Platform: Xbox 360
Have you ever dreamt of being a rock star, but the lack of talent or motivation kept you from realizing your dreams? Perhaps you're a starving musician pining for the lifestyle you have yet to achieve? Ok, that last one was cruel. In the wake of the popular music gaming niche made famous by the Guitar Hero franchise, comes the next big music gaming experience. Harmonix, the same people that brought us Guitar Hero I and II, was kind enough to send over a special edition version of Rock Band before the Canadian Street date in December 2007. Christmas came early when a rather large package consisting of two guitar controllers, one microphone and one drum kit arrived at the door. If ultimate party games are your thang, then look no further than Rock Band. Away we go.
Rock Band will not showcase your 360's firepower. In fact, the visual detail found here is somewhat last gen, with a cartoon-like aesthetic and average detail. However, because this is a party centric game with focus on gameplay, nitpicking the graphics is almost pointless. That's not to say the graphics are meaningless, because they are not. Without the ongoing animation during each performance, the game would procure some significant points in the negative bin.
The character models and various stage venues are props to help envelop you into the musical experience while you focus your attention on the task at hand - playing your instrument as wickedly as possible in order to woo the crowd. During your performance, the animated band plays out the visual show, reminiscent of any concert video production you may have viewed in recent times. Camera angles shift constantly during each song (not to the point of delivering visual fatigue), with slanted closeups on guitar work, impressive lighting effects, and band members driving hard at both camera and crowd. The lip syncing is also impressive, considering the amount of songs covered.
This game rocks solid for anyone with a half decent stereo or home theatre setup. And let's face it, if you're playing a game like Rock Band you're doing a disservice to yourself running it on anything else.
Rock Band is equipped with 45 stellar tracks and 13 bonus tracks, featuring a staple of tunes by well known bands past and present that many will be familiar with. However, one notable setback is licensing issues Harmonix had with some of the material. While most of Rock Band's lineup is performed by the original artists, a handful of tracks are not, and this is a bit of a disappointment. I was particularly displeased with the Tom Sawyer track, since it's one of my favorite classic rock tunes. It's definitely not Geddy on vocals
Kudos to Harmonix for adding so many timeless classics to the mix, such as Boston's Foreplay/Longtime, Detroit Rock City by Kiss and Radiohead's Creep. There are a handful of mediocre choices, but I suppose it's all to taste. Another minor nitpick - 45 songs isn't quite enough. There's definitely a marketing ploy at work here and you will want to download new material once you've played through the set countless times. But at least the option is available. Songs can be downloaded from Live! at $1.99 a song or $5.49 for a package of three. All things considered that isn't half bad, especially for the Canadian gamer currently taking advantage of the high exchange rate.
Setting Rock Band up required some short assembly time for the drum kit, which can be played on its stand at various heights, or knocked down and placed on a table top for those with limited space. Overall it was a snap getting up and running, with a small powered USB hub accommodating connections for each of the four instruments. The hub plugs directly into the front of the 360.
Off the main menu, Rock Band offers a handful of gameplay modes found under Solo or Multiplayer. Via Multiplayer you can setup and bang with a group of friends in the same locale, or you can venture onto Live! As far as I'm concerned, nothing beats the Local Multiplayer action. This really is the heart of the game. There's also a Tutorial mode to help assist you with instrument training, and there's a Practice mode that lets you hammer through unlocked songs at various tempos. These are invaluable features, especially for more challenging material.
Under Solo and Multiplayer you can choose from Quickplay, Band World Tour, Tug of War and Score Duel. While Band World Tour lets you set your sites on conquering the world cooperatively, Tug of War and Score Duel open up arcade challenges that pits your skills against others. Selecting Quickplay off the main menu gets you right into the action, allowing to play all unlocked songs.
Band World Tour mode lets take it on the road as you attempt to make your way up the ladder of fame. Sufficed to say, the best times with Rock Band occur within the Band World Tour mode. Here you get to create and tailor your own group, choosing a name and character model(s), and outfit them with clothing and gear.
You earn cash, gear and sponsorship after each successful gig, and money can be spent at a place called the Rock Shop. Here you can purchase status items, such as rock'n roll apparel, tattoos and instruments. Although this might add flavor for some, I hardly ever venture into the store.
The 45 main tracks are grouped into sections of five with each representing a city location, such as New York or Paris. During initial play, you will not have access to songs outside of the current location you're working at - you must successfully play each song within a location to unlock the next set of songs. The venues become more glamorous as you progress, with larger stages, cooler lighting effects and bigger crowds. Your band's name is displayed at the back of the stage during shows (how cool is that?), and becomes more gloriously fashioned as the venues become larger. I chose the silly name Man Pig, which looked magnificant at the end of my first world run.
Success entails keeping the Crowd Meter from hitting rock bottom and getting slapped with the ill fated "Failure" stamp. The idea is to woo the crowd by hitting as many correct notes as possible, completing solos and earning points. This becomes increasingly difficult as you move from one venue to the next since the songs become more complex and sometimes longer. If you're performing badly the crowd will let you know with a few jeers and boos. This escalates into louder displeased tones as your Crowd Meter drops into the dumper. If you fail out of a gig you're finished and have to start again, unless you're playing in a group. If another bandmate has energy built up they can save you from death by flipping into overdrive. This adds a lot to the cooperative aspect of the game and makes it much more exciting. If you're playing very well, the crowd will start to sing along with the band.
Many songs also have Big Band Endings, which lets you freestyle on your instrument. Here you can rack up a ton of points, but these are lost if you don't deliver on the final notes at the end of the song. A pinch of competition is added to the mix by comparing point tallies and play percentages at the end.
Although the Easy and Medium settings can be fairly straight forward, it's still a challenge to master every single note and phrase. The bar is raised significantly under Hard and Expert modes.
Here's a breakdown of each instrument.
Most suitable to karaoke freaks and rock 'n roll primadonas, this is perhaps the weakest link for a number of reasons. First, it doesn't require exact detail on lyrical phrasing. The microphone detection works off of pitch and rhythm. You need to keep your pitch levels in line in order to score points, trying to achieve as many "Awesome" tallies as possible. When you're presented with glowing yellow sections, you can build up and store energy in your energy meter by nailing that phrase, which you can unleash during the paisley bars in order to score more points with the crowd or save a bandmate.
If your pitch is good you can pretty much get through any song without singing the exact words presented, as long as your rhythm is somewhat intact. The other slight setback to singing is the downtime. Most songs are filled with solo sections for the guitars, and the vocalist is left with nothing to do aside from occasionally tapping the mic during special percussion bars while the guitarist and drummer get to play on. This is the nature of the beast though. Having said that, the microphone is probably the easiest instrument to get started on with the lower difficulty settings, and it will appeal to at least one or two people in your group. We all love to sing in the shower right?
You can also turn the main track down and your vocals up if you want to shine or blow the doors off your bandmates' ears, which is a great feature.
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