Rock Band Hands-On

Guitar Hero who? The new rhythm game from Harmonix rocked our proverbial socks off when we finally got our hands on that faux Strat for the first time.

Guitar Hero was just a jam session compared to Harmonix's next effort, Rock Band. We got to try an early version of the ambitious new rhythm game at an Electronic Arts press event in advance of E3. (EA is merely distributing the game to retail; Harmonix and new parent company MTV are handling the actual development and publishing duties.) As rhythm game fans are no doubt aware, Rock Band will flesh the core Guitar Hero concept out into a full band experience, featuring lead guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. In other words, Harmonix is basically blowing the doors off the original formula it helped create a couple of years ago. EA had prototype guitar and drum controllers, a microphone, eight demo songs, and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon on hand at their event, and for some strange reason, we felt compelled to spend all our free time at the event glued to the Rock Band Demo kiosk. Let's just say it wasn't the free beer that kept us there.

Rock Band won't shake up the Guitar Hero formula in a serious way, but it sure will add a lot to it.

Of course, you've been clamoring for Rock Band's set list as much as we have, so here's what Harmonix had to show at the demo: The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," David Bowie's "Suffragette City," The Hives' "Main Offender," Weezer's "Say it Ain't So," Nirvana's "In Bloom," Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," and Mountain's "Mississippi Queen." Even better? All but the last two of those songs will appear as original recordings by the artists themselves in Rock Band. Harmonix is leveraging MTV's enormous record-industry clout to ensure that as many original recordings as possible will appear in the game; purportedly, the only songs which will be covered in a studio are the older ones for which no master tapes have even survived.

On the gameplay side, Harmonix hasn't messed with what's already worked in multiple Guitar Hero products. Mechanically, the two guitar players in any given song will see the exact same fret-board-based five-note patterns they're familiar with. The drummer will see his patterns in the middle, between the two guitar tracks, and this track will show only four notes, to correspond to the four pads on the drum controller. A solid line will appear on the drum track indicating when you need to hit the bass drum pedal. Finally, the song lyrics will run along the top of the screen, using a style similar to those you've seen in numerous Karaoke Revolution and SingStar games before, and singers will get to hit the mic with their hands to approximate a tambourine or cowbell in some songs. If you were wondering how Harmonix was going to fit all this gameplay onto a single screen, you'll see in the screenshots that there's still plenty of room left over for denim jackets, mohawks, and flaming frets in between all the gameplay interface elements.

The clean, stylish look of the interface and characters is pure Harmonix.

If Harmonix hasn't shaken up the gameplay model that made Guitar Hero great, it's certainly bolted some interesting new mechanics onto that model. Like in Guitar Hero, you'll build up a points multiplier as you play without missing a beat, and this time around the bass player can achieve a 6x modifier, compared to 4x on the other roles, because bass can get a little dry sometimes. Harmonix is specifically emphasizing Rock Band's multiplayer action with some of these new features. For instance, sometimes you'll hit a "unison phrase" section of a song that will require all players to perform perfectly for the duration of the phrase to nab a big score bonus. Luckily, all players can select their own difficulty levels before a song, but if one of your bandmates fails out of the song, you'll be able to bail them out by pulling off exceptional performance.

You'll actually get to go off the rails from time to time in Rock Band and freestyle a little. Singers will encounter sections where they can sing (or shout) whatever they want for big points (the louder the better, of course). Similarly, drummers can play their own fills during preset sections of the song. But the best of these features, from what we saw, was the wild full-band flourish that happens at the end of a particularly rollicking song. You know how a good band will draw out the end of a big song and improvise for a few bars before pulling off a huge simultaneous finish? Yeah, you get to that in the game. Everyone will flail on their instruments (or scream into the mic) as the points rack up and the song finishes with a big bang. Hey, we saw it work brilliantly in action--this is going to be a half-decent party game, we're pretty sure.

Those extra buttons will exponentially increase your ability to shred during solos, trust us.

Harmonix is going all-out to extend the Rock Band experience beyond your own console. For starters, you'll be able to create your own rocker by choosing from tattoos, ripped jeans, piercings, and various ridiculous hairstyles. You can use that custom shredder in the game's four-player online mode, but even better, you can join up with some friends to create a persistent band that you'll all belong to, even on the Harmonix Web site. Our favorite part, though, is that the game will generate custom loading screens and band T-shirts based on the custom appearances (and presumably, on the silly name) that you've come up with for your characters and band.

