Rock Band is finally here. Take a moment to process that. Rock Band has made its way to our shores.
Rock Band was released late last year in the United States and has slowly been making its way around the world since then. We’ve listened to those who have been rocking out already, and we’ve seen constant updates for the music store from the American websites. Now we have it – and we get to see what all the fuss is about.
Rock Band is the natural successor to the Guitar Hero games, taking the traditional two guitar gameplay and throwing in a drum kit and microphone. The game can be played with anywhere from one player all the way up to the full band of four. And while the single player aspects are strong, the game really shines when you’ve got three others all keen to jump in and crank the stereo loud.
Instrument-wise, guitars have been given an overhaul, with the addition of two new major features both relating to the guitar solos scattered throughout the songs. When you reach one of these solos – marked by the background of the fret board turning blue - you can use the five coloured buttons located at the base of the guitar neck instead of the traditional buttons at the top. These buttons allow you to simply tap the solos without the need for strumming. It’s a nice addition, but likely not one you’ll find yourself using too often. The other feature is the five-way toggle switch built into the guitar. Again, this is used in the guitar solos to change the sound of the guitar from one of the five effects – wah-wah, flange, echo, chorus, and none.
So while those familiar with the Guitar Hero franchise may pick up the guitars very quickly, the drums are a completely different story. Requiring a decent amount of skill, the drums can force you to very quickly work up a sweat. And that’s on medium. With four coloured drum pads and a kick-pedal, it’s safe to say that the Rock Band drum peripheral is very similar to a real-life practice drum kit. The notion that playing Rock Band drums on a hard difficulty is like playing them in real life is likely to be not far from the truth.
The microphone is one instrument I tend to stay away from – and with good reason. Failing ‘Say It Ain’t So’ on easy is not something to be proud of. And similar to the cousin of Guitar Hero, SingStar, the microphone takes on a karaoke-esque style performance, with a recommended pitch level to hit, along with an arrow pointing whether you need to drop lower, or muster up some of those higher notes. You can sing lower – or higher - assuming you’ve got the pitch down.
In the song department, Rock Band does deliver. A pretty decent line-up of songs spanning a couple of generations has been included, evidenced by songs such as Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters, Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash and Here it Goes Again by OK Go. Our version of the game also features nine additional songs which were released as downloadable content in North America earlier this year.
While the songs included in the game will keep you entertained enough, it’s a shame to see that once the music store had come online late last week that only one song – Still Alive from Portal – was available. Compare this to the American music store, which has literally hundreds of songs and song packs available. Hopefully this can be sorted in the coming weeks and we can start spending our tax-cuts on more Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The core gameplay comes about in the form of the ‘Band World Tour’ mode. You get the option to create your own rocker tied to your gamertag, and can be part of multiple bands. Money earned through this mode can be spent on new clothes, hair styles, tattoos or flashier instruments. At any time you can sub in other members into your band, and if you so wish, make them a permanent fixture. Once you have your band sorted, you can hit the road on your quest to become a global act.
One nice change from the Guitar Hero games is that the Rock Band World Tour mode isn’t just a play-through of all the songs, but instead you play a few gigs in your home town, and then as you gain more fans, you’ll open new venues alongside new songs to perform. You will play the same song multiple times, and it can get a little repetitive, but it does feel slightly more realistic when it comes to the idea of a touring band. At strategic points in the mode you’ll be able to play for key items to allow you to travel further afield, such as tour buses and roadies.
Aside from the World Tour, there are a few other multiplayer modes to take a look at, such as Band Quickplay, Tug of War and Score Duel. While Quickplay and Score Duel are fairly self-explanatory, Tug of War essentially takes the normal face-off modes and adds a meter to the top of the screen to visually show who the crowd thinks is rocking out harder.
Overdrive (or Star Power as it has previously been known) takes a slight twist when it comes to multiplayer. Perform badly enough and you’ll drop out of the song, and your other band mates will have the chance to activate their overdrive to bring you back in. This only can be done twice, with the third time usually resulting in the entire band failing. It’s a nice way to keep everyone on their toes and to work together on those more difficult tracks.
Aside from rescuing other players, overdrive is indeed used to amp up your multipliers. Everyone setting off their overdrive at once will bring about the best results, with up to a possible 8x multiplier for the band. Guitars keep the tilt mechanism to activate the overdrive, while drums require hitting the green note at the end of a drum fill, and vocal overdrive is activated by making some kind of noise – usually loud – on one of the activation sections found throughout the song.
Indeed we have waited a long time for Rock Band, but it’s now here, and it’s fun. Really fun. Sell-your-grandmother-to-afford-the-$320-price-tag fun. This is the party game for all of those who have thrashed Guitar Hero and SingStar to their death. There’s something that can be said for games that allow you to really enjoy the experience of playing them, and Rock Band does this.