Rock Band

Reviewed by Arep | 22 March 2008
Genre: Party | Publisher: MTV Games | Developer: Harmonix
TOG Score
Members (av.)
The Good
  • Huge catalog of songs
  • Great party game
The Bad
  • No Band World Tour mode in solo play
  • Must create a new rocker for each instrument
  • Whatever character started the band must play or the band can’t

Simply put, Rock Band is the reason I petitioned my wife for an XBOX 360. A game where you can play not only the guitar but the drum set, too? Are you kidding me?!? I made sure to start “working my magic” months before its release date. It finally took a bout of pneumonia to accumulate enough pity points for her to come home with a shiny new 360 Elite. I ran out to the local GameStop and put $200 down on Rock Band, not really questioning that I was spending over four times the price of a single game. (But hey, $50 per instrument, right?) Then I waited. In the time that passed, the articles about growing support from the music industry and the wealth of expected post-launch downloadable content (DLC) even managed to get my wife interested. Was it worth it? Was it worth the hundreds of dollars spent on other XBOX games I purchased while I waited?

Gimmie Three Steps
Assembling the various parts and pieces wasn’t too big a deal. The guitar came in two pieces. The drum kit took a little longer but it wasn’t too much of a chore. The gi-normous box also contained a microphone, ear mic adapters for the XBOX headset, a cheap little 4-port USB hub and, of course, the game itself. You plug the included USB hub into one of the controller slots and the four instruments into it. Oh, and your vocalist will need access to a controller since there are no buttons on the microphone like there are with the other instruments. For me, its a crap shoot whether or not all of the instruments power up when I turn the XBOX on. When they don’t, I simply unplug the power from the hub and plug it back in. That usually fixes the problem but I may end up replacing the hub anyway.

Drum set mutes cut to the size of the pads are a cheap but effective option While we are discussing modifications, I have a recommendation for the drummers out there. The drums are loud...I know that sounds like a blindingly obvious statement but the sound of the sticks hitting the pads are very distracting especially if you don’t exactly have Neal Peart’s rhythmic abilities. There are a number of modifications out there that help muffle the drumpads without reducing sensitivity. I ordered a set of drum pad mutes from Pearl and cut them down to the size of the pads in such a way that I can still see the colored rings on the edge. I simply taped them on (though I will be replacing the tape with some sort of glue) and its made a world of difference. It must have reduced the sound by at least 60-80%. There are other mods out there for increasing pad sensitivity and sturdiness of the foot pedal. The foot pedal can’t take too much abuse without cracking. If you don’t go nuts on it you should be fine. Just keep in mind its only plastic.

Sony players beware...the package comes with one guitar which only leaves you with a three-man band. Unlike XBOX users you will not be able to use your Guitar Hero III guitars with Rock Band. Activision has blocked a patch to Rock Band allowing full compatibility so for now you will need to wait for the instruments to be sold separately. The good news is that by now the single instruments should be available.

Juke Box Hero
Ok, so how do you play? Let’s start with the guitar/bass. Rock Band and the Guitar Hero series are basically just glorified rhythm games. On the neck of the guitar are 5 colored buttons and on the face is a single strum bar. The idea is to hold down the colored button(s) and strum the bar when the game tells you to. On the screen, you’ll see corresponding colored icons drop from the top of the screen and you need to strum the bar when they hit a target area near the bottom. When you hold down more than one button at once its called a chord. On easy, you’ll mostly be concerned with the green, red and yellow buttons with few, if any, chords. The game throws in the fourth blue button on medium and the orange button on hard and above. The orange button requires some dexterity but most people should be pretty content on medium. Some notes are elongated and require you to strum and hold the buttons down for a length of time. While you are doing that you can wiggle the whammy bar to rack up more points.

Bang A Gong
The drums work on a similar principle to the guitar. Each of the four pads and the foot pedal are assigned a color. Instead of a rectangular note dropping vertically from the top, the orange foot pedal indicator is a horizontal glowing bar. Also, unlike the guitar, you will be incorporating the blue note and the orange foot pedal from the very first song on easy. They say that playing the drums on expert is comparable to playing a real drum set. I was a drummer in high school but never really played the set and medium is a challenge for me. Hard is a train wreck...I’d hit more notes tossing a real drum set down the stairs. Another challenge to the drum part is that you will be driving the beat rather than reacting to it like the other instruments. It takes a lot more accuracy to keep yourself from slowing down and missing notes.

Song With A Mission
Vocals are something I have the least experience with...mostly because I feel that I sound like a whale in heat when I sing. However, hearing my sister, who has probably never heard a Metallica song before in her life, belt out “Ride the Lightning” is something I will never forget. The vocal track scrolls horizontally above the guitar, drums and bass track at the top of the screen, including the lyrics. The challenge is to match pitch with the vocal track to score points. The harder the setting, the lower the margin of error, which also means holding notes for exactly as long as required. Vocals are actually a lot of fun and make Rock Band a very entertaining party game.