So about those controllers. As we mentioned, the devices EA had on hand weren't finalized, but the new Fender Stratocaster-style guitar controller and the drum kit were looking quite solid. The drums are no-frills--you've got four pads and a pedal. But the guitar blew us away. Unlike the previous Gibson controllers used with Guitar Hero, Rock Band's guitar isn't immediately recognizable as a toy; it basically looks like a miniature Strat. The colors and styling are extremely consistent with the real thing, and there are some nice nods to detail, too. The five-way tone switch on the body actually works, letting you subtly adjust the sound of your guitar in-game. The fret buttons aren't colored on their face--you just get a small colored bar on the edge of the neck instead--which preserves the authentic Stratocaster look. Easily our favorite new feature, though, is the addition of a second set of fret buttons right up next to the bridge for wailing during the most enormous solos. Clearly there are people with a hand in this game who know how to rock with deadly efficiency.

Needless to say, we're extremely excited about the direction Harmonix and MTV are taking with Rock Band. It's not putting the rhythm genre on its ear the way Guitar Hero did, but it's evolving that initial concept to such an extent that it's practically a new experience anyway. Stay tuned for a whole lot more to come on the game next week at E3 and in the months leading up to the game's release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year.

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Discussion

359 comments
Adrianberggreen
Adrianberggreen

Can you make your own songs in this game? cuz then it would be THE best rock game ever!

Tremblay343
Tremblay343

i was gonna get guitar hero in a week, back after the players ball videos, e3 demos and interviews...ive been convinced to get rock band. Or just both :P

megamadman5
megamadman5

sick, im gonna do lead and vocals at the same time, cause im pro :P

Arcani1993
Arcani1993

Looks promising and like a fun online experience, but i dont think im getting it, it looks to much like Guitar hero and i dident like that.

can0of0cheese
can0of0cheese

If only fun was free....All these good games coming out, looks like I'm not gonna buy me a flat to call my own after all.

bob7890
bob7890

this game is comin out on ps2 too yay :P

pbarnet2
pbarnet2

I think it's $200 for the entire bundle including the game...

Dleedude
Dleedude

ok finnally got me convinced to this over GH3, now just tell me the bundle wont be a new ps3 ps3 price+ an arm and a leg

Doc_smock
Doc_smock

Finally a game that will let me lay down some awesome rhythms as a drummer

Titanicles
Titanicles

It would be really cool to play over live with my band. I would probably always lose but it looks fun. I wonder what advantages GH3 offers over this?

glitchysquare
glitchysquare

looks far better than guitar hero...and i love guitar hero. i just hope it wont cost too much to download new songs off live.

priest17
priest17

Sheesh, They got a Ramones song screenshot and they don't even mention it. the Ramones are a big enough band to deserve a mention

LSX_Suisyde
LSX_Suisyde

this game has GOTY written all over it!!!!!!!

mooshie77
mooshie77

Woohoo! finally my singing while i play guitar hero will actually count for something

truckingpete
truckingpete

Keyboard would be awesome! Lots of good songs with keyboards, like Styx!

chibi-acer
chibi-acer

LOL, the mic can be hit by the singer to play the cowbell in some songs? I'm sold! ^_^

98scoutgandia
98scoutgandia

wow... i just wanna buy the whole set but here in the philippines that will range to 9000 pesos - 10000 pesos ouch thats alot of money i could already buy a psp

liam72
liam72

Ok, this is my last comment lol! "I also wonder how it will feet to be playing sqaure notes instead of circles." - Darth_Gamer55 Now THATS some great revolution, square notes... lol!!!! You could've said... i dunno... I can't wait to buy the leather coat i saw a guy buying on the demonstration at e3. Ok, i shut up. I just hope i get enough money for that and a xbox 360 cause i still have a ps2... What a shame...lol...

liam72
liam72

"I'm very disappointed Paranoid is a cover. I should've known though, the previous Ozzy songs in the serious were covers as well. Ozzy, c'mon, the Who is letting Harmonix use the originals, why cant you?" - BigMoney09 Don't try to understand him, his brains burned. lol. Oh, and The_Consequence, you can learn drums by playing this game on drums. That's a good Reason. Of course you ain't no drum hero, but you still got the idea. And do you realise every (well... almost...) videogame try to reproduce reality, or what it was or will be.

