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Review: Rock Band (Australia)

October 12th, 2008 by Raj

While the rest of the world enjoys the spoils of Harmonix’s latest efforts with the recent release of Rock Band 2 Australians, whom have yet to see any version of the franchise land upon its shores, will have to be content with the announcement that coming November 7th they too can finally begin their rock journeys with the release of the first iteration, the same version that is now over a year old for everyone else.

For anyone that has played Guitar Hero, Rock Band is going to be of familiar territory. The game revolves around the usual rhythm formula of coloured “notes” flowing down the screen that need to be hit when crossing a particular point. The more notes you hit in a row the more your score multiplier increases and should you not hit enough you bomb out of the song to the boos of a disappointed virtual crowd. Where Rock Band differentiates itself is that you not only have the option of playing the guitar portions of the songs but you know have a complete “band” of instruments to play (and sing) including lead guitar, bass guitar, drums and vocals. Think of it as Guitar Hero meets SingStar with a drum kit.

Rock Band provide two primary modes of gameplay, a “Solo Tour” mode and “Band World Tour” mode, which requires at least two players. The solo mode follows the same tried and tested formula of performing a few tracks on your desired instrument (excluding bass, which is only available in Band World Tour mode) until you’ve done enough to unlock the next venue and the new tracks that come along with it whilst growing in difficulty to play/sing. Depending on which instrument you choose to use the track list changes order due to the songs being of different difficulties for the individual mediums.

Band World Tour mode breaks the regular mould of linear track progression. Requiring at least one other person in the room rocking out with you, the World Tour mode challenges you to create a band poised to take over the world, earning fans, money, and accolades throughout your bands evolution. Starting with gigs in your hometown your band will go on to earn vans, tour buses and even private jets to play in any of the 41 venues in over 17 cities around the globe. You can even choose to play benefit gigs that earn you a larger fan base but no monetary reward all the time creating your own set-lists to accommodate your next gigs fans, introducing what Harmonix refers to as a “risk versus reward” system into the game, requiring a dedicated thought process behind your decision making somewhat similar to a real life band progressing through their musical career.

One of the decidedly major advantage the Rock Band franchise has over its competitors is its comprehensive track listing and music store. I love the loaded tracks in Rock Band, more so than any offering from Guitar Hero or even the US released Rock Band 2. Classics such as Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Stone Temple Pilots “Vaseline” are just the tip of the iceberg of this rock monolith’s 58 playable tracks, 51 of which are master recordings.
The in built music store allows further expansion buy allowing users to download new “track packs” or individual songs at a price of 160 Microsoft Points (US$1.99) per song. Currently there are over 250 tracks available for download from the Rock Band Music Store but it is unclear at this stage if all we be made available upon the Australian release, nor if their pricing will differ.

The Instruments
Guitar/Bass – The Rock Band guitar is by no means an evolutionary step in musical peripherals. In fact its quite the opposite as are all of Rock Band’s instrumental ensemble via their USB tethers. Connectivity aside the guitar unit is modeled against the famous Fender Stratocaster and, in my opinion, a far more recognizable shape of rock guitaring that most are more likely to identify with than that of Guitar Hero III’s Les Paul knock off. Unfortunately for Rock Band that’s pretty much where the praise ends. The guitar feels cumbersome, there’s little to no feedback when it’s fret buttons are depressed and the strum bar feels as though you’re pushing it through a pool of super glue. The familiar “click” when strumming on any of the previous Guitar Hero units is completely absent leaving me unsure as to whether or not I’ve actually played the note at all! It’s of general Internet consensus that the included guitar is rubbish and many are applauding Harmonix for the new upgrade with Rock Band 2 but unfortunately that’s not what Australia’s getting.

Drums – Harmonix received a lot of flack over the supplied drum kit when they first released Rock Band in the US. Complaints of the foot pedal snapping in two were more common than not and they went on record as to saying some of their initial units were admittedly faulty. Providing your foot pedal stays in one piece I can honestly say banging away on the drums is by far the most rewarding, and realistic, experience of Rock Band (for me). They’re loud, and housemates who aren’t joining in will quickly alert you to that fact, don’t think banging away on plastic pads is any less annoying than a real drum kit. You’ll also need to find a brick to put in front of them as the whole set up tends to move forward with each fervid kick of the foot pedal but boy is it a hell of a lot of fun. Be prepared to work a little on the drums too, if you’ve never drummed before teaching your mind to separate your three limbs (you generally only use one leg) to work independently is a challenge and one that’s not quickly mastered.

Microphone – I am most definitely not one for any form of karaoke. I know I can’t sing to save myself and I don’t see how forcing others listen to my hideous pitchless screams can be fun for anyone that isn’t deaf. I’d much prefer to bounce around the lounge room with a plastic guitar than sound like a fool singing! That said, in the spirit of gaming journalism I have (in solidarity) tried “singing” a tune or two. Fortunately as with pretty much every karaoke-like game available Rock Band calculates your performance on the ranging pitches your voice takes and not on you actually singing anything at all. It’s quite simple to get through a song with nothing more than a well controlled hum and whilst that may not be in the spirit of the game it was a most welcome relief for me.

For those tossing up between Rock Band and Guitar Hero World Tour (which is basically Rock Band with different tracks) I have to recommend Rock Band for its track list and music store, but ideally I’d want the hardware from Guitar Hero and the game from Rock Band. Even though this game is over a year old for the majority of the video game world you will find its popularity no shorter than ridiculous in Australia. What’s fantastic about Rock Band is that it has such a wide appeal including those whom want to rock their nights away pretending to be the latest Dave Grohl to that of the karaoke junkie; this game appeals to you all and what’s more you can now play together! Yay! One big happy family!

Related Links:
Rock Band Official Website
Rock Band track list
Downloadable tracks for Rock Band

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