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Written by  :  Brandon Tabbert (19)
Written on  :  Jun 30, 2008
Platform  :  Xbox 360
Rating  :  4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars

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The Best Party Game on the Market

The Good

“Wait a minute, we’ve been doing this for six hours? This game is rad.” That was to be the cry of rockers across the country last week as they gathered around their Xbox 360’s and proceeded to melt face. The newly released Harmonix project seemingly throws the gauntlet down in the direction of every other music title, ever. The gap between Rock Band and other music titles is easy to define: solo vs. group. All gameplay is directed towards teamwork, and while individual rockers must ensure to nail their own performance, it’s the collaboration that tallies the big points.

In the thread of teamwork you have Overdrive. Overdrive is similar to the Star Power of the past, with one huge added benefit: resurrection. Did your drummer just die in a bizarre gardening accident? (Bonus points if you know that reference, rockers.) No problem, have your guitarist pop an Overdrive and your drummer is brought back into the mix to bang it up again, up to three times. The group aspect of Rock Band truly is a driving force. I, for one, had huge high-five sessions after executing a 4-way 98-100% performance of Sabotage, in front of a pumped up crowd.

Reports of a sub-par solo campaign are unfounded. True, it will never be as fun as rocking teams of adoring fans and groupies with your buds, but it is still incredible fun. More importantly, it’s the perfect way to brush up on your skills for your next group gig in the Band World Tour – the most jaw dropping aspect of the game. With a minimum of two players locally (to be amended, hopefully, via a downloadable patch for online co-op in the future), rockers can create and customize their own avatars. The custom tattoo and face paint options allow for a truly original character. Once players have a cast for the band, they are able to travel the world and play at an amazing amount (over 40) of venues.

The Band World Tour campaign plays out amazingly, throwing you challenges such as charity or corporate events that impact the amount of fans and money you receive from gigs. While rocking in Amsterdam, London, or New York (and every other location), rockers are privileged to bask in the glory of the best visual representation Harmonix has presented to date. Each member of the band plays their instruments surprisingly precisely and the lip-syncing has been improved vastly from GHIII, as has the cartoonish look of the characters. Is your band melting plastic and rockin’ out as hard as possible? The crowd will scream and sing along with the song. Are you fumbling through your lines and solos? The audience will definitely let your band know that, quite obviously, they suck.

There are a few ways to enjoy Rock Band online, as well. Bands can be formed via online services for a standard quickplay mode that allows the band to play any song in their repertoire. A second option is Score Duel, a head-to-head instrument battle, requiring two players to battle for the highest score possible on the same song. The third online choice is Tug of War, which will probably sit as the most played alternative until Band World Tour hits online. Tug of War pits two players against each other with the same instrument, playing separate parts of a song. The better a rocker plays, the more the crowd favors him or her. Having a drum battle on “Wave of Mutilation” with your best bud will surely inspire competition.

Online play is smooth, and like Guitar Hero III, latency is usually not an issue. There have been reports, however, of parties inexplicably removing members after rounds of quickplay, though instances seem to be rare.

Now to discuss the instruments:

What’s that? Oh, not much, just slappin’ some bass. If you were tasked to list ten world-renowned bassists, could you do it? How far would you get into the list? Flea, Lemmy, Gene Simmons, Geddy Lee, the bald guy with the wicked goatee from System of a Down, Nikki Sixx, and Les Claypool… that’s as many as I can pull without research. Much like in the real rock world, bassists in Rock Band do not have the most glamorous job. It’s also probably the easiest of all Rock Band instruments. There just isn’t much room for the bass to shine, honestly. Tracks by the Beastie Boys and The Who pop a spotlight on the bassist for a while, but otherwise your bassist will be playing smaller versions of guitar parts, keeping the rhythm of the song for you and reviving members. Bassists are the band’s glue, though, so treat them right.

If you’ve got a new rocker or two vying for a roster spot in your band, the bass guitar is the perfect way to acclimate them into the fold of the game.

Tone Deaf? Psh, your face is tone deaf. In Rock Band, the role of lead singer is usually filled by whoever amongst your friends has the most amount of self-esteem. Most of us in the world do not have angelic voices, and the microphone system of Rock Band recognizes this. Singers do not have to have fantastic voices, reach high octaves, or even wear insanely tight spandex pants. As long as the singer is able to match the displayed pitch scale, they’ll be doing fine.

