Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rock Band (Xbox 360)

Back in December I was harsh to Guitar Hero III, but with good reason. By the time I was trying to write down my thoughts on Guitar Hero I had already started playing Rock Band. And Rock Band blows Guitar Hero out of the water.

Let me put it this way. There's actually a PS2 version of Rock Band. It has the core gameplay, but lacks the online multiplayer, deep character customization, world tour mode, and downloadable content. You know what that sounds like to me? Guitar Hero… but with more instruments. I'm sure it's still plenty of fun (and I'm glad that a similar version is making its way to the Wii), but that feature set really impressed upon me how far ahead Rock Band really is.

The full Rock Band kit costs a pretty penny, it's true. But I think that even if you were only to play Rock Band with a guitar it'd still be a better value than Guitar Hero. The tracks aren't all guitar showpieces, and the upper echelon of difficulty isn't as ridiculous as Guitar Hero III. But the things surrounding the core guitar gameplay are way better. Your character may not be as flamboyant as the premades in Guitar Hero III, but you'll have a deeper connection with them through your fine level personal touches. The stages may not be as grandiose as Guitar Hero's, but the band members move more believably and the action is shot in a way that actually responds to the music. The fretwork may be less furious , but that's because you're not barraged with awful metal songs. Songs in Rock Band are better on average because they have to be well rounded in order to be enjoyed by a group. And if you don't like them, go hit up the weekly downloadable tracks and customize the track list to your liking. And if you do eventually tire of just playing the guitar, you can try out the vocal career with that headset that came with your Xbox. Even without getting the drums that's still a ton more game for your $60.

I'm not sure why I'm so stuck on defensively comparing Rock Band to Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero is fun, and it's awesome that it's become a cultural phenomenon. I'll still totally rent the Guitar Hero expansions that come out. But I'm pretty sure the Guitar Hero franchise is going nowhere.

Enough of my negativity… let's talk Rock Band.

Rock Band is the ultimate party game. Because there are three different types of instruments, pretty much anyone can find something that appeals to them. Eventually you'll get sick of strumming or whatever, but change up your instrument and it's blue skies again. Add some DLC so that the song list doesn't get repetitive and you've got hours and hours of fun.

I do wish there was a better way to teach people on the fly, because in a party setting you'll get people rotating in that need some hand holding before they can survive on easy. If they take down the band they'll get frustrated and/or embarrassed and quit. The game needs a "Don't boo off my aunt" setting. Or some sort of mode that shows "here's what you did, and here's what you were supposed to be doing…"

You can go all night just playing song after song, but there's also a World Tour story mode. In it you go around world playing gigs to earn fans, fame, and money. It's a cool idea, and it was really fun at first. But after a while you get stuck with lots of lengthy gigs and songs you don't want to play. If there were shorter set lists or more customization options this would be a great party mode with a sense of progress.

Something I really appreciate about Rock Band is that it's reasonable about achievements and unlockables. I jumped right into Expert guitar in the solo mode but got stuck on the very last song (which is fun right until it gets completely obnoxious at 90%). Were this Guitar Hero, I'd be screwed and have to start over from the beginning on Hard. But in Rock Band I was able to drop the difficulty and finish off just that tier, which gave me credit for Hard, Medium, and Easy. Thank you Rock Band, for not being a dick.

Now that they've patched in an integrated music store, I'm not sure what more I want from Rock Band. I'd like to see the World Tour mode go online and get more variety. And of course more songs is always nice, but I'm pretty happy with the steady flow of a la carte tracks. A free play mode on drums would be fun. I also wouldn't mind a return of some of the stats added in Guitar Hero 2, where you could see what parts you needed to work on. But overall I'm totally content. I've been playing Rock Band pretty steadily for the last four months and I'm nowhere near bored with it.

Rock Band will change how you listen to music (so will playing an instrument, but Rock Band is much more accessible). You'll find yourself listening to the different parts of a song and thinking about how awesome it would be to play. Your idly drumming fingers will develop form and purpose. You'll love some songs you used to hate and hate some songs you used to love. You'll sign internet petitions to get The Darkness added to the DLC. You'll wonder when the manager of Led Zeppelin's digital content will get their head out of their ass. You'll wear eye liner to work and tell people that you're in a band. You'll start snorting lines of coke off of hookers and… okay, maybe not all of that will happen. Your mileage may vary. But it's a damned fine game, no doubt.

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