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Rock Band Review

Rock out.

Rock Band is the “next big thing”. It is the consummate music/rhythm game from the original creators of niche titles FreQuency and Amplitude as well as the smash hit series Guitar Hero. Harmonix is a developer comprised of some of the most hardcore music lovers in the industry. Combining their passion for music, attention to detail and programming prowess, these talented individuals have created one of the most unique and fun experiences you will ever have.

Simply put, Rock Band is the ultimate party game. Sure, you could make a similar argument for Halo, Super Smash Brothers or any other number of multiplayer games but there is something special about Rock Band that no other game has heretofore successfully emulated. I am almost certain that this is the most fun four people can have together with a video game. Speaking from personal experience, there is nothing that beats the feeling of my friends and I rocking out as hard as we can while the digital crowd goes wild, complete with laser light shows and smoke machines. I’m banging out a sweet beat on the drum set, throwing in a freestyle fill every so often. The bassist is tapping their foot and bobbing their head while they back up the lead guitarist who is kicking and jumping like a chimp on Red Bull. The singer is standing on the coffee table, leaning back and belting out the chorus at the top of their lungs. We are having so much fun we practically forget where we are. As far as we know, we’re on stage and rocking you harder than you’ve ever been rocked before.

It’s this sense of camaraderie that is at the core of Rock Band. Lead guitar, drums, and vocals all have their own single-player story mode but this game was meant for a group. Players start out by birthing their rock avatar using an incredibly deep character creation system. Tons of faces, hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, and clothes are at your disposal. You can make a rocker that looks just like you or you’re also free to make someone bizarre – your “inner rock god” if you will. Once this is done, you all pick the instrument you will play in your new band. After that, you choose the name of your band which many will argue is the most important part. You even get to design a band logo which will be on your tour bus and sometimes even displayed in laser lights behind you on stage. Every single aspect of the game is up to you and your friends to decide. You even get to choose which city to play your next gig in and you can often build your own set list from your favorite songs and go on tour.

The graphics are, ironically, one of the best parts of this package. I find it hard to believe that a music game looks this damn good. The animation system is top-notch, making your rock avatars move and rock like real people on stage. There are no canned animations that repeat over and over. If you’re killing a guitar solo, your on-screen character will walk back and forth on the stage, flinging his guitar around and head-banging. If you’re keeping the beat perfect on the drums, your drummer will flip his sticks around between rests and really pound hard on the solos. There’s even a grainy music video look to each performance, going so far as to have crazy MTV camera angles and video effects. Let’s just say that even if you aren’t playing, Rock Band is still one hell of an experience to watch.

I must point out that the guitar peripheral that comes bundled with Rock Band is definitely a “love it or hate it” deal. It is quite a bit bigger than the Guitar Hero guitar making it feel more “real” but throws people off who aren’t used to it. The strum bar is also more protrusive and skinny – this is to make it seem more like holding a pick but this, again, is a detriment for those who prefer the Guitar Hero brand. One good thing is that the strum bar doesn’t click-click-click like its Guitar Hero cousin. Sometimes the old guitar would click so loud I could barely hear my part but the Rock Band guitar’s strum bar is almost completely silent. The biggest complaint any gamer has about the new guitar is the buttons. They are wider but further apart, making those spread chords a finger-bending nightmare. Again, it’s built that way to feel more like a real guitar but for people who have been used to Guitar Hero for years and years now it’s a bummer. One of the coolest additions and saving grace for the guitar is the ability to switch guitar sounds on the fly. You can flip a switch on the guitar and make your sound unique with Reverb, Echo, Wah-Wah, Flanger, and more. The same song can sound dramatically different depending on your mood.

The microphone is sturdy and heavy, giving the impression of holding an actual mic on stage. It reads pitch phenomenally well which means that if you’re bombing on your part you have no one to blame but yourself. And bomb you will. Especially if you’re playing on Hard or Expert level, singing is by far the most difficult aspect of this game. You better be pitch-perfect or expect to hear a lot of boo’s.

Of course, the peripheral everyone is excited about is the drums because it’s the first time a mainstream music game has given you the opportunity to pound out the beat on a virtual drum set. It is remarkably well built and sturdy except for the drum pedal which will almost certainly snap in half within the first six months or less if you’re a real lead foot. Thankfully, EA and Harmonix have a fantastic warranty program and will send you a replacement peripheral absolutely free 99% of the time. The drums also feature real wooden drumsticks which feel great in the hands. Drumming is a real thrill for music game experts but it can also be an exercise in frustration for players who are rhythm-challenged. If you thought playing the guitar was hard, just imagine how it feels to be hitting a pad twice a second while keeping the off-beat with your foot. It’s been said (but yet to be proven) that if you can play Rock Band drums flawlessly on Expert difficulty, you could sit down at a real drum set and play the same song. As hard as it is, I’m sure this claim has some kernel of truth.

Rock Band is the kind of game that could change your mind about video gaming in general. I can’t tell you how many non-gaming parents and families have fallen in love with this game. Those wary of racing, adventuring, shooting and violence find a new kind of experience in a game that lets them live out their rock star fantasies in their living room. With difficulty levels ranging from Easy (a small child could handle it) to Expert (some real musicians have trouble on this setting) it’s a game that absolutely anyone can get into. And with over 120 songs already available and more being added every single week, Rock Band is a legendary experience with almost infinite replayability. I have no doubt in my mind that some people will still be rocking out together with their plastic guitars and drum sets five, maybe even ten years from now. If you’re a fan of the music/rhythm genre or just looking for something new and exciting to try, Rock Band is the new king of the party.

--Matt Makepeace

10 / 10

Rock Band (XB360 / PS3 / PS2)

Developed by Harmonix

Published by Electronic Arts

ESRB: T for Teen

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