Rock Band Review - 08/07/2008

We know this review's late; we've been busy saving up for all the instruments!

Sometimes a game or a piece of hardware gets released that splits consumers right down the middle. 'Is the Wii for me'? asks a bearded, 40-year old single male. 'Should I buy Bioshock even if obscure Japanese RPG's are all that line my shelf?' comes another befuddled voice. But Rock Band doesn't inspire indecision through any lack of quality - it's pumping out amplified fun by the bucket load - rather, are you prepared to pay 180 quid for it?

Harmonix's MTV-published band-em-up builds on Guitar Hero’s rhythm based plastic guitar clacker by giving you not one, but 4 instruments with which to play along to rock, punk and metal tracks both current and classic. Granted, you don't have to buy the bass, guitar, drums and microphone for the game to work, only for it to work to its full potential. Also, due to EA's heavy-handed European pricing, good luck finding an instrument separate from the 120 quid bundle they're pushing out at retail. (Amazon and Ebay have a few un-bundled 15 quid mic’s, which we recommend if you want a cheap taste of the virtual rock band experience). And, though functional, the ability to use your 360 headset as a mic forsakes the whole point of Rock Band.

The peripherals are where the fun is at, which is unfortunate as they're so damn expensive!

So just what is the point of Rock Band? If it’s to be better than Neversoft’s Guitar Hero, it’s hitting all the right notes. As well as the extra instruments (and extra quiddage), Rock Band is different to Guitar Hero in a number of ways. The focus here is on customisation, and welcoming players into visually and aurally realising their rock fantasies rather than being tested with hardcore levels of note-scrolling difficulty. Forget a Tiger Woods level of face-generation fumbling, here the fun lies in selecting a muddy (at least, I think that's mud) Scottish kilt, 3-foot high pompadour and karate-kicking your way onto the stage. There's a huge variety of clothes, tattoos, hairstyles, makeup, instrument decals and dance moves spread across the 4 categories of rock, punk, goth and metal, and each variation is a well designed and charmingly absurd accompaniment to your stylised rock avatar. At first, you'll only be able to afford a crumby pair of jeans and a ripped t-shirt, but play through the World Tour and you'll earn the money to purchase a walk-in-wardrobe's worth of outrageous fashion choices. Developing both the funds and the balls to dress your character up in the kind of gothic garb Edgar Allen Poe himself would beam at is a choice left entirely up to you (hey, the game is about living the rock lifestyle, it's not a money-management sim)

Once decked out, you'll want to prove your throaty, slappy, picky or poundy credentials in front of a crowd. You’re in luck, as each of the bookers in the World Tour, tutorial, quickplay and the multiplayer arenas have absolutely no taste and will apparently allow even you to play. While each venue inevitably loses some of it's magic when you man an instrument alone, the meat of the game, World Tour, is solid enough for any solo-er, if only to unlock all the venues, songs and clothes. With tours set in London, Tokyo, Paris and Berlin to name a few, you'll relish rocking in all of the various venues.

It's a good and extensive track list, and there are plenty of (albeit expensive) downloads.

Unless you want an early shower with a fat groupie, you’ll need to play well. The hook of any game mode in Rock Band is keeping the crowd happy; hit the wrong notes or constantly mistime the right ones and the crowd will get on your back. Once their cheer-meter depletes, you'll be booted out of the venue and asked to restart as if nothings happened (we assume those concert kids are so whacked out on the latest drug they don't realise you're the same rotten singer they pelted with bottles 5 minutes earlier). However, work the crowd like a musical gigolo and your metre will fill up, filling the screen with impressive visual effects that compliment your song (a black and white, grunge-heavy filter will accompany any rousing rendition of Nirvana’s 'In Bloom', for example). Every song also features moments where you get the opportunity to blow scenesters away with a mean improvisation. This feature was absolutely made for the drums in single player, but in multiplayer, while your Keith Moon wannabe hammers out a tune the singer has to put up with agonising lengths of inactivity, besides the odd bar where you can shout 'Hello, Tokyo!' into the mic for points.

1 - 2 - Next