Harmonix may not have been the first to ship a band game focused on a single artist (that honor goes to Neversoft for Guitar Hero: Aerosmith), but it arguably set the standard with last fall's release of The Beatles: Rock Band. Though the game had a few quirks, it served as both a game and a historical retrospective of The Beatles, offering an experience with wide appeal. With Green Day: Rock Band, Harmonix attempted to replicate the formula, but a number of missteps result in a package that is more "track pack" than "ultimate band experience."
To be clear from the outset, the problem is not with the music. As a punk rock trio, Green Day's music is varied and approachable. The catchy beats and snappy lyrics driving each song mean what's here is eminently listenable, not to mention easy to pick up if you're trying to sing along. The variety in tone and style as you move from song to song also serves to keep things feeling fresh. Green Day may have headlined at Woodstock '94, but their music is far from the pre-packaged pop that seems to dominate the airwaves.
What holds back Green Day: Rock Band is the implementation of the game part of the package. Had Harmonix never shipped The Beatles: Rock Band, chances are good that the Green Day package would be wholly impressive. As it is, much of the game feels halfhearted at best.
Green Day: Rock Band starts out with a respectable track list (47 total playable tracks in-game) but only offers up three stadiums in which to play the band's songs: the Warehouse (a fictional location), Milton Keynes (from the band's 2005 "Bullet in a Bible" video) and the Fox Theater in Oakland (from the 21st Century Breakdown tour). For a game that purports to span the highlights of the band's career, having only three locations feels like a massive oversight, especially when there are so many notable performances from which to choose.
One area in which The Beatles: Rock Band innovated was with its song-specific "dreamscape" videos. Given the narrative nature of the included Green Day tracks (the album "American Idiot" was conceived as a thematic story), Green Day-specific dreamscapes would have been a welcome addition. Instead, players are left to play song after song on the same stage with the same camera angles.
Aside from the songs, Green Day: Rock Band promises to deliver a collection of rare material to its fans, but it only manages to do so in the most basic sense. Completing each song in the story mode unlocks two photos of the band. Sadly, all of the photos are delivered bare, and there are no accompanying captions to provide history or context. It could have been a great opportunity to learn more about the band, but it ends up feeling more like an outsider sneaking a peek at someone else's photo album. Thankfully, the unlockable videos, which are attained by completing specific challenges, are a bit meatier in terms of content.
Oddly enough, the game steers clear of Green Day's foray into reinvention. There is no in-game material from either the Foxboro Hot Tubs or the Network — two "indie" bands formed by the members of Green Day in which they play under stage names. All in all, the unlockable material ends up feeling superficial. Anyone expecting the game to go as deep as Harmonix did with The Beatles' archive material is going to be disappointed.
One big advantage that Green Day: Rock Band has is the accessibility of its music. Compared to other Rock Band offerings, Green Day's guitar lines are more direct, focusing on chord movement over incredibly specific fingerwork. Lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong also tends to sing within a small range, making this the most vocal-friendly Rock Band disc on the market. Even beginning singers should be able to complete songs on the harder difficultly levels. This alone is likely to make the Green Day songs popular picks in a group setting.
If you happen to be playing in a group setting and have multiple mics on hand, Green Day: Rock Band features vocal harmonies as introduced in The Beatles: Rock Band. Not all songs support harmonies, but those with multiple vocal tracks do, allowing up to three singers. Each singer takes a different part of the song, resulting in a melodic mix, assuming everyone hits the right pitch. It's a neat feature that will likely find its way into Rock Band 3.
Unfortunately, there is one thing about the vocals that is sure to rile hardcore fans of the band: the fact that any song with even mildly offensive lyrics is noticeably censored. Green Day was never known for vulgar language, but it is a punk band and the occasional f-bomb was a lyrical fact of life. "Shit" is also censored in-game, though oddly enough, "Dookie" (a synonym) is proudly displayed as an album title.
Given that the game is supposed to be a tribute to the band, it's a slap in the face to Green Day's artistic integrity to not feature the original versions of the songs — doubly so when you consider that the censoring isn't even that well done. Like a poor radio edit, the censored words are simply made silent; however, the censor often misses the first syllable. If this seems like much ado about nothing, it should be pointed out that Green Day famously refused to create censored versions of "American Idiot" and "21st Century Breakdown" for Wal-Mart.
Another complaint is the incomplete status of the game. DLC additions for games are nothing new, but Green Day: Rock Band is the first game we've seen where disc content is inaccessible if you don't purchase the DLC. In fact, gamers who do not purchase the six DLC songs will not be able to open up all of the unlockable content on the disc. While the game helpfully points out this fact, there is no in-game method to purchase said DLC. You have to exit the game and enter the Xbox Marketplace separately in order to download the DLC songs. Given that Green Day: Rock Band retails for a full $60, requiring a DLC purchase to unlock everything on-disc seems a bit excessive. All it does is effectively raise the retail price of the game.
In the end, Green Day: Rock Band's biggest strength is its collection of songs. However, given the limited scope of the bonus material and the otherwise basic gameplay elements, it is difficult to recommend it as a stand-alone title. For someone who already has a Rock Band collection though, it can be a great purchase. Snag the game, pay the $10 to export the tracks and sell the original disc while it's still fresh and resale prices are high. Then use the money saved to go get the extra DLC while you wait for Rock Band 3.
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