Anyone who likes rock music needs to try out Rock Band.
Rock Band is a combination of gameplay styles from three selectable instruments: the guitar, drum set, and microphone (a second guitar controller can be used for bass guitar). The guitar peripheral for use in Rock Band is fun, and although the 360 version isn't gifted with a wireless axe, it still is a rockin' time. The controller has the traditional neck buttons and whammy bar expected from Guitar Hero, but also includes an effects switch which lets you change the effects of the guitar controller into five different types of sounds. It isn't a huge change, but it does give you some customization as to how you want your music to sound. If you've played Guitar Hero, Rock Band's guitar sequences will seem familiar. Hold the neck buttons and strum at the right time to match up the scrolling bars on screen. It's essentially the same thing, but Rock Band throws in a few curveballs to keep the player interested. Closer to the strum switch is a set of small buttons, which come in extra handy when the solos appear. Rapidly pressing the buttons during certain songs' end lets you rack up point with detailed and fun solos. The guitar peripheral adds some clever new buttons, and although it doesn't stray too far from the Guitar Hero formula, it's great fun.
The drum set peripheral is made up of four drums and one pedal. As with the guitar, certain icons scroll across the screen and you need to hit the corresponding drums at the right time. Simple. The drums are relatively well built, but you still need to be pretty careful when using them. Fortunately, they work incredibly well, making them one of the best parts of Rock Band. At points in some songs, you get solos and drum fill moments to experiment with the rhythm. These, combined with the bass pedal, are great exercises in drumming. The drumming sequences are ambitious and well-implemented, making Rock Band's near-universal appeal even better.
Last but not least is the microphone peripheral, which can be replaced with any USB microphone or Xbox Live headset. Like in the Karaoke Revolution series, you sing into the mike and depending on pitch and rhythm, the game judges your singing. The game can be pretty challenging if you don't know the song, but many of the songs' catchy themes are well implemented. You'll see scrolling lyrics, but the game still relies on simply rhythm and pitch, so it's not too complicated or demanding. It may sound a bit embarrassing to sing at a party, but Rock Band implements the ideas so well, that almost anyone can jump in and start singing.
A rhythm game can't succeed without a good song-list, and Rock Band chronicles some of the greatest rock anthems, ballads, and beats in rock history. It covers every rock subgenre seen in the past few decades. There's a bunch of rock legends like R.E.M., The Rolling Stones, and Nirvana, along with 90's hits from Metallica and Weezer. You also get some great modern songs from The Killers, Coheed and Cambria, and Queens of the Stone Age. While the song list is incredible, it still feels just a little bit sparse. 45 tracks clocks out the setlist, with 13 unlockable tracks from more independent artists. It's great to see such comprehensiveness in the songs, but you will want more at the end of the day.
So it's a good thing for downloadable content, something that Harmonix delivers on all fronts. At a small asking price, around 160 Microsoft Points (around $2.00) per song depending on the song itself, there are dozens of cool new tracks to check out. The downloadable content catalog is just as comprehensive as the main setlist, showing off artists like Faith No More, The Clash, and Nine Inch Nails, and even modern artists like 30 Seconds to Mars and Serj Tankian. Harmonix is updating the catalog consistently, so new bands are on the way. Yes, this is a great deal, but it makes the main setlist feel rather starved. To get the most out of Rock Band, you'll need Xbox Live and some funds to put towards a bigger overall setlist.
Sure, the instruments and music are the stars of this rock show, but you can't do much with them if you don't get lots of modes. This is where Rock Band stumbles a little. The main event is the Band World Tour. In this mode, you and up to three friends locally create rock star avatars and play through different songs as a group. You travel to different cities and perform together just like a real band would. This is great and easily one of the most creative multiplayer modes seen in a long, long time. The problem? It's not online. Unless you have some friends that you can talk to often, getting the most out of the Band World Tour mode is more difficult than it should be. Although you can't play the Band World Tour online, you can select Quickplay for a quick jam session with another player locally or online. You can also learn how to play each instrument in Tutorial mode, along with a lighter-paced Practice Mode. Solo players get a Solo Tour mode for either of the instruments, where you play songs that you can unlock in Quickplay. This does feel simpler than the Band World Tour; Rock Band proves that it's for multiplayer first, single-player second. It's fun, but if the modes were a bit more accessible, Rock Band would be a true winner.
The most glaring flaw in Rock Band is its price. At $170, Rock Band doesn't come cheap. It's one of the most expensive games in recent years. However, it's definitely worth the price, whether you're a rock-and-roll lover or a casual listener. Rock Band has a ton of songs and gameplay to check out, and although the price is high and the single-player isn't as fleshed out as it should be, Rock Band delivers a rock experience unlike anything on the market today.
+ Instrument peripherals are tons of fun to play
+ Song list has plenty of classics, modern hits, and rock anthems
+ Extensive downloadable content catalog
+ Excellent multiplayer
- Solo mode doesn't compare to the fun multiplayer Band World Tour mode
- Default song list could've been a bit longer
Rock Band is a very, very cool game. The three different peripherals' respective gameplay aspects work great alone, but it's when you can get your best gaming friends playing the instruments that Rock Band manages to be a party game beyond anything seen on the Xbox 360. However, it's also very, very pricey compared to many other music games released, and with so much downloadable content, you'd think that Harmonix could've added a few more songs to the default song list before asking for more money with the Marketplace. If you have the funds required, Rock Band is refreshingly unique with plenty of staying power and fun moments. Sure, some of the game's concepts are painfully similar to other music games, but the inclusion of such absolutely stellar multiplayer, both cooperatively and competitively, makes the entire package better than a simple copycat game. Rock Band is definitely one of 2007's most ambitious titles. Harmonix has successfully created a near-precise simulation of being in a Rock Band, making Rock Band for the 360 one of the most interesting and accessible of any rhythm games released in the past decade. Rock on, friends. Rock on.