Music Blogs - Blogged Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rock Band Review (Xbox 360)

The Good: It is the ultimate party game. It's fun to play every instrument (except maybe for bass). Cool visual style.

The Bad: $170 price tag. Guitar peripheral a mixed-bag. Unfulfilling single player mode.

Audio Overflow is a music blog, as the title would suggest. Normally that means that you'll be reading about music, CDs, MP3s, and the like. But occasionally, I'll throw in some "music-related" stuff to keep things interesting. There was that whole Guitar Hero III review I did a month or so ago, and remember my review of those in-ear studio monitors? And let's not forget the two top five lists. Yes, I do my best to mix it up from time to time.

Today's victim is Rock Band, Harmonix's newest beast of a video game. For the uninitiated, let's play a quick round of catch-up. Harmonix, the game developer responsible for the massively popular (and rightly so) music rhythm series, Guitar Hero, has taken that idea to the next level. This time around, instead of just rocking a sweet axe, a drum kit and microphone are included in the package. The idea is to offer up the ultimate multiplayer music experience, that of being in a real live Rock Band! Does it succeed?

In places, yes. Let's start off with the guitar, shall we? Any person familiar with the Guitar Hero series should have no problem jumping into Rock Band on the guitar. It plays identically to it's spiritual predecessor. In the past, however, official guitar peripherals have been designed and manufactured by Red Octane. Now they're developed without the help of of that great name. The result is an aesthetically pleasing design, paired with a concoction of smart moves and missteps. The peripheral (which resembles a Fender Stratocaster) has fret buttons that are flush with the neck of the guitar (both at the end and closer to the body). This makes it more difficult to keep track of where your fingers are located than it would on a Red Octane guitar, but after a few practice songs it hardly matters.

The largest problem with the guitar is the strum bar which, even though it is entirely silent when strummed (finally), feels too spongy for it's own good. In a fast song like The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" where you're required to strum quickly, it can become difficult to lose track of where you are in the song. The old Red Octane guitars had a definite "stop" to it that you could feel (and hear). These do not. Overall, it's a somewhat decent peripheral (even if the failure rate is remarkably high). Still, I won't be throwing out my Red Octane guitars anytime soon.

The microphone peripheral is, well, a microphone. There's no getting around this one. Even if you can't play guitar, you can still shred the stuff at Guitar Hero (I'm proof of that). But if you can't sing, you may want to do your friends and family a favor and pass the mic to someone who can. Accordingly, the gameplay is fairly straightforward. Getting a high rating on your vocal performance will require you to sing the song well. Like the other instruments on the game, "notes" will scroll across the screen and it is your job to not only hit the right notes, but to begin and end the notes at the correct time. An arrow to the right of the screen will tell you if you need to shift your voice to match the correct pitch, just in case you couldn't tell on your own. As you increase the difficulty of the game, you'll have to be more accurate in your notes as well as your hits and releases. Things can get pretty unforgiving at higher difficulties.

But like all songs, there are times when you're not going to be singing, just standing around. Harmonix has smartly added in a nice gimmick to keep you busy. During these times, small dots will appear on the screen and you'll have to tap the microphone in time to simulate shaking a tambourine or clapping your hands. It's not the most enthralling gameplay ever, but it keeps you from getting bored while your buddy is wailing away on the guitar. The worst part about singing is trying to tackle a song that you're unfamiliar with. Fortunately, Harmonix has done it's best to get a wide variety of songs in to make sure that most people know a few songs beforehand.

Ahh, but most people aren't going to be buying Rock Band for the guitar or the microphone. They already own games like that. No, the big draw for Rock Band is the new drum peripheral. And it's great! I had my doubts the first time I hopped behind a demo kit, but now that I've had substantial time with the drum peripheral, it's safe to say that this is what people will be fighting over at the inevitable Rock Band parties. The build quality of this peripheral is phenomenal. It feels solid, and unless you're taking out your aggression on the bass pedal with cement shoes, you should have a hard time breaking it. Real wooden sticks are included in the package, and though the pads don't have as much bounce as a real kit would, the experience of sitting behind the kit and rocking out is awesome!

