When Rock Band was announced April 1st 2007, it seemed like every music-loving gamer's dream was coming true. Rock Band would attempt to combine gameplay found in the Guitar Hero games, Singstar games and various drum/rhytm games into one experience and allow young men (and women, I suppose!) of all ages to realise their dream of playing in a rock band. Yay.
Now, I haven't really had any dreams of becoming a rock star, but I have enjoyed Singstar tremendously, and hoped that a game like Rock Band would come along. Singstar only permits two participants simultaneously, which limits the fun that can be had, and including more instruments would (I thought) make for more diverse and interesting gameplay.
Rock Band was released in the States last November, with a European release rumoured for early 2008. As 2008 arrived and Rock Band release dates kept being pushed back, I decided to buy the game on ebay instead of relying on my EBGames preorder. (Procuring it via ebay is an option for European PS3 owners, as PS3 games are region-free.)
It's been about a month since I picked up RB at the local post office, and the fact that I am currently enjoying Easter holidays but looking forward to returning to work and Oslo partly because of Rock Band should say something. The game is awesome. Buying off eBay is expensive ($300 including freight for the game, a microphone, a guitar and a drum kit, and another $160 for a second guitar), but well worth it. I'll try to explain why.
The main game mode in Rock Band is the Band World Tour. You form a band with up to four members total. Each band member creates a customized avatar - my main main (literally speaking) is called Aregorn, plays the guitar, has an all-white outfit and white-dyed hair. Our complete band lineup consists of me, Jon Are, Anders and Eivind. Jon Are usually plays bass or guitar, me and Anders do a little bit of everything, while Eivind prefers the drums. The band - The Uncaught Exceptions - travels from venue to venue, attempting to play more difficult songs on higher difficulty levels, in order to get more fans and unlock new venues and earn cash (which can be used to purchase tight white leather pants, among other things).This is what the game looks like. (Thanks, IGN, I hope you don't mind.)
The gameplay itself consists of the four of us "performing" a rock song. "Notes" for guitar, bass and drums scroll vertically on the screen, while "notes" and lyrics for the singer scroll horizontally along the top of the screen. In the background, you see your avatars perform the song for a crowd. As the guitarist hits the correct buttons and strums at the right time on his guitar, you'll hear the guitar track on the song back from the speakers. The same goes for bass and drums, while the vocals can be heard no matter how badly the singer is doing (they can, however, be turned off completely if you want to turn this into a karaoke experience for the singer).
To me, this was really a big difference from Singstar, where whatever you are doing is just overlaid on the original song. In Rock Band, if the drummer screws up, there are no drums in the song. On the other hand, while you get no feedback on how you are doing in Singstar apart from the score and seeing the notes onscreen being hit, in Rock Band the crowd will go wild if you play well. "Dead or Alive" with Bon Jovi is one of my favourites - if the band plays great, the crowd will sing along. Awesome.
The feeling of pulling off something together is further enhanched by the concept of "energy" ("Star power" for the Guitar Hero literates). If you hit glowing key notes in a song, you will build up energy. If you have enough energy, you can unleash overdrive, drive the crowd wild and earn extra points. If things are going badly (the crowd will boo at you and a meter shows how far away you are from getting kicked off the stage) you can use overdrive to get back on top. If you drop out, another member of the band can use his or hers overdrive to pull you back into the song. (If noone has any energy to save you with, or if you have dropped out already, the band will eventually fail the song as the crowd starts throwing things at you. It is quite amusing to watch the guitar avatar onscreen feebly attempt to engage the crowd with clapping instead of playing the guitar after dropping out...)
It is not surprising that the gameplay is executed so well - Harmonix, the developers, are also the creators of the Guitar Hero games (not GH III, though), as well as other rhythm games. They found the ideal publisher/owner when MTV Games bought them last year. This has ensured that Rock Band has quite a few great tracks included on the disc - among my faves are "Maps" (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs), "Here it goes again" (OK Go), "The hand that feeds" (NiN) and "Learn to fly" (Foo Fighters). You can download content also - among the tracks I have downloaded thus far are "Sugar Magnolia" (The Grateful Dead), "The Perfect Drug" (NiN) and "Song with a mission" (The Sounds). In short, there's a ton of great music here, and I can't wait for even more to be released (The album "Who's Next" with The Who is coming!). Tracks typically cost $2 apiece.
There are more features worth mentioning, such as online high score lists, the option to play solo and a pretty thorough practice mode where you can pick a song, pick a section of a song, and then rehearse it at a given difficulty level at 50% speed on the drums, for instance. Drums are great fun.
If you know someone who owns this game, you should visit them and give it a go. If you have a PS3 and like music games, you should consider buying it off eBay, especially if the release date continues to slip (according to Amazon.co.uk it is currently due in May). There are risks attached to buying from the States, though - you aren't covered by the instrument replacement program (the plastic instruments take a lot of abuse; we have already had one guitar partly fail, a $25 repair kit is in the mail) and you have to do produce dubious data for forms in the Playstation Store in order to buy downloadable content. However, Rock Band is a great game - I am amazed that Harmonix managed to pull off this pretty ambitious design on their first try - and I am very happy that I decided to spend the money needed to get it now as opposed to later.The singer is enthusiastically using his microphone as a cowbell or tambourine. The drummer is a bit concerned but enjoying a brief break, while the guitarist is happy and enormously focused. There is no bass player here, as the second guitar hadn't arrived yet.