As promised in our previous article on Rock Band, today we dived a lot deeper into the game. After going hands-on with the game in the private press bus and somewhat on the public stage, we’ve got a monstrous load of impressions and videos to share with you guys.
For those that have for some reason been hiding in a deep cave for the past year, Rock Band is the monster project by Electronic Arts, MTV and previous Guitar Hero partner Harmonix to bring together all the elements of a modern rock band in a single massive party game. Oft touted as a mix between Guitar Hero, Donkey Konga and Singstar, the game lets up to 4 players rock their virtual stage simultaneously as singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Everyone can choose what they’re best at, and choose their own difficulty level. We played a whole bunch of different songs today, including Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive, Radiohead’s Creep and a very special performance of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.
Radiohead’s classic Creep being performed in a spacy yet still slightly too small press ‘tour bus’ by Ross Hayward of Xboxic, 2 fellow reporters and a great guy from MTV New York
First we tried our hands on the guitars. The special Fender Stratocaster replica takes some getting used to, as it doesn’t have buttons on top of the neck like the Guitar Hero Gibson-based guitars, but rather the whole fret itself is a button. Also, as any guitar player can tell you, Fenders have thinner ‘faster’ necks than Gibsons, which got transferred rather well to the plastic replica. Combining this it means you’ll have to get used to some different hand positions if you’ve played GH before, but it’s something you’ll adapt to quickly. In general it felt sturdy and played very well, and both our GH veterans and those that have never even touched anything looking like a guitar had no problems playing the game with it and completing songs on varying difficulties as lead and bass guitarist.
Second up: the drums. They consist of 4 electronic drum pads on a stand, with a pedal at the bottom for the bass drum. On the screen you see only 4 lines as opposed to the guitar’s 5, depicting the drum pads as per usual with colored lines indicating when you have to hit. The bass drum has to be played when a horizontal orange line appears on the bar. As you would expect, or at least hope, with a peripheral that’s meant to be hit with 2 big wooden drum sticks, the build quality is excellent, and it survived our severe beatings without problems. It’s also got an Xbox Guide button and directional buttons, so you can also control menus, gamertags and the like when playing drums. While none of us had ever played drums before, we had no problems getting used to it good enough to finish songs in a quite acceptable way, and it proved much more fun to do than we had ever anticipated before.
A rather shaky video inside the press bus
Last up is the microphone. Despite having a rather pesky cold right now, including sore painful throat, yours truly took it upon himself to grab the mike and sing Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. All the lyrics are shown karaoke-style at the top of the screen, including a bar indicating the required pitch for singing. On the left hand side you see an indicator showing your current pitch in real time, so you can see exactly whether you need to go up or down, and the difficulty level determines how forgiving the game is when you stray. On Easy level the game at least was sufficiently forgiving to give a 95% end score to a cold-struck bad singer, so no one needs to be afraid that they sing too bad to get any satisfaction out of the game. Like the rest of the peripherals, the microphone appears well-built and capable of withstanding some enthousiasm, and doesn’t even remotely look like a toy.
The game itself worked as intuitive as you would expect. The screen, as cluttered as you’d expect it to be with 3 music bars filling up most and a vocal bar on top, is clear and causes no confusion while playing. All interface elements are well tuned, from the combined ‘rock quality’ meter on the left hand side to the streak and multiplier indicators below the music bars. When soloing you get a percentage meter showing how well you’re doing, and after each sung phrase a Singstar-like comment like ‘great’ or ‘poor’ pops up clearly indicating how you’ve just performed. Same goes for the menus, where you can organize the songs by several category types, all designed to make controlling the game as easy and fun as possible, and let you focus on that what’s most important: making music.
Combining it all together, our verdict was rather uniform: this game is going to be huge, and deservedly so. It plays great, it plays well together, and even if you can’t get the people together for a marvelous group experience, it’ll let you play with anyone via Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. Sure, you may have never liked Guitar Hero, but with the added options of playing drums or singing, and a song list with many recognizable mainstream hits from many ages, styles and artists. If you’ve ever liked a song featuring a guitar and drums, we’d find it hard to understand if you don’t like this game.
This very special limited edition video sees your Xboxic reporter Niels playing the lead guitar on the left, while vocals are handled by a very friendly and shy young man from Dutch TV show Gamekings. We are not responsible for any warped fragile little minds resulting from watching this video.
(The singer got an 18% score on Easy, but we thought he was terrific)