Rock Band Exclusive - Rock Around the World

Harmonix's music monstrosity will offer the most engrossing career mode in a rhythm game yet, as we found out in our exclusive look at the band world tour mode.

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By now, you know plenty of reasons to get excited about Rock Band, the upcoming multiplayer rock extravaganza from MTV Games and the godfathers of rhythm action at Harmonix. There's the full, simultaneous band experience featuring guitar, bass, drum, and vocal gameplay. There's the elaborate array of realistic instrument peripherals that makes the gameplay happen. There's the promise of entire legendary rock albums becoming available for download in the weeks and months after Rock Band's release. Now if you'll let us get all late-night-infomercial-salesman for a minute: "But wait, there's more!" We pulled a handful of eager GameSpot editors into a room full of Rock Band peripherals to check out the new and fully revamped band world tour mode, which goes so far beyond the career mode in Harmonix's past Guitar Hero games that it's practically a different game entirely.

Before you can hit the local club circuit and start winning over your loyal base of fans, each member of your band will need to create a rock avatar with the appropriate degree of sneer and swagger. So you'll first pick a name and home city, physique, hairstyle (including Mohawks, dreads, mullets--you get the picture), and all the requisite colors of eyes, hair, personal effects, and so on. The most important choice, though, is attitude. You can pick between rock, metal, punk, goth, and so on, and the effects on your dude or dudette are subtle but immediately noticeable. Go with the punk attitude and you get a good Sex Pistols lip curl going on. The goth choice turns your character's visage downward for proper floor-gazing. It's a superficial choice but a crucial one, of course.

Once all four players have birthed their rockers, the game will look at everyone's selection of hometown and determine a starting city for your group. The list isn't limited to American rock hot spots, either--in addition to such notable cities as New York, Boston, Seattle, and LA, you can go international and start in places like Berlin, Stockholm, and Rome. There will be three venues in each city--small, medium, and large--and they'll be tailored to the local style and culture of each city. For instance, San Francisco has Alice's Free Love Cafe, the Quarter Hole, and finally the Bay City Theater, and you'll get to move up to playing progressively bigger and more elaborate venues as your career explodes.

You'll progress from the corner cafe to the world's biggest arenas in Rock Band's world tour mode.
You'll progress from the corner cafe to the world's biggest arenas in Rock Band's world tour mode.

Before we get to the world tour progression, let's talk performance numbers. Guitar Hero established the five-star rating system that fans have come to know and love, and that core performance indicator will still tell you how well you did at the end of every song. But Rock Band will actually keep a cumulative tally of those stars at all times, which will tell you at a glance how much of the career mode you've made it through. Then there's your fans. You'll actually know at any given time how many people you've won over, which can certainly be gratifying as you advance through the career mode and see that number continually increasing. Naturally, the more fans you have, the bigger the venues you'll get to play.

But those fans are fickle, and that number goes both ways. If you play poorly and blow too many shows, you'll start losing fans, which not only makes your shows look emptier, but will also limit your ability to play at bigger venues, regardless of your former popularity. (Hey, Def Leppard ain't pulling 'em in like they used to, either.) Harmonix refers to this system in risk-versus-reward terms, since you stand to lose as many fans as you can gain at a given show, especially the bigger shows. If you're going to play a big arena gig, you'd better have your set list down cold--your fledgling career can't stand to alienate that many people at once. If you're trying out new material, better to do it at the local watering hole, where you won't scare off too many people if you flub it.

Kurt looks more like an Axl to us.
Kurt looks more like an Axl to us.

So your band is formed and you've rented out a practice space in your hometown. Here's where Rock Band diverges from the old Guitar Hero formula. You'd probably expect each city and each venue to simply represent a tier of unique songs that you can only progress beyond by completing all those songs. (We did.) But the band world tour is far more open-ended and interesting than that. Each venue instead represents a tier of activities that you can undertake, from single-song performances to mystery set lists, which can throw any of the previously unlocked songs at you back-to-back. Later in the game, you'll find more specific challenges, such as a punk marathon that requires you to properly play every punk song in the package, or sponsored events that will feature major contributions from some of the game's licensees, like Fender.

