Rock Band Review
Written : Saturday, May 31, 2008
By: Daniel Birkholz (GT: Birky x360a)
The lights go down. The audience goes silent as the only light in the house is illuminating your face. This is your big shot. A killer performance here will yield you enough fans to play at that big venue you’ve been trying to get forever. You hear the rhythm start on the bass behind you. Now it is your turn to enter, leading you and your three best friends to become the best band in the world.
This is Rock Band!
Harmonix's Rock Band is a music-slash-rhythm based game in which you pretend you are a rock-star. You can rock out on guitar, bass, drums, or sing with a microphone. The guitar is very similar to that of the “Guitar Hero” games and the microphone is similar to “Karaoke Revolution,” while the drums are unique to the game. You can pick from these four to play by yourself, or with your friends. While it is fun to play the Solo Tour, having your friends over and playing Band World Tour really adds to the game. In a game like this, you would hope the online play is good as well. Although it is not all it could be, it sure packs a heck of a punch. Rock Band borrows some features from the Guitar Hero series. For example, the difficulties are the same in both games, and both have notes falling down the screen for you to hit. Rock Band even borrows Guitar Hero’s “Star Power.” To be original, they changed the name of it to “Energy,” but it is the exact same thing. If you hit a few phrases well you gain Energy and can then activate it for double points over a small span.
If you happen to be all alone the night you purchase this, you have several options to choose from. You can start a solo career as a guitarist, a drummer, or a singer. There is no solo tour for bass. With four difficulty settings (Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert) new players can start up on Easy, or seasoned pros can start rocking out on Expert. In the solo tours, you play the instrument you selected through all 45 career songs. While playing through the game you will unlock the opportunity to play a total of 13 bonus songs. These are not required to finish the career, but are fun to play after you have finished.
Previous guitar playing from the “Guitar Hero” games will help you on your solo guitar tour. You can even use the guitar controllers you bought with Guitar Hero 2 or 3. The new controller that comes with the game is designed after a Stratocaster. It is much thinner than a Guitar Hero guitar and has a few new additions. The first thing you will notice is that there are ten buttons. You will play the larger buttons that are farther away from you most of the time. But when the screen turns blue and it is time for a solo, you can slide your hand down to the lower buttons and hammer on to your heart’s content. While in a solo you will not need to strum as long as you are using the buttons closer to yourself. This is extremely helpful when trying to conquer a solo, and it makes it feel like you are really playing it! The second addition you may notice is a little switch near the whammy bar. This will affect the way you bend notes while using the whammy bar. There are a variety of effects such as echo and wah-wah. While holding long notes, it is fun to switch back and forth creating your own unique whines. The last, and unfortunate addition, is a wire. You can pretend you are plugging into an amp if you want, but no matter how you look at it you need to plug the controller into your xbox.
The fancy stratocaster with solo buttons
When you first start your solo career, you will select your difficulty and character. There is an in-depth character editing phase. You can make your rock star look just like yourself, or your favorite musician. There are options to change your hair, face, clothes, and guitar. You can even edit your shirt with tons of decals to make it look exactly how you want. After finishing up your character you’re off to shred it up and make some cash. You will start out by playing some songs like “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain and “In Bloom” by Nirvana. To veteran players these will be no problem. If you are a Guitar Hero fan you might notice that you need to play a little more rhythmically in this game. The time frame for hitting a note in Rock Band is slightly less than in the Guitar Hero games. It evens out though with the actual note charts for Rock Band being significantly easier. After you have worked your way to the last tier, the game will take the guitar you were getting so used to playing and smack you across the face with it. If you have ever imagined being on stage playing a solo from songs like “Green Grass and Hide Tides” by The Outlaws or “Highway Star” by Deep Purple, there is a reason you have only imagined it. If you want to conquer these solos you will need to make good use of your Energy and have a fair amount of practice under your belt. If you manage to complete the tour, you will receive an achievement for doing so. Also, the career achievements are stacked. This means if you beat the game, you will receive the achievement for finishing on that difficulty and all lower difficulties as well. This will feel very rewarding after the many hours live shows.
If you are more of a Lars Ulrich type, then you want to start up your solo drum tour. The concept sounds easy: hit the pads with sticks whilst pumping the pedal with your foot. It is not. If you have no drumming experience you will most likely want to start out on Easy or Medium. If you can play fluently on Expert difficulty, then you may have a future in drumming. Coordinating your hits on the pads with your pressing on the bass pedal require lots of practice and skill. Unlike playing with the guitar, the drum set is actually similar to playing real drums. The drum tour has 45 songs just like the guitar tour; but they are in a different order. They are arranged so that the easy drum songs are at the start, and hard ones at the end. Since it is a bit inconvenient to lift your drum set in the air mid-performance, the Energy activation is different. Once you have saved up enough to active it, you will eventually be given an on-screen drum roll. These will come periodically and you cannot choose when they come. Pound on the pads for a second and then hit the green pad and you will activate your Energy. Just as your arms are about to fall off from playing so long, you get stabbed in the heart with your drumsticks. In the last tier of songs you will have to play “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden. This song, with incredibly fast drumming, will be challenging to beat even on the lower difficulties. If you can beat this song on Expert you truly deserve an achievement. Just like with the guitar tour the achievements are stacked. These achievements will ease the pain on your ankle from pressing down the bass pedal for hours.
Are you ready to rock?
