

None of us know your finances (nor the state of your marriage) but a 360+Rock Band is >$550 purchase. GH3 for the Wii is what, $80?

Have you dipped your toes in the rhythm/music game pool yet? If not, you might want to try a game that isn't such a big investment (money and space for peripherals) first.
Also: Will your kids be interested in this kind of game? Are they old enjoy to play and enjoy? Do you have friends who will definitely be playing with you?

It's a Yahoo piece with a few quotes from John Riccitiello (head of EA) but it says Rock Band will come out on Wii next year.

One game that would boost EA on the Wii is "Rock Band," which went on sale for the Xbox 360 and PS3 last week, and is due to come out for the Wii next year.

Link (near the end)

Never mind guys, as luck would have it my wife hit one of my ducks with her car, and went and bought it for me...poor duck (but he'll live). And just for the above comments, money not the problem, kids love GH, it's just my wife is not so um...video game inclined. she won't touch anything more complicated than pac-man.