During our hands-on time, we soon found an event called "battle of the vans," which led us into playing a multi-song set against some other bands. The grand prize bestowed on the winner of this competition--our band, natch--was our very own van, which immediately opened the game up beyond San Francisco and allowed us to hit the road for gigs in Seattle and Los Angeles. Those two cities have their own hierarchy of venues with their own songs, challenges, and activities to complete, and so the game will tend to open up in a specific direction based on which cities you decide to visit in which order. In general, Rock Band will couch your career progress in real-world terms. Just as that first rickety old van let us get to a couple of other cities on the same coast, you might need a proper tour bus to reach destinations all across the greater 48. You'd probably even need your own jet to embark on that world tour you've always dreamed of--but let's not get ahead of ourselves, eh? You're still stuck playing to barflies at the local dive.

Hiring an agent will get you on your road to stardom that much faster.
Hiring an agent will get you on your road to stardom that much faster.

Harmonix has striven to make the Band World Tour as non-linear as possible, so once you hook up those wheels, you can go to any location you want in any order. There are a lot of peripheral factors that will pop up over your journey, too. After we scored that clunker of a van, an agent contacted us and let us know that we should play more gigs in LA to try to catch the attention of a major label. If you hire that agent, he'll help you out by booking you at key venues in specific cities that will advance your meteoric rise to fame, and he'll make other suggestions designed to net you new fans. If you manage to sign with a major, they'll make a serious investment in your act and provide you with the means to embark on a national tour. You'll even need to poach roadies from other bands as you get bigger and bigger. Someone has to cart all those colored lights and fog machines from city to city, right?

The choices you get to make over the course of your career will appear even down at the per-show level, with small events Harmonix refers to as "rock moments." When we agreed to take part in the battle of the vans, we were approached with a double-or-nothing wager: if we could hit a specific star level for the set list, we'd get double the payout after the show. Unfortunately, our nascent group wasn't quite up to the task, so we got zilch in the money department--but at least we got that van. Later on, you'll get other offers in the same fashion. You'll get the chance to sell out for bigger profits, but you'll lose some of your most diehard fans for it. Or you could choose to turn a particular show into a benefit, which means you won't get any money. But that will certainly win over the hearts and minds of your potential audience, won't it?

Sure, Guitar Hero gave you a linear progression through tiers of songs that were attached to progressively more elaborate background designs. But Rock Band's World Tour mode feels like a true career mode in its own right, since you're free to visit at will every city you can physically travel to, and you can play the kinds of shows and events you want to play in those cities. Of course, the more money you make, the snazzier the duds and deadlier the axes you can buy in the rock shop, which will then be reflected in your characters onstage. The game even generates loading screens and other imagery based on the custom characters and outfits you've picked for your band.

Win more fans, earn more money, buy better stuff. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Win more fans, earn more money, buy better stuff. Wash, rinse, repeat.

After our hands were forcibly removed from the World Tour mode, we had a chance to check out a couple of Rock Band's local multiplayer modes called tug-of-war and score duel. These head-to-head modes will let you pit any instruments against each other, so we couldn't resist hooking up two drum kits for a serious overabundance of percussion, Grateful Dead-style. Our drum-off with the score duel mode was about like you'd expect--you both play the same song on the same difficulty and trade off playing different sections of the song. The player with the highest score at the end, wins. The tug of war is a little different; instead of scores, you get a single bar at the top of the screen, and the better player will have that bar fill up on his or her side. Here, however, we tried a game with one player drumming on medium and another on expert, and the expert player wiped the floor with the medium player simply because of the much greater scoring potential on higher difficulties.

It goes without saying that we were stoked for Rock Band already, but after seeing the diversity and replayability Harmonix has put into the World Tour mode, we're all the more excited about the immense amount of time we're going to spend playing this game. We had to ask the game's representatives about the weekly release schedule they've mentioned in the past for Rock Band's downloadable content. Turns out you'll be seeing downloadable music content--not just things like gamer pictures or new guitars--every single week. That might be a three-song pack, it might be a whole album, it could be just one song--but you'll be able to roll all of it right back into the World Tour mode, which means your band could be lighting up marquees around the globe for a long, long time to come.

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