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Rock Band

Platform(s): PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: EA
Developer: Harmonix


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Xbox 360 Review - 'Rock Band'

by Steven Mills on Jan. 6, 2008 @ 2:31 a.m. PST

Rock Band delivers four music games in one – challenging rockers to master lead/bass guitar, drums and vocals or play collectively as a whole band, spanning all genres of rock and includes many master recordings from legendary artists.

Genre: Rhythm/Music
Publisher: MTV Games
Developer: Harmonix
Release Date: November 20, 2007

As a big Guitar Hero fan, I've wasted away countless nights strumming to some of my favorite songs. When I first fell in love with Guitar Hero, I figured it was impossible to create a more unique and immersive game, but boy, was I wrong. Rock Band brings everything from Guitar Hero to the next level by adding drums, a mic and a more interesting multiplayer career mode.

The Rock Band bundle comes with the game software, guitar, microphone, drum kit and a USB hub to connect all of these accessories to your Xbox 360. Perhaps the only downside to the X360 version is that every peripheral is wired, as opposed to the wireless PS3 counterpart; while it doesn't necessarily affect the game's performance, it certainly makes my "gaming area" look more cluttered. If you thought the back of a television set looked hopelessly jumbled, wait until you see the maze of cords that Rock Band will create. Even though the game retails for $169.99, you certainly get lots of bang for your buck. You and a few friends can start a band and tour the globe, all from the comfort of your own home.

Rock Band introduces the ability to create your own rock star, instead of just choosing from a list of pre-created ones. You customize your rock star, from height and weight to hairstyle and attitude. You can "spend" your hard-earned band money on new apparel and band equipment. Wearing Vic Firth hoodies and bare-skinning it are options, as is buying a new Pearl drum set.

In the solo career, you select the instrument of your choice, join a band and travel the world. The rest of the band is filled in by AI characters that will play each song perfectly while you focus on nailing the rifts, slamming the drums or hitting the correct notes.

Regardless of whether you embark on solo or multiplayer mode, though, the game's layout and options are the same. You start out by playing in the local bar in your band's hometown until you've earned enough fans to merit a larger venue, where you'll be able to accumulate even more fans and increase your band's salary. Along the way, you'll play in band battles that award you with modes of transportation or tour necessities — van, bus or roadies — that enable your band to travel to different cities. You'll continue to perform at different worldwide venues in order to increase your fan base and profit.

Some performances will require that you play a certain song, while other performances can be a little more difficult. One of the performances may require you to play three random songs; it sounds rather easy, but if you achieve a five-star rating on all three songs, you'll net quadruple the cash, while failure to do so will leave you with zilch. Some performances may require you to set up a list of a select number of songs or force you to play random tunes. After a while, you'll find yourself playing some songs over and over again, which can become tedious or repetitive.

With over 55 songs — including favorites by The Foo Fighters, Metallica, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Rolling Stones — Rock Band certainly boasts a soundtrack worthy of appreciation. Half of the tunes are actual licensed versions by the original artists; to improve the diversity of your band's repertoire and combat any tedium that may set in, many songs have been available for purchase since the game's release, and plenty more are planned for the future.

Rock Band has a somewhat heavier guitar than GH, and it has a much smoother and quieter strum bar. There is also a set of notes near the strum bar that prove a lot easier for solos or for younger players with smaller hands.

The bassist's job may seem quite boring and repetitive, but the bass is the very heart of the band. The bass segments can even get quite difficult in Rock Band, so without a decent one, you may find that your band is in trouble.

The drum kit comes with four drum pads and a foot pedal for the bass drum; you can adjust the drum pads to the correct height for optimal play. As for durability, I've beat on the drums and slammed on the foot pedal for hours, and they still work just fine. The Rock Band bundle comes with a set of Ludwig drumsticks, which are one of the most popular brands in the drumming world.

When playing the drums, you'll see four possible notes on the screen, one less than when playing the guitar. The tricky part, however, is that you'll need to hit the foot pedal when you see a slim orange bar. At some points, you may be hitting a drum and a cymbal at the same time as you slam on the foot pedal. Playing the drums truly takes a bit of coordination, or else you'll find yourself reacting too late to even come close to hitting the correct "notes."

Singing with the Rock Band mic is an interesting experience. A singer's performance is broken into "phrases," and the score and star rating are based on how well each phrase is sung. The game picks up the pitch of your voice, and that's how you're rated; you don't even have to say any words, so long as you hum the right pitch. Your voice will be piped through the band's outbound speakers, along with the voice of the actual singer. The singer's Overdrive mode can be initiated at any vocally quiet part of the song by saying something into the mic.

The multiplayer career is where most fun can be had. I created a couple bands, such as Nom Nom Nom with a friend (I played lead, while he played bass) and my family's band, The Millimeters. My father took up the lead, my mother was on the bass, I was pounding on the drums and my sister sang. Who said Rock Band wasn't for everyone?

The multiplayer career requires cooperation if you want to get anywhere. Rock Band uses a feature called Overdrive, which is basically the equivalent of GH's Star Power, that allows a single band member to double his score multiplier for a period of time after hitting a chain of specific Overdrive notes. If the entire band manages to enter Overdrive at the same time, the current score multiplier gets doubled, leading to massive points.

If you're playing with someone who's new to the genre or isn't very advanced, you may encounter a player who "fails," meaning the game forces him or her to stop playing. Another band member can then bail out the bandmate by going into "Overdrive" for a short period of time. If this goes well, then the game will revive the bandmate and give the group another chance to redeem itself. If the band member fails to be saved, though, your band will be booed off stage.

Rock Band also introduces bonuses for Unity points and big rock finishes. Unity sections are basically solos for the guitarist or drummer, and if they're done successfully, the entire band will earn a point bonus. The big rock finishes lie at the end of certain songs, where the guitarists and drummer can slam on any notes for a short period of time. Nailing the final note of the song will give you all of the points that you racked up, but failure to do so will give you nothing for your brief jam session.

Visually, the Rock Band experience is a little different from Guitar Hero. The notes are rectangles instead of circles, and you'll see your entire band's notes onscreen. If you're playing with all four bandmates, the lead guitar's notes are on the left, the drummer's in the middle, the bassist's on the right, and the singer's stream along the top of the screen. Rock Band certainly looks good, with detailed characters, special effects during your performance and realistic worldwide venues.

In terms of difficulty, Rock Band is a lot easier than Guitar Hero III. Overdrive also proves to be much more useful than Star Power did in Guitar Hero; if you hit a series of Overdrive notes when you're already in Overdrive mode, you increase the effective time for your current streak.

You can, of course, play Rock Band online. The standard option is quickplay, an option that places you and three other players in a band to play some songs with each other. There is no online career mode, which was somewhat of a letdown. The two other modes are Score Duels and Tug of War. The former plays exactly as it sounds: Two players compete to get the most points by the end of the song. Tug of War consists of two players playing the same instrument back and forth throughout the song, and whoever does better and wins over more of the crowd will win.

With Rock Band, Harmonix took a step forward in a genre they've been dominating. I've spent hours and hours playing Rock Band, and I now feel as if playing Guitar Hero III isn't nearly as much fun. It's not even a question of whether you're a fan of that genre or not — if you own an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 2, you need to pick up Rock Band.

Score: 9.4/10

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