If you would like to scream your lungs out in front of millions, than start up a solo vocals tour. Once again, you just need to go into a new solo tour for singing, set up your character, and then pick a song to play. Just because you go and get drunk every Friday night at a karaoke bar doesn’t mean you will be good at vocals. The game does not just judge you on the correct words; you must have the right pitch. While this may seem simple enough, it is hard for those without any singing talent. Luckily, the Easy and Medium difficulties can be played by almost all. So even if you sound like a howler monkey, you can still sing along with your band. A good thing about the microphone is that you don’t need the microphone that comes with the game. If you just have the disk, you can sing through your standard xbox mic. Although you won’t feel as cool, you will still be able to sing. As with guitar and drums, the achievements are stacked.
Now that you have conquered the solo tours, you are ready to play Rock Band as it is meant to be played. Getting on stage with all four instruments is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can find on the xbox. You and your friends can either start a band together and travel the world in “Band World Tour,” or you can just hit up a quick gig in “Band Quickplay.” Either way all four of you will be going at the songs together. All the instruments play just like in the solo tours, but now you get to rock alongside your best friends as you try to earn some cash. Unfortunately you cannot play Band World Tour online with your friends. You must all be on the same console to play. Despite this disappointment, you can still do Band Quickplay online with all your gaming buddies. If you would like to play competitively online, then you want to go check out “Score Dual” and “Tug-o-War.” These are two battles to determine who is better at the song on any instrument you want, including bass. Score Dual is a flat out competition to see who can get the higher score on a song. Tug-o-War is a little different. You will be switching off playing with your opponent. First you will play for a short period of time while the other player watches. Next, he/she will play while you watch them. Although this seems uneven, in the end you will have both played the same amount. This will give you quick break while you are busting out a solo.
This is what the HUD looks like with all four players.
As far as sound goes, this is the best game for the 360. With classic artists such as Boston, The Police, and The Rolling Stones all the way up to newer artists such as The Killers, Weezer, and The Foo Fighters, there is no doubt that all generations of rock are covered. Besides the great songs, there is the simple fact that YOU get to play them. After playing this game I guarantee you will go straight to iTunes and make a few purchases. While grazing the menus you get to hear some of the game’s songs played quietly in the background. Browsing through the game menus is very simple. You can go to your Band with your friends or your solo tour very easily. Having the music store in the main menu makes buying extra songs incredibly easy. There is an enormous and always growing selection of songs to download for low prices to add to your collection. From Metallica to The All-American Rejects to The B-52's to The Monkees, there is something for everyone. you can even choose betweens singles and "Track Packs." Some examples of the the Track Packs are: Punk Pack, Queens of the Stone Age Pack, and Classic Rock Pack. Once downloaded you can play your new song in any game mode as much as you want. With this feature, the game never really gets old.
Visuals are not a big factor in Rock Band. Most of the time you will be looking at notes scrolling down your screen. But when you do glance away from the notes you will see the characters hopping around stage in a very life-like manner. It looks like you are watching a real rock show. There are lights flashing, amps blaring, and rock stars getting into the music they are playing. It is a good feeling to see your character hopping up and down on stage. They will have all the detailed aspects to them that you worked so hard on making earlier. Overall, the game looks beautiful.
Rock Band’s list of achievements is a good one. All the solo career achievements are stacked so you won’t be penalized for starting on a harder difficulty. There are a few achievements for playing ranked versus games online. A few for 100% songs with different instruments are expected, along with a few career benchmarks. The most time consuming are the “Big in…” achievements. For these you will have to complete all available gigs in a specific city in Band World Tour. If you want to get all of these you better be ready to devote a lot of time to the game. Finishing all the gigs in every venue in every city is extremely time consuming. The list of achievements is fairly straightforward, but will take a bit of time. If you are not very good, you can still devote some time and get a good score in the game. If you are a pro you will be able to get some of the harder achievements with greater ease, but will definitely need time to get the full 1000.
The game has a great soundtrack as expected with a music game. Classic artists and new age alike combine to form a list of songs for everyone. Most of the songs are the original version as well, not very many covers.
The little amount of time you will spend looking at the stage will be pleasant. The bright colors and lights look really good behind your black note chart. Also, the notes themselves are very sharp and look excellent.
It is easy to just pick up Rock Band and start playing. Each instrument is very similar to playing it in real life. It may feel difficult at times or frustrating on hard songs, but a nine-year old could figure it out just as well as forty-year old. The wide variety of songs and difficulties makes it easy to play for fun, or you can try some harder songs and put yourself to the test.
The game is presented near perfectly. You play in a band with your best friends. You can play any of the instruments you want and switch any time you want. Even though they have lots of wires and chords on a real stage, your basement is easier to stumble in. Chords for all the instruments can get in the way at times, but is easy to put up with while you are jamming.
The achievements are very simple, standard ones. Most of them revolve around making progress in solo tours and Band World Tour. The achievements are incredibly time consuming, and the average gamer will find it nearly impossible to get some of them.
Picking up Rock Band and starting out is such an easy and enjoyable experience. You will feel like you are actually in a rock band, without playing thousands of dollars for equipment. You can even play Rock Band as a casual game with your family, or as a hardcore competition online with your live friends. Playing on easy difficulties will provide fun no matter what. If you turn it up a notch, you will still have fun, but will be more challenged. No matter how you play the game, you will enjoy yourself. Rock Band is a must have for any music fan or just plain anyone who likes the idea of being a rock star.