STAFF REVIEW of Rock Band (Xbox 360)

Thursday, November 22, 2007.
by Tony Ingrassia

Rock Band Box art We?ve all been there, in your bedroom, in your car, in front of a mirror, even screaming into a hair brush that you hold in your hand. Yes at some time in most normal people?s lives we find ourselves living our Rock and Roll fantasies out in our minds, lip syncing to our favorite songs, emulating our favorite rock bands or singers. There is just something about the Rock and Roll lifestyle that lures us into living that guilty pleasure if not just for a few minutes in the privacy of our room. Yes Karaoke had its stint and helped bridge that gap a bit, but it didn?t really fulfill my Rock and Roll dreams very well. Some of us spent countless hours mastering the air guitar over the years, while others took to upside down buckets to live out our dreams of pounding out thundering Drum solo?s. And as fun as all that is and was, there is no better way to live your Rock and Roll dreams than the newly released Rock Band from Harmonix. But lets be honest, theoretically this isn?t a new concept, but what does Harmonix do to raise the bar in this popular growing genre? Well for starters why not get one of the biggest names in guitar history to lend its likeness in creating a controller. Then just to make sure no one is left out in the cold, let?s bring the rest of the band to your living room so you get the complete experience. So go dig out that Rolling Stones concert T-Shirt and leather pants, and make sure your audience has their lighters fired up and in hand, because as AC/DC proudly exclaims?.For those about to Rock, we salute you!

I have to admit, when I first heard about the idea of Rock Band I was a bit skeptical, I mean come on, wasn?t a guitar enough? But 10 minutes into my review time with this game my volunteers and I were hooked. There is a lot to mention about Rock Band. While the idea is simple, Harmonix really put not only a fantastic game together, but a great group experience for gamers, family and friends alike. While RB (Rock Band) may make your wallet cringe a bit with its price tag, you need to really look at the contents of the package. So let?s start with that simple part, what does your hard earned cash get you? RB comes complete with a Microphone, Drums, and an amazing replica of the classic Fender Stratocaster guitar. Each item is a full blown controller except for the Microphone, the Drums come complete with sticks and a foot pedal, the Fender Strat houses the all familiar ?Whammy? bar and Solo Frets that allow you to pull off notes without having to ?Strum?. Along with the actual instruments, you are supplied with a mini USB hub to connect all of them to the 360, just a quick note, any USB hub will work with the system, so if you run out of ports you can expand that with a HUB. One of the nice little touches is the set of mini headset adapters that can attach your 360 headset directly to the Drums or Guitar, opening up the Chat capabilities while on line. And of course the game itself, which boasts quite an impressive list of songs right out of the box. 45 songs spanning from the 1960?s to the new millennium, with 13 additional tracks that can be unlocked as you improve your skills.

So of course this begs to ask that ever popular question?what about Downloadable Content, can I get more songs? Well just a few days ago Harmonix announced that it has a stellar line up of DLC that will be available weekly through the rest of 2007. 3- Song packs via the Xbox Live Marketplace will be available for an SRP of $5.49 per pack or $1.99 per song (440 Microsoft points per pack or 160 MP?s for individual songs). New song packs by Metallica, The Police and Queen along with individual songs by Foreigner, Wolfmother and The Runaways will be available. The press release also stated that you could expect weekly content through 2008 with an SRP varying from $.99 to $2.99 per track (80 to 240 Microsoft Points) with the majority falling in the $1.99 price range (160 MSP) So its safe to say, your not going to run out of tunes.

So with all of the dollars and cents out of the way, let?s get to the important part, the game. RB can be played solo or in a group, group play can be achieved either locally with some of your friends or via Xbox Live. The system will be familiar to those who have played the ?Other? game, match the beat, strum or pitch to the song and earn points. When starting you can opt for the Training mode, there are available Tutorials for both instruments ranging from the basics to the advanced, you can also jump into Practice Mode and hone your skills without worrying about points and pressure. The guitar and drum work off the same principal, match the colors as they enter your Target to score points and favor with the audience. The guitar has color coded frets that match the Red, Yellow, Blue and Green buttons you would find on a controller, the drums pads are also color coded the same way with the addition of the Foot Pedal. Color coded notes make there way down the screen, the Foot Pedal is a solid line across the Drum path. Each note garners you points. You can build up your Energy Bar by nailing the Special Glowing notes that appear. When you build up enough energy you can whip the crowd into a real frenzy by going into Overdrive with the guitar, this is achieved by tilting the neck upwards while playing. With the Drums your energy can be unleashed with Drum Fills; this is your cue to go nuts. Once you reach the end of your Fill you will need to hit the Green ending note for your barrage to count. Singers have the same options; singing is more about keeping the right pitch than signing the right words. The singer needs to follow a Pitch Meter, keeping the Pitch meter on target is crucial, and just like the instruments you can accumulate Energy by nailing the Glowing Lyrics when they pass by. To use your Energy you need to keep an eye out for the Freestyle section, at which point you can unleash you?re pent up vocal prowess. Playing the Guitar and Drum also gives you the opportunity to nail the ?Big Rock Ending? at the end of a song you can go completely unscripted, play what you want and rack up big points, but in order to get credit for the points you need to nail the last few notes that appear.

With RB that?s only half the battle, you also need to make sure you are impressing the crowd or your going to get run off the stage, the more accurate you play the higher your ?Crowd Meter? reads, keep it in the green and your doing fine, each member has his or her own Icon on the meter so its going to be easy to see who your going to kick out of the band later. But, many an impressive musicians have been able to keep the crowd excited enough to bring fallen members back from the grave. As a member falters and eventually ?Fails? they can be saved by their band mates? mastery giving them another chance, but Fail 3 times and you pretty much doomed your Band. The point system in RB accumulates into Stars, with a perfect 5 star performance being the goal. Stars not only help you progress, but also gain you fans and cash in various modes of the game. So with all of this RB breaks down into a few modes, Solo Touring or Group Touring and Band World Tour. In the World Tour Mode, you can start a band or join a band. From there you can visit the Rock Shop and create your Rocker alter ego that can be used in all the modes, purchase clothing and instrument upgrades as well as give your Band a bio, where they came from and the hardships they have faced. As you gain fame and fans you can unlock various venues not only across the country but around the world. Travel to Paris or stay in the states and try and get a gig at New York?s historical CBGB?s. As a Band you?ll need to play requested songs by the game, but also be prepared to take on mystery sets to help increase your fame and fortune.

In the end I feel there are a few things that really make Rock Band appealing, anyone can play it, whether you?re just playing this type of game for the first time or you?re a seasoned vet. It?s addicting to spectators, you may have friends and family who will start off just wanting to watch, but I?ll guarantee they will eventually be jockeying for position to get in the mix. The music, the variety of genres is fantastic, not only in terms of era, but styles. From Bon Jovi to the Ramones. The Rolling Stones to Radiohead, there is something for everyone in this package, and if all the DLC?s come to fruition the game will never get stale. This game will appeal to all ages young and old, and hardcore gamers will get a charge out of battling head to head over Xbox Live in a cyber Battle of the Bands if you will. It?s one of the best party games available; you can enjoy it with friends as well as family. So for what I originally thought might be a stretch, Rock Band turned out to be a great gaming experience. So if you have to, start digging in the sofa pillows for loose change, pass on a few DVD purchases and find a way to go pick up Rock Band. And if all else fails..."Dear Santa..." Rock Band is just that much fun.

Kudos to everyone involved, great game, fun for all. I only have one complaint...where is the travel case for all this equipment? ;)

Overall: 9.8 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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