Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rock Band: First Impressions

They weren't lying when they said it would be hard to find a copy of Rock Band. The morning of its release, I went to my local Target, thinking they'd have a bunch of them stacked up. The guy at the counter said they only had a few left from the initial shipment of 20 Xbox360 and 15 PS3 versions (might wanna take that with a grain of salt). Lucky for me, I was going home happy, clutching a big, huge ass box in both my arms. Seriously, you could probably use those boxes to smuggle small children inside the country. Once I got home, I proceeded with the epic unboxing ceremony. It took nearly 20 mins to unpack everything, and set it all up in the living room (drum kit, guitar, mic, USB hub, and yes they're all shackled with plastic wires on the 360). At one point, I had what seemed like 2 "extra" metal pipes.. But after a quick glance at the manual (I know.. RTFM), I found a home for those parts.

As for the peripherals, the drums were my first instrument of choice (obviously). They're pretty solidly made, but all the instruments felt heavier and more realistic compared to the Guitar Hero controllers. The drum stand is adjustable in height, so it should work from the comfort of any sized couch or chair. The addition of the bass drum foot pedal certainly mixes the gameplay up a bit compared to the regular guitar experience. Best of all, they actually included real Ludwig drum sticks with the game, keeping the authenticity quotient high. Overall, the hit patterns are much more demanding on the drums. I'm usually pretty comfortable on the Medium difficulty on Guitar Hero, but I had to demote myself to Easy when I tried out the sticks. Once you get the hang of it though, the experience is definitely the most satisfying of the bunch. I can't wait to work my way up to the harder difficulties, where the notes begin to match, beat for beat, with the real songs themselves.The guitar has been redesigned quite a bit. Mostly taken from the many criticisms by gamers over the past few years. The strum bar no longer makes a clicking sound, but I found myself missing that lack of feedback. The fret buttons are now totally flush with the guitar neck, which can make positioning your fingers tricky when things get hairy. The addition of extra "hammer-on" buttons at the bottom of the guitar neck and the effects knob, add a little extra variety. Lastly, the mic is your standard, metal-tipped karaoke bar instrument. It's got some weight to it, same as the guitar, and a really long chord, so you can dance around the room like a possessed rock vocalist. I gotta say, the karaoke aspect is pretty addicting, and if the drum and guitars are already taken, I'd gladly rock the mic.

One great feature they added to all the instruments are freestyle sections. These allow everyone to add their own flare to the song, like a glorified cover band would. For the mic and drums, these sections are actually the only way to activate your "Overdrive" (think "Star power") and add a multiplier to your score. Since each person (drum, mic, guitar, bass) has their own life bar, using your Overdrive is also the only way to revive a band member who has failed their portion of the song. Just like in a real band, it's a team effort, although some will obviously gain more groupies than others (sorry Mr. Bassist).
I have to say, the hit detection in this game is much more harsh than in past Guitar Hero games. I often find myself getting really into the rhythm, only to miss a note I was sure I'd hit perfectly. This could be due to the learning curve of the new game and hardware, but I think Harmonix should think about releasing a patch to make things a bit more forgiving. Especially considering that this is going to be more of a party game, and everyone knows parties are supposed to be fun, right?

One last note (pun intended) to cover is the new Band World Tour mode. You start out in one city and slowly branch out across the globe, gaining fans, managing your shows, even recruiting roadies. It's a great change of pace from the boring, incremental setlist progression of previous Guitar Hero games. Only thing is, this mode is only available in offline co-op. Why this isn't offered as a solo experience with A.I. band members is beyond me. One can only hope this gets added eventually.

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