Rock Band ReviewDustin Wright
When developer Harmonix and publisher Red Octane separated at the end of 2006, many gamers who love the music genre of games were heart broken. What would become of the Guitar Hero series and the music genre in general? Harmonix had an answer, and over the last eight and a half months it has blown music lovers and gamers alike away.
Of course I'm talking about the EA/Harmonix lovechild known as Rock Band, the answer to Activision/Red Octane's Guitar Hero franchise that was released at the end of last year. It is a game that has simply turned the music genre on its head and since then has created a phenomenon even bigger than the still successful Guitar Hero franchise. What makes this game so great? Glad you asked.
From the first cutscene, it is apparent that Harmonix is going for a more mature approach while still being fun, allowing the visuals to be much more fleshed out and grown up, but still have a tongue in cheek approach to the rock ‘n’ roll culture. This game has so much more style than Guitar Hero it makes Guitar Hero seem almost childlike; and that is a very impressive feat in and of itself.
The main menu is basically what you would expect to find in a music game, with an added character customization and new versus modes as well as Xbox Live support, which allows you to have a battle of the bands face off with other players' bands plus the ability to simply play one instrument against another player. Of these menus, by far the most fun is the world tour mode, which lets you form a band and tour around the world playing 58 well-chosen songs, such as Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, Radiohead's Creep, The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again, among other great songs. It is safe to say this is the best track list of any music game to ever grace a console.
Besides the ability to play as a band, the second most exciting aspect of this game is the instruments themselves. These things are such a step up from what the previous Guitar Hero had to offer it's ridiculous. I hate to say it again, this game makes the previous installments look like child's play, and Rock Band's instruments are the nail in the coffin. They really reflect the image of what Rock Band is trying to bring us; a more grown up and fun music game. The guitar itself is so much easier and more comfortable than the Guitar Hero guitars ever were, but also a little more heavy. The best upgrade that has been given to this guitar is the buttons do not make that loud clicking noise of the previous Guitar Hero controllers every time you hit them.
The drums had everyone excited when they were first announced. If you want a real challenge and want to master an instrument in a music-based game, the drum set is for you. It is a great addition, but it honestly could have been better developed. For one, the drums are incredibly loud, however separately sold drum pads can be bought to make it quieter. On top of that, it has a steep learning curve that will make the masters of the guitar weep. However, considering this is the first drum set controller, it's forgivable.
And lastly, the microphone. If you love to sing, you will without a doubt enjoy the singing portion of the game. It is the exact same as Harmonix's Karaoke Revolution franchise, so much so that if you were playing the vocal portion alone you would think you were playing an updated version of Karaoke Revolution, which is not a bad thing by any means; if it works, no need to try and fix it. The vocal part of Rock Band however is the least challenging of the instruments by far, but if you want to just let loose and sing a few tracks, it's a lot of fun too.
As great as the game sounds so far, there are a few areas that could have been improved. First of all, it is a pain on the Xbox 360 version to try and get everyone logged in on the right instrument. If you have that friend who loves to click the buttons on the guitar or bang the drums and accidentally logs you in on the wrong instrument, your band may be splitting up before you ever get started. It's tedious, many times a pain, and it could have been handled a lot better. Also, the ability to change your instruments throughout the tour is a no brainer. I made a character who looks like a cross between a Native American and Kenny Rogers, and many times I wanted him to switch over to lead guitar and get off the drums, but no such luck. This option should have been in the game, plain and simple.
All gripes aside, this is a very great game and is without question the best party game to come out this generation, however it is a hefty investment ($150), but if you have friends who love these kinds of games, the fun will more than pay for itself. And with the huge amount of songs to download, and much more on the way, you will likely never run out of songs to play.
All in all, this is a fantastic game that simply builds upon the successful formula of Guitar Hero. But should you buy this with Rock Band 2 a few months away? That depends. The instruments will stay the same so all you basically will be paying for is new songs, and with all of the songs being backwards compatible for Rock Band 2 with the addition to download all of the songs from the first one for free, the original Rock Band still sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.