Having first seen Rock Band at Play.com Live earlier in the year I had decided there and then I wasn't going to buy it. Why would I want to look like a fool in front of my friends as I squeal like a strangled cat or duff up even the simplest of riffs while accidentally smashing the drum set up in a fit of puerile rage? Ok I may have been a little hasty in my condemning of this game as I'll be the first to admit I let the Guitar Hero games pass me by, But peer pressure and my sheer boredom of my 360 right now demanded I buy it.
And here is where we hit our first brick wall, the price. It's understandable that the accessory pack should retail at £130, after all gamers will happily slap down £60-£70+ for Guitar Hero with guitar but Rock Band is different in that the game is sold separately. £50 extra to an already hefty price is asking a lot from the consumer but I'm not here to grumble. I'm sure if you've wanted this game from day one you'll already have it regardless of price.
After purchasing the complete Rock Band package I only then realised how big the box it came in was. A little word of advice to anyone wanting to buy rock band and don't own a car, find one or get a taxi as the box isn't so much huge but is of a cumbersome size and weight. I found myself having to take breaks as I hauled it to the train station.
Once I got home I opened the box and started to set everything up, the Guitar, Drums and Accessories were all neatly packaged in their own little boxes with the only the mic loose in a plastic bag. The drums were extremely easy to setup as was the guitar.
The build quality of the drums is rather impressive, once setup they feel solid. The aluminium bars make the setup light and easy to move around. The Drum pads themselves are made from what looks and feels like rubber and the kick pedal gives enough resistance to give the impression you could be pushing down an actual kick pedal.
After the setup the drums were the first thing I tried, I started a single player Solo campaign that saw me, an unknown newbie drummer joining a band, from there I must play 5 songs in a city in order to progress to the next city. The fact that I had never drummed before ensured me needing to start on the easy mode. The first set of songs ease you into getting the rhythm without making you feel like a child with stabilisers on your bike, the game stays this way for pretty much most of the easy mode only ever dropping a song that uses the kick pedal more every now and again that'll require you to try it a few times until you're used to it, but apart from that its pretty smooth sailing. The game progresses in this fashion, the harder songs on easy generally have the same difficulty as the easier songs on medium and so forth.
The guitar is in the shape of a Fender Stratocaster, and matches the drums sleek, black look. It also comes complete with directional pad, start and back buttons along with a 4 light LED display similar to the one on the Xbox 360 controller. This guitar however has 2 major differences to its Guitar Hero sibling, one better, one worse.
The better is the inclusion of 5 more buttons on the fret board located toward the bottom of the neck; these buttons are used for guitar solos which give you bonus points during play without having to strum the guitar itself.
This however brings me onto the one problem I've found with the Stratocaster, Though I may have let the Guitar Hero wave blow over me I did have the joy of playing it several times at a friends house, the click of the Guitar Hero guitar as you strum is not present on this guitar, instead there's a very unsatisfying nothing. At first this seemed strange as I was playing, as the click generally helped me with the rhythm and the fact it's not there meant I had to rely very much on the main beat of the music to keep rhythm. But once you're used to it, it's not too bad. The guitar is responsive enough and the extra buttons help to move all the action from the top of the fret board. It also makes the tried and tested GH formula feel fresh.
The mic, this originally was the main reason I had stayed away from any notion of Rock Band, yeah you can miss a few notes here or there on guitar but to actually sing, It takes something else, either a kind of karaoke obsessive or a drunken party where everyone is so whacked off their faces they don't notice. This is only partially the case, thankfully.
The mic itself is also black to continue the black theme; it's around normal mic size and has a good weight to it. Made by Logitech it also can be used as a plug and play mic for your pc. The singing aspect of the game is reminiscent of sing star for PS2/3 as there is a bar that represents pitch, it moves up or down according to the pitch of the song, your job as the vocal artist is to match the pitch of your voice to the bar on the screen, easy? Well yes actually it is, even on increased difficulty the bar merely gets thinner. The only real problem with the singing campaign is you need to know the words to all the songs though the games does encourage you to 'wing it' if you don't know them.
Another small word of warning, if you can't afford the entire instrument kit, yes the Guitar Hero guitar can replace the Rock Band one but I advise against trying to use your 360 headset instead of a USB mic as I found out the headset doesn't cope well with changing of pitch or low notes which can really hurt your bands performance and could mean you getting a lower score than you would have with the official mic.
The game boasts almost 60 tracks from most rock genres spanning the last 30+ years. There is something for everyone here, from classics by the Rolling Stones to the more recent wacky Ok Go. While playing through the all the different instruments I'd notice if a song was say particularly awful with bass it would be either pretty good vocally or really good on the drums, I think the developers did this to feel that if you are playing with friends then you get to experience the best of each song for the original instrument it was intended for.
The thing that got me though and really did make me feel like 'a star' was when you sing, if you're doing particularly well the audience will start to sing along with you, and I can tell you I've been to enough gigs to know how that feels but to have it done for you just felt amazing. The same can be said if you're having a really good session on the drums, the audience go mad with cheers and it all just sounds so realistic, as if you're really there. On the flip side it also gets painful if you're about to be booed off, the booing gets very loud and generally makes it even harder to get your rhythm back and save the performance.
In multiplayer too if your playing with friends though you can't actually hear the lead singer sing (for better or worse) you can hear when a member of your group misses a string of notes, this can if say your very reliant on the drum beat while your playing guitar can really make you loose your rhythm which can be annoying. I suppose it shows you how working as a team can get the best performance which does actually work, the only thing the game can't seem to fix is the arguments over who's going to play lead guitar or drums!
Stylistically the game borrows heavily from different generations of rock; from the menus to the title itself reflects the content of the game. As for the actual graphics, there's nothing truly special about them but they do the job, all the performers on stage have a wide array of movements and interactions with their instruments, it's amusing to purposely fail a song to watch the lead singer take a huff and throw the mic down on the stage. Every city you play in has its own stage design, some are big and colourful, and others are very small and dark highlighting the audience who are all rendered and animated very smoothly, from the swaying of a slow song to the absolute mayhem of a rocking tune. I found the crowd at times to act just like a real audience which I thought was a nice touch.
The single player campaign will most diffidently set you back several hours at least, longer if you do every difficulty mode with every instrument with the added bonus of earning money to pimp out your pseudo rock star.
Now onto the requisite for all games these days, the multiplayer, in a game like this the multiplayer is indeed an important role, the 'local multiplayer' I found to be a good laugh, watching friends tapping the drums gently afraid incase they break them only to watch me hammer them to death without a second thought, or racing to bring a friend back with an overdrive before the crowd boo you off stage. It all adds to the fun. But the main feature here is the online multiplayer that allows you and 3 of your friends to form an online band and tour the world, personally I didn't find this mode as fun as the local multiplayer but that's me. Other online modes include Tug of War and Duel where you and a friend battle it out with a chosen instrument each to see who can rack up the highest score on a certain song. These multiplayer aspects help prolong the games already long life making that 180 or so pounds you spent just that much more worth it.
Downloadable content has been all the rage this gaming generation and this game is no different, every week new songs, albums and packs are released to beef out the already meaty track list into a Mecca for any rock fan aching for new songs to play on a regular basis.
So, should you buy rock band? Fancy something a little different to Guitar Hero? Want a game you can play with all your friends and have a good old laugh over? If you said yes to either question then sure go out and buy it that is of course if you can afford it.