The gameplay is very similar to the guitars. Notes will scroll vertically from the top of the screen, and you must hit the correct colors in rhythm. When a long orange line appears, you must step on the bass pedal. It's all pretty straightforward and self-explanatory for anyone familiar with Harmonix's other games. In addition to that, there are also "fill sections" where you're free to bang around on the drums at your leisure and hitting the crash cymbal at the end of the section will trigger "overdrive" (Rock Band's "Star Power"). The fill sections can be a curse too, however. While a real-life drummer could knock out a fill without hesitation, someone who absolutely sucks at playing real drums (myself) will find themselves struggling to keep rhythm when they're not spoon-fed scrolling notes. It really breaks-up the gameplay. When you add in the fact that these fill sections will become more prominent until you activate your overdrive, it can get kind of annoying. Also annoying is when you're playing guitar while someone else comes across a fill section and butchers it, screwing you up in the process. It's a cool idea, but poorly implemented.

And now on to the game, itself. Single player is set up almost exactly like the Guitar Hero series. There is a career mode, where you play through the game's entire soundtrack, and there is quickplay. Career mode is the game's biggest failure. It's an absolute chore to complete this mode by yourself when all you want to do is jam with friends. And you have to complete it if you want to unlock all of the game's songs too (a huge, huge misstep). Unlike Guitar Hero, there are no encore songs, and therefore no surprises. It's just a straightforward play-through mode with little to no reward for completing it.

Multiplayer is where it's at. And unlike most Xbox 360 games, local multiplayer severely trumps online play. When you're in a room with 3 other people in your virtual band, it can get pretty fun. You just don't get that same feeling when you're going online against people you don't know and can't interact with. The biggest attraction in multiplayer mode is the Band World Tour mode (no Xbox Live functionality here), where you and your friends can start a virtual band and tour the world. The better you perform, the more fans you attain. Likewise, if you fail a song, you lose fans. You can also unlock vans, buses, and other rock gear to help you on your tour across the globe. The whole idea of this mode is to realistically mimic the real-life journey of a real-life band. For real. Harmonix has also added in some choices to the gameplay that will keep things interesting (i.e. Will you sell out or not? Will you play this large venue and risk losing more fans or stick to the small one?). It all makes for a surprisingly fun, and engrossing multiplayer mode.

The standard multiplayer modes are here as well, including "Tug of War" and "Score Duel" (similar to Guitar Hero's "Face-Off" and "Pro Face-Off," respectively). Unfortunately, these only work if you have two of the same instrument lying around. Unless you're unfathomably wealthy, that means you'll likely be dueling on guitars only for the time being.

The game has a pretty cool visual style, with heavy distortion and filters applied to almost all in-game character animations. It gives it a very raw feel, which fits the game's rock-theme perfectly. There is a pretty deep character customization system too, where you can create a digital version of yourself or your idealized self. Tattoos, piercings, and fauxhawks are all available for you to play around with, and you can even unlock more through the game's career mode. Load times can be a bit grueling (at least on my early-model Xbox 360), and the lack of any wireless peripherals is an absolute joke! Expect plenty of tangles, especially from that 20-foot mic cable. The game also comes with a USB splitter to allow you to connect all peripherals, but unfortunately it requires it's own power supply.

In the end though, there are very few things to complain about when it comes to Rock Band. Harmonix's dream game has finally made it's way onto store shelves, and if you're lucky and rich enough to snag a copy (the game currently retails for $170), you will have an absolutely amazing time rocking out with friends. If you don't have any friends though (or at least any that would be interested in playing Rock Band), you may want to spend your money elsewhere. Rock Band's single player experience is fun for a short time, but you'll find yourself longing to play with real live human beings before too long. And if all you're interested in is the drums, you can always just wait until early 2008 to pick up a copy of the game with the drums only (for much cheaper). Anyways, the point is that Rock Band is one of the finest music rhythm games ever made and quite possibly the greatest party game ever to come into existence. If Guitar Hero was your thing, and you have plenty of friends to play with (and, of course, the money), buy Rock Band! You will not be disappointed.

9 out of 10 Stars


Anonymous said...

I used to be able to find good advice from your blog posts.
My web page: reborn baby dolls

Anonymous said...

Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this,
such as you wrote the e-book in it or something. I feel that you simply
can do with a few % to drive the message house a little bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog. A great read. I'll definitely be back.
Look into my blog post below market properties PA

Anonymous said...

I seriously love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme.

Did you build this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as
I'm looking to create my very own website and would like to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Kudos!
Also see my web page - Tetra Fish Food