Lead singers in Rock Band are slightly removed from the group aspect, as their scores and multipliers do not affect the team and they are never part of the big endings of songs. This doesn’t detract from their efforts, however. I can say, from experience, that if you’ve got a singer that’s rocking his heart out, hitting the talking parts (“Shama-lama-ding dong!”), and making a show of themselves, all involved have much more fun. If you’ve elected a lead singer that mumbles, blushes, and gets flustered at the thought of embarrassment, kick them to the curb and fashion yourself some sort of microphone helmet out of a construction hat and duct tape. Suddenly you’re multi-talented.

Shreddin’ some face via Fender Stratocaster. Modified only slightly from the Harmonix original gameplay style, most rockers will be familiar with the workings of the Rock Band guitar. The note charts are great and allow for an exciting song – for the most part. For gamers that were playing Guitar Hero III (GHIII) on expert last week, you’ll notice Rock Band is a step below your skill level, as mentioned previously. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, though, as it allows newcomers and those less Eddie Van Halen-like to step up and feel good about their shredding skills.

There are between one and four solos in each song, allowing your guitarist a chance to prove he or she has the “stuff” and it brings an added amount of fun to the game. The new guitar, a Fender Stratocaster model, has five frets at the top of the beck, and five at the base for solos. The feel of the guitar is decent, albeit slightly fragile and hair-trigger. The Fender will take a few runs of Wanted Dead or Alive to get the hang of, but only because most rockers are accustomed to the perfected Les Paul from GHIII. Also, the Fender is equipped with a fun effects switch for eardrum-blasting solos.

Not all drummers are party-animals – just most. Wonderful to see, the drum kit for Rock Band is sturdy and well built, with a base of metal tubes and stable plastic. Without question, the drums are the most fun instrument of the game, possibly because it’s something new, and possibly because it’s the most realistic attribute of the game. There are songs specifically designed for drummers, like “Tom Sawyer” and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” that are flat-out fun. The drum section is also the most difficult of all the four parts, calling upon every ounce of rhythm the rocker possesses.

It’s tough to describe the amount of enjoyment the drum kit brings to the table – suffice to say, it’s a lot.

Rock Band is – simply put – fantastic. Forget Monopoly, Pictionary, and Hearts: Rock Band is the new party game and will continue to be for quite a long time. Despite the length of this review, it’s only a fraction of what could be said of Rock Band.

The Bad

No game can be without its flaws, however; and Rock Band is no exception to the rule. They are few and far between, though, and rather than put much emphasis on them, a quick list will suffice:

• Singers will feel slightly isolated from the band, due to the lack of interaction in combos and big finishes. • Experienced virtual guitarists will find the difficulty much too low, even on expert. • Lack of a cowbell built into the drum kit for “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” use.

Not bad, eh? There is one significant flaw that will cause angst among rockers the world over: repetition.

There are 45 tracks built into Rock Band, and that proves to be an issue during Band World Tour, as rockers will play three times that in set lists, at least. Sure, Weezer is fantastic and a great band to rock out to… for the first seven times. There is a remedy, though! Downloadable Content, as you can create your own set lists at each of your gigs. Rock Band DLC has been discussed enough over here at Loading Reality, so details can be found all over the blog.

The Bottom Line

Presentation: Gorgeous graphics and a fantastic animation system show themselves off as you watch your band rock the world, from city to city. The way characters interact while playing is top notch, and brings an element unseen in other party games.

Gameplay: Slight downfalls like the guitar difficulty and repetitive nature of the Band World Tour are outweighed by the sheer enjoyment of beating the hell out of the drums and screaming Foo Fighters’ songs at the top of your lungs.

Graphics/Sound: Tattoos and face painting add a close to infinite amount of character customization options to an already remarkable visual experience. The majority of the song tracks are top quality, with only a few faltering slightly. Nothing, however, is as good as the crowd singing along with your band.

Value Factor: Though expensive, it’s a party game with an inspired listing of downloadable content. Enough said.

Bottom Line: Buy the game right now. No, not after work. No, not next week. Buy it now.