The_Consequence
The_Consequence

WTF?! Why don't you go get a REAL guitar, bass, or drums instead? It's more fun playing the real thing anyway. What's next, a cooking simulator? "All the fun of real cooking, without actually making food!" EDIT: I suppose this would stop all of these kids that really suck from starting bands and then being played on MTV all day long.

jaydough
jaydough

I really wish they had a keyboard, then they could include many more classics such as "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey or "Come Sail Away" by Styx

RyanMcK714
RyanMcK714

Amazon.com and Gamstop are already preordering for $199.99 for the whole set

RepublicofJosh
RepublicofJosh

Paul...Where did you hear that? as far as I know they haven't released a price...not even an estimate, in all the interviews it always seems as though they avoid that question.

paul100999
paul100999

rock band only cost 200 dollars for all the instruments and game and i heard they might drop the price

Bnd13007
Bnd13007

My only worry about Rock Band is the PRICE!!!!!! I can't afford 500 or 700 dollars

SpeNce718
SpeNce718

It's amazing to me what games will come out next. Being a huge music/rhythm game fan myself, I think Rock Band is a great idea and will be very fun to play with others. It's cool to see a game that combines various instruments instead of using just one element. I will definitely pick this one up, however, I may also consider starting a real rock band with my friends :D

puppetspaintbal
puppetspaintbal

im going to sing because it takes a lot of balls to sing with a voice as bad as mine... and im afraid that not many people will want to sing online

dark_phoenix21
dark_phoenix21

The fact I love about this game is that they say 'if players can master the drum peripheral on hard difficulty, they will be able to play the instrument in reality' - awesome. (thats from wikipedia btw).

Dan2002sk8er
Dan2002sk8er

I love Guitar Hero so I will definitely love this game. But This game will be expensive because i want all the instruments. I hope the guitar for this game will work for Guitar Hero I, II, and III. Because this guitar looks sweet. Drums look really fun as well. I cant wait for a full song list. P.S. cool thing is that EA was taking requests from people online to make the song lists.

b1ade_m4st3r
b1ade_m4st3r

i would go drums over guitar. anyone can play guitar

BigMoney09
BigMoney09

I'm very disappointed Paranoid is a cover. I should've known though, the previous Ozzy songs in the serious were covers as well. Ozzy, c'mon, the Who is letting Harmonix use the originals, why cant you? As for the actual game, does anyone know do you have to progress through career mode with all four parts being played. Even online I doubt anyone would go with drums or vocals over guitar.

shadzman1
shadzman1

(teh_jakester said):" can we gwt them to pull paranoid..." Whats wrong with you... dont you want this game to have good rock songs? geez

YourEvilTwin67
YourEvilTwin67

Everybody is saying that but it does look like a promising game.

jonesy1304
jonesy1304

i cant wait for this game. a couple of days before i found out about this game my girlfriends dad was like " wouldnt it be cool if they mad a game that you could play the drums."

VirtualTofu
VirtualTofu

I'm still waiting for Keytar Hero, Harmonix!

Darth_Gamer55
Darth_Gamer55

I hope that the drums controller will be wireless for the 360 because i already have 2 x-plorer controler and i don't want to spend another $150 on two new guitar controllers. I also wonder how it will feet to be playing sqaure notes instead of circles. I can't wait to play it!

Hunter118
Hunter118

Barry619: In response to your questions/comments: Your GHII (I'm assuming your on the 360, correct me if you're not) X-Plorer will work on Rock band, but obviously you wont have the sound knob, solo frets, or the sweet stratocaster controller. Not sure about your single player questions, but it will have careers for all 3 instruments, (Bass doesn't have one). I hope thie helped. [All information is taken from Game Informer Magazine]

rabadaglan
rabadaglan

this owns gh3 i hope they have some S.O.T.D in this one =)

oliver_475
oliver_475

wow, well... im a bit suprised...

Teh_Jakester
Teh_Jakester

Can we get them to pull Paranoid? I hope so.

luis0910
luis0910

wow this game will rock!!!

TheLatinSnake
TheLatinSnake

A true music game its coming this year, Rock Band its wanna be an expirence like no other.

crazy_monkey5
crazy_monkey5

looks awesome but what about ps2 will there be a guitar hero 4??

toppsseller
toppsseller

Now that I have finally figured out who is developing what game and who is publishing them, this game definitely looks good. I'm predicting GH3 will be a basic song list update, while Rock Band will push the genre forward.

stofio
stofio

richie5288, read the article before you make an ass of yourself, you cant leech of your own success, this is harmonix's successor to guitar hero

ilovebaseketbal
ilovebaseketbal

Richie5288 are you that ****ing stupid? "Another game leeching off another games success" Harmonix is going this game.. hmm doesnt that ring a bell from the other 2 games. They was a split.

richie5288
richie5288

This games bull**** Another game leeching off another games success.