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.