PAY TO PLAY
Some people will tell you that when you write a game review, the cost of the game shouldn’t have any influence on how the game is reviewed. However, in the case of Rock Band, the price tag is kind of a hard thing to ignore. When a game costs about three times as much as a new Xbox 360 game, it can’t just be pretty good, it has to be fantastic. After all, for the same amount of money you could buy Kane & Lynch, Crackdown, and Medal of Honor: Airborne. Or, you know, three games that don’t suck. I guess what I’m trying to say is that by my convoluted logic, Rock Band ought to be about as good as 3 games that don’t suck to be worth your money.
That’s a pretty high standard to live up to, but fortunately, Rock Band delivers. It’s a near-perfect execution of the game that we’ve all secretly wanted since the first time we watched a friend play Guitar Hero and sang along while he played. Hosting a “Rock Band Party” was the most fun I’ve had in a long time with a group of people when none of us had hockey sticks. Given our typically unspectacular choices this coming November, we should probably elect it president this fall. President Rock Band? Why not? It couldn’t be any worse than Hillary.
TAKING CONTROL OF THE SITUATION
However, before we go any further with heaping praise on the game, let me address its biggest flaw. The guitar controller that comes packaged with the game is seriously lacking. The strum bar lacks the springiness of the Guitar Hero controller (which makes playing faster sections much harder), the buttons are a little hard to find, and the design is somewhat less than ergonomic. Still, it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference — if you favor a controller that doesn’t make clicking sounds and looks more like a real guitar, as opposed to the GH controller which is easier to use and won’t give you carpal tunnel syndrome, then by all means, enjoy your Rock Band controller. For the rest of us, it still makes for an adequate bass in multiplayer sessions.
It’s probably not too much of a stretch to assume that many people interested in Rock Band already have Guitar Hero and the controller, so for them, it’s not that big of a deal. But for those of you who don’t (like me; I had the PS2 version of GH), it’s kind of a pain to shell out close to $200 for Rock Band, and then another $60-70 for a second guitar. Even if you happen to love the guitar controller that comes with the game, you’re still going to have to buy, borrow or steal a second one to enjoy a 4-player rock session. Oh, and you’re going to need three friends, too. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy.
Still, it’s a lot of fun when it all comes together. The game is fun in all its various modes, but really shines when a group of people is playing together. This is one of those games where good, old-fashioned two (or more) people all playing on the same system is still better than playing online. This might be because unlike an online deathmatch or game of Madden, Rock Band is cooperative in nature. It’s more fun to have everyone there in person when you’re working together, as opposed to games where their success comes at your own expense.
What else is there to say? The guitar portion of the game is almost exactly like Guitar Hero, with just a few very minor changes to differentiate itself. Compared to the GH series, it’s a bit easier than the latest installments on similar difficulty settings. Singing is well done, and at easier levels is forgiving enough that even horrible crooners (such as myself) can get through the songs. Drumming is perhaps the hardest to get the hang of. For someone who has never played the drums before, coordinating each hand and a foot to do different things all at once can take a while to get used to. However, for someone with experience, it ends up feeling fairly natural. My friend Bill, who is a rather accomplished percussionist, picked it up right away. The only thing that gave him any difficulty was reading the display on screen, as apparently real-life drummers don’t read their music as a bunch of colored notes scrolling down a monitor.
If you can afford this game and have a few friends to play with, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. This is about the closest I’ve ever seen a game come to being pure fun in a box. And remember…vote Rock Band for President in ’08!