Shooting Star
As you play your accuracy is measured by how many correct notes you hit in a row. Drums, vocals and guitar can earn up to a 4x multiplier on their score. Adding a bass player into your band will bump that up to a 6x multiplier. Hitting special glowing white notes as a guitar/bass player or drummer will charge up your Overdrive meter. Tilting your guitar up will send you into overdrive and double your multiplier as well as bring back any band members that have failed out by missing too many notes. Drummers enter overdrive mode by hitting drum fills. Vocalists do it by yelling out things like “WE LOVE YOU, CHICAGO!” or “THE CAKE IS A LIE!” during certain bits of the song.

Guitarists get solo sections where, if they are using the Fender that comes with the package, they can play the notes with the buttons on the lower part of the neck without strumming. Getting a high percentage of notes in the solo will earn lots of points at the end. Many songs also have a “big rock ending” where you can do whatever you want and go nuts for huge points. You earn those points only if all band members hit the final notes of the song correctly.

Go With The Flow
You can play the game solo, starting a career and earning money to buy instruments and outfits (and there are A LOT of each). You choose an instrument and create and customize a character to play it (you cannot create a solo bassist, however). The fun really begins when you get a group of friends together and start your own band in Band World Tour mode. You choose a character as the band leader who MUST always play (keep that in mind), a name for the band, and starting city. You can even create a graphic for the band using a surprisingly intuitive editor.

Your band then starts off playing gigs and earning money and fans. Venues and new cities are unlocked after you hit specific rating and groupie milestones. You can all win tour buses, managers, roadies and other goodies. Eventually you unlock your own jet that allows you to play international concerts.

Having a manager unlocks special random events that can earn you nice rewards if you are successful. For example, your manager might offer you the chance to play a charity concert for no money but if you do it you can earn double the fans. It’s a nice mechanic that keeps the game fresh even after you’ve played “Ballroom Blitz” for the 20th time.

Train Kept A-Rollin’
Rock Band comes with a total of 58 songs dating from the 1960’s to present day. The songs themselves are a mix of covers and re-mastered originals with a surprising emphasis on original songs. The selection is incredible and there’s a little something for every Rock and Roll fan.

It gets even better when you head on over to XBOX Live Marketplace (or the Sony equivalent) and take a look at all of the downloadable songs they’ve released since launch. At least three to six songs a week have been released and that shows no sign of slowing down.  There is an enormous amount of support in the music industry. In fact, Metallica will be releasing their brand new single as a downloadable Rock Band track in the coming months. An updated list of songs can be found here: List of songs in Rock Band - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Don’t Look Back In Anger
Rock Band isn’t perfect, of course. Band World Tour mode is only available offline and you cannot do it solo. Well, you CAN do it solo if you can play two instruments at once...and some do! Also, the characters you create are tied to one instrument so you can’t take your drummer and have him play guitar. If you use that same drummer to start a band, he will have to play every time the band plays because he’s the leader.

Cost is something you will also need to take into account. By the time Rock Band was released the price had dropped to $169.99 for the whole package. The downloadable songs range from $1.99 for single songs and $5.49 for packs of three. So, I’m up to 89 songs in my collection as of tonight which means I’ve spent about $62 extra so far. Yikes!  (Edit: Its now March 31 and I’m at about 103 songs total)

Here’s a rundown of everything I look for when buying a game:
Value: It all depends on your own point of view. Personally, I still feel Rock Band is a very good value. I am very selective about the songs I download so that everything I buy is something I want to play. Having four instruments is almost like having four games in one...well, three since you cannot play a solo career on the bass.

Quality: There were issues with the first production run of the Fender guitars but Harmonix was very quick to issue replacements. There are concerns that the bass pedal on the drum set will crack easily and my drum pad stand is a little crooked. The USB hub leaves something to be desired but it works despite having to power it on and off sometimes.

Difficulty: Overall, the guitar is easier in Rock Band than it is in Guitar Hero III at equivalent levels. The drum set is appropriately hard but you can take most of the skills you build playing drums in Rock Band and translate them pretty well to a real drum set. The difficulty levels are structured so that everyone should be able to find an appropriate challenge. Besides, you can mix skill levels in the same band so no one will get left behind.

Jerk Factor: Hopefully, you won’t be inviting any jerks into your house to play in your band, so offline play *should* be pretty safe. You’ll find your fair share of jerks online just like any other game. Folks will quit out when they start losing a song in order to preserve their stats. Its an annoyance but there are enough honorable people out there to be able to find some good competition.

Final Score: 4.9 Lives Shattered By A Rock And Roll Lifestyle out of 5 (you’ll get the full five when you release Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or Jimmy Buffett as DLC!) *Editor’s note: Jimmy Buffet became DLC in Summer 08*

Still Alive
**Edit March 31, 2008** Last week they released a downloadable pack of Boston songs, this week its a free download of Still Alive, the end credit song from Portal. I suppose I can give you your full 5 out of 5 now. 

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