Saturday, December 08, 2007

360 review: Rock Band (10/10)

You did buy this, right? At launch? So you're asking why it got a 10? I'll explain.

Let's set the tone first. Rock Band is kind of like Guitar Hero, but with drums and vocals as well, meaning that you can have up to four players at once. The idea is the same - match the notes coming down the screen - but there are some pretty big differences between the two.

There were definitely problems with the launch: only two options (game only or full set), the USB hub and guitars broke quickly or didn't work at all, and even confusion at retailers. Fortunately, EA has been replacing them. I got my replacement hub before I sent the old one in. The guitar is going out Monday, so we'll see if I get one before Christmas.

With those in mind, let's talk about differences, assuming that you have a fully-working game and controllers.

h2. Character creation
Unlike GH III, in Rock Band, you create your own character. This isn't like a GTA or Saints Row where you have all kinds of options, but there are enough to personalize the character quite a bit (especially for women), and you get a better feel for being in the game. Another way that's enhanced is by seeing your name in lights: on tour buses, album covers, and so on. A very nice touch.

h2. Overdrive
Activating Overdrive (Rock Band's version of Star Power) is the same - Select or tip up for guitars. What's different is that you can continue to hit Overdrive phrases while you play, and if you complete them, they add to what you're using, which can lead to monstrous point streaks in some songs. This is a great change.

On guitar, Overdrive notes are half-width gems. I didn't like this because they're much more difficult to identify. On drums, they're all white, and on vocals, they're all yellow - much better ideas.

h2. Set progression
GH III has 8 sets with 5 songs each (let's skip the boss battles for now and assume they actually had a final song), and unlike previous versions, all songs and all sets are available on Easy. The fifth song is an encore and is unlocked after passing three of four songs in the set on Easy or Medium, or passing all four other songs on Hard or Expert.

Rock Band is a mix of GH II and III: there are 5 songs per set, but only the first 6 sets are available on Easy - there are 9 sets in all on the higher levels. You must pass all five songs in a set to unlock the next set. However, if you've unlocked a set on Medium or higher, all songs in that set become available on all lower difficulty levels. (This also means you can get the achievement for that level by playing just the final set once you've unlocked it. You don't have to complete all the other songs.)

I'm not such a big fan of the five-song requirement, especially because you're playing them three times as a solo artist (lead guitar, vocals, drums). If you're good enough to complete the game (I won't be), you'll play most songs at least 12 times and the other songs at least 9 times, and frankly, some songs aren't worth it.

h2. Visuals
I know, it seems minor, but it's not. GH visuals are drawn and are pretty much random. Rock Band visuals are motion-capture and pretty much match the songs. This gives you much more of the in-the-band feeling. The only thing that's awkward is when you're watching your character play the song, but you're on a level below Expert, so his sticks are going everywhere and you're simply tapping red. Big win for Rock Band.

h2. DLC
Harmonix has committed to weekly DLC and has also made it available as single tracks or a track pack. Again, a huge win for Rock Band. GH III has some DLC available, but they haven't yet got into single-track pricing, and while Rock Band is selling Metallica and David Bowie, GH is selling random bands.

h2. Master tracks
Rock Band has significantly more master tracks (21 in GH III, 36 in Rock Band), which is great, especially for singing: it sounds much better when you're echoing the original artists. Also, by now you've probably read that Metallica is releasing a new single via Rock Band. Yeah, that's pretty cool.

h2. Song progress
Rock Band shows the number of stars you're earning for the song on-screen, updating it as you score points. This is great if you don't get five stars and want to know how close you were, or if you did get five stars so you don't have to feel bad about pausing the game. However, it doesn't break down accuracy by phrases at the end of the song.

h2. Career progress
Rock Band does not mark perfect songs differently than five-star songs: this is like GH I. Not such a big fan of that change.

h2. Big Rock Ending
In some songs, everybody (except for vocals) has Freestyle phrases at the end. Play anything you want and get credit for it ... if you hit the notes that close the song. This is a nice way to finish off that extra star or score some really big points.

h2. Vocals
Now we're getting into the good stuff. Rock Band's vocals are like the Karaoke Revolution games: hit enough notes in the phrase and you increase your multiplier. For Overdrive, you just sing or shout during a Freestyle phrase.

