Review: Rock Band

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So folks know I'm a big fan of the Guitar Hero series. When I first heard of Rock Band, I was pretty interested. For those who don't know - Rock Band expands upon the Guitar Hero concept by letting up to 4 people play at once. Two guys play guitar, one does drums, and another sings. I got Rock Band (thank you, you know who you are!) a few weeks ago and I've finally had time to play it a bit and share my experiences.

First and foremost - the Rock Band box opening experience is a bit... extreme. It reminded me a lot of getting new furniture that you have to put together. (I have a few 'rules' on when I'll know I'm rich. One them is never having to put furniture together.) You have numerous boxes, numerous pages of instructions, and frankly, it can be a bit overwhelming. Once you figure out where everything goes though, it isn't too bad. But if you want to play with all four instruments, you have around a 10 minute setup process. (Unless your some college kid who never tears it down.)

Whats good though is that you don't have to set all of this stuff up. When I first got Rock Band, I played just with the guitar. It was a bit late at night and I figured me drumming (or singing) would keep the kids up. In fact, I went through the entire solo game just playing guitar before I actually played with a full band.

The hardware is an interesting mix. The drum set is dead on perfect. It feels very well built and looks high quality. The only issue with it is the positioning of the pedal. I'm a big guy, and I found that it was hard to position the drum set so I could reach the drums and use the pedal without stressing out my leg. I've only done drums a few times though so I may just not have found the right fit yet.

The guitar, unfortunately, is crap. It works - don't get me wrong, but it feels and looks like some dollar store toy. I thought at first my misfingering was due to the different hardware, but I really think they did their buttons wrong. "How" wrong - I don't know. Just... wrong. I did complete the solo game just using their guitar, but it's almost as if the company figured that most of their users would have Guitar Hero guitars and would just use that. (So yes, you can use GH guitars when playing Rock Band, and I recommend it.)

Oh - and the Mic is nice too. It doesn't feel flimsy or cheap.

That's the hardware - how about the game? Well in general the game play follows GH almost to the T. Unlike GH3 which had silly boss battles, this one simply has cities and sets of songs. The mechanics though are the same. See a red note - push the red button.

You do have one thing different - which are the solos. Guitar solos give you a chance to earn bonus points. You also have an 'end of song' thing (not sure what it's called) where you get to rock out. I know it seems minor, but being able to actually play creatively is a big deal and dramatically added to the fun for me.

The playlist is far superior to GH3, and that's saying a lot because I really liked the songs in GH3. Rock Band just does it better, with more variety and, maybe it's just me, but more songs I liked. The downloadable (i.e. not free) selection is also quite amazing. I can tell you right now - being able to play Nine Inch Nails on my XBox is more than worth the cost of downloading. (I can be Trent. Really.) Artists I especially liked include the Pixies, REM, and Smashing Pumpkins.

Ok - so as I said, I focused mainly on the guitar since it was easier to deploy and more appropriate for late night playing. Last weekend I had a birthday party (don't ask me how many beers I had) and I wanted to play Rock Band with my family and friends, so Friday night I did a full setup and played with my kids. I finally got a chance to try singing and drums.

Singing is - ok. Not as cool as I thought it would be, but interesting.

Drumming was - hard. Surprisingly hard, even on easy. It's doable, but definitely requires more concentration than playing guitar.

And than it happened. What happened? One of the single most coolest things I've seen in a game yet. I've already mentioned that the game incudes guitar solos. Well guess what - it also includes drum solos. The first time one came about - there were no notes to play. I didn't know what to do.

And then I figured it out. Drum solos allow you to do anything. And I mean anything. So the solo starts off and you get to go crazy, banging the drums like a mad man and god dang it - that is freaking cool as you know what. That single feature there makes me want to bring out the drums and play Rock Band right now.

So obviously I recommend Rock Band. The only drawbacks really are the setup (if you want to do a full 4 person band) and the cheap guitar (just use a GH guitar). These drawbacks are far eclipsed though by the awesome musical content and the improved gameplay.

Raymond Camden's Picture

About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

Lafayette, LA https://www.raymondcamden.com

Archived Comments

Comment 1 by joshua cyr posted on 4/19/2008 at 9:21 PM

I love rock band too. My wife prefers to use our old GH guitar over the RB one. Drums take a bit to get used to (the kick drum) but are so much fun. Singing and playing drums is VERY hard, at least for me. Really fun at parties. We have trouble finding a place to put all the stuff away though. Small house, need to buy a new house to just for a play room!

Comment 2 by Jeff Coughlin posted on 4/20/2008 at 1:56 AM

Rock Band is awesome. I found the drums pretty easy (although I only tried hard for 10-15 songs). However I used to be a drummer years ago (so that kinda helped). Singing is pretty easy on Expert (albeit you have to sing the songs incorrectly in order to get a perfect score... It's more fun to sing the songs on Medium so you can sing more naturally and get them correct). The GH guitar is definitely better to use on RB. I'm glad they support it.

Maybe I'll see you online sometime and we can jam :). I haven't played the game that much, but it's always fun and great for parties. I wonder if Jared will have one setup at cf.objective (that would be cool).

Comment 3 by Andy Matthews posted on 4/20/2008 at 6:51 AM

Just played RB again tonight over at Aaron West's house and had a great time. Sadly it was just the two of us, but it was still great fun. I actually enjoyed using the mike, and was impressed by how on key you have to be.

Comment 4 by Theo Rushin posted on 4/20/2008 at 8:20 AM

Guitar Hero vs Rock Band. It's beginning to look like Mac vs PC. So, that would make me a PC 'cause I love Guitar Hero. I own and have played through every GH game (up to Medium). I love the mix of old classics and new rock and I love the 80's version (I survived college on those songs).

Then I tried Rock Band. I failed. I knew that couldn't be that bad so I tried again. I did better but I still love the GH guitar. I really do care about the four player capabilities, I'm usually playing alone anyway. I play video games to have fun not to compete. My daughter like RB better but I think that's because she can do better at RB than I can.

So just as my household uses both Mac and PC, it looks like we will be both a GH and RB household. However I must say that one of the things that GH has that RB doesn't have is more songs. GH has been around much longer.

For those GH fans - GH - Aerosmith is going to RULE!

Comment 5 by Matthew Williams posted on 4/20/2008 at 4:36 PM

Not only is GH: Aerosmith coming out, but so is GH: On Tour for the DS, GHIV in the fall, and the Wii is finally getting Rock Band. I'm going to have to get a third job to support all this Guitar Hero goodness ;).

Comment 6 by Dan G. Switzer, II posted on 4/21/2008 at 5:47 PM

@Raymond:

I actually move the kick pedal off to the right of the drumset and just leave it on the floor. While this means it's not on the metal bar it's designed to be on, it feels way more natural to me.

The only real problem I had with this is the curly cord tends to pull the kick pedal at first. To solve this, I just hung the kick pedal in my closet when not using it until it stretched out enough that it didn't cause a problem.

Comment 7 by Chris Phillips posted on 4/23/2008 at 12:45 AM

@Dan and @Ray,

I did one better than Dan. I notched out the foot of the drum set (dremel tool) so that the kick pedel slides a little under it off to the right on the outside. I'm tall too and this felt better to me.

Oh, and I bought real sticks and a real drum throne... :-)