Some songs have cowbell or tambourine notes in them. For these, you tap the microphone or press A on the controller (sorry, you need to have a controller hooked up as well as the mic). Hit them all, and you get a boost; miss a few, no big deal, these are extra.

h2. Drums
You also get a mini drum set (snare, crash, and cymbals/toms according to the manual, with one bass drum). The pads are color-coded, and you get a track like the guitarists; bass drum is a line across the track. Overdrive is activated by hitting a single note at the end of a Freestyle phrase.

h2. Guitar
Bassists don't get a solo career (boo), but we do get a Bass Groove: once your multiplier reaches 4, you get this really cool background, and you can extend it up to 6. Nice to have us around, isn't it?

The Stratocaster that comes with the game is different in a few ways. It has solo notes down the neck of the guitar. Most songs have at least one guitar solo: like the mini-percussion for vocals, hit the notes and get a bonus. With this guitar, you don't have to strum, just finger the notes. (This also works during the Big Rock Ending.) You can play the solo normally if you like, or use these notes and strum to play normally. I found it a little awkward to go down the neck for a solo and back up, but I guess that comes with practice.

The guitar also has an effects switch on it. When you are in Overdrive, you can hear the effects in your notes. Don't have a Strat? No problem, the game seems to assign an effect to you.

The Select and Start buttons are big and round like the GH III guitar. This is great - I still don't know why they messed up the GH II guitar. Also, the whammy bar feels more realistic and is easier to use than the GH II ones, at least on the 360. The PS2 guitar also had a good whammy bar.

h2. Multiplayer
Now here's where Rock Band really shines. When you create a band, any time the band wants to play, you have to be there, but you can use whatever other people are around. You can even change your characters so you play different instruments.

You start with a single city and a few gigs to play. Do well in the gigs to earn fans and money: more fans means more gigs in more cities, and more money means, well, more money. Eventually, you'll get gambling options: you can choose double-or-nothing money on the next gig, or take either double fans/no money or double money/no fans, if you meet certain conditions (pass all songs, five-star all songs, things like that).

There are several types of gigs: single, pre-selected songs; multiple pre-selected songs; single or multiple songs you can choose; and multiple random songs. You can check out all the non-random set lists prior to playing them. I like this much better than the traditional set lists because you can focus on specific songs if you like, rather than playing the same old stuff in the same order.

Get enough fans and you unlock transportation to new cities for new gigs. You can't just cruise along on Easy, though. (Like GH III, you can play at different difficulty levels for a given song.) Your fan base is capped based on the difficulty levels you're using. Want more fans? Step it up.

Scoring is interesting. It seems that each player scores individually, so you don't have to worry about common streaks and such. Instead, when you go into Overdrive, the multiplier affects everyone. More band members = more Overdrive = more multipliers.

Also, if someone struggles, the whole band doesn't fail. Instead, that person is silenced. You can bring them back with Overdrive, but only twice. If they fail a third time, L is for Loser.

There are definitely things about the game that could be improved: the mic should really have had buttons on it so another controller was less necessary (although at least you can use any USB mic in the game), timing for drums and spoken vocal phrases seems odd, and slogging through a song you didn't like once so that you can play it again later isn't so fun.

However, the emphasis on fun over technique (no Perfect-this-song-blindfolded achievements) helps out quite a bit. The difficulty is lower, if you haven't heard. It's true that it's about one level easier in Rock Band, and that helps the band concept, especially if you don't have anyone with vocals or drums experience.

Once the hardware difficulties are resolved (EA says they are, but EA also says that an exclusive license didn't hurt Madden), go out and get the set.

zlionsfan's rating: 10 out of 10.

No comments:

Post a Comment

There was an error in this gadget