Review: Rock Band

Not everyone can achieve their dream of being in a rock band. Whether it’s due to a lack of talent, charisma, or shyness, it’s not a path that everyone is meant to take. While some may have been born to be the next Steven Tyler, it’s safe to assume that not everyone shares that same destiny.
No matter what, not everyone can become a rock star. Although playing Guitar Hero may have given some a taste of the experience, the reality is that the life of a solo guitarist can be isolating. While one may receive recognition for their impressive skills, nothing compares to the thrill of performing in front of a packed arena, illuminated by bright lights. Personally, I have never experienced this, but the numerous bootleg VHS tapes I purchased during my high school years were quite convincing.
Harmonix’s endeavor to draw in the masses may suggest that experiencing the thrill of rocking the world with a heavy metal punch or a punk rock attitude is within reach. This makes me wonder if it’s time to form a band. However, can Harmonix’s game surpass Guitar Hero, or should we settle for playing our plastic guitars solo?
The brief response to the previous inquiry is undoubtedly affirmative. However, the extended response relies on the type of encounter you desire. Don your denim vest without sleeves, adorned with the Iron Maiden emblem on the rear, and continue reading for further information.

Rock Band (PS3, Xbox 360 — reviewed on Xbox 360)
Developed by Harmonix
Published by Electronic Arts
Released on November 19, 2007

Harmonix seems to have spent the last two years honing our Rock Band skills, as the guitar/bass portion of the game offers few surprises for those familiar with Guitar Hero. The gameplay involves pressing corresponding buttons and strumming along with the song as gems scroll towards the screen on a virtual fretboard. While it may seem simple, those who have spent significant time with Guitar Hero know how rewarding and complex it can become. The return of “Star Power” as “Overdrive” is still activated by tilting the controller up in full rock out position, or by using the select/back button. Despite the similarities between the two games (they were developed by the same studio), there are a few noteworthy changes.
In general, the guitar and bass note charts for the songs included in Rock Band are noticeably easier compared to those in other similar games. Although Harmonix denied any intentional effort to make it so, it appears that the focus for Rock Band was more on cooperative and social band play rather than on extremely challenging difficulty levels. This explains why the game avoids including Dragonforce-style guitar solos. However, there are still some challenging solos in the game, such as those found in Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” The learning curve is much more forgiving than in recent Guitar Hero titles, which is a positive aspect considering that Rock Band is likely to be played by groups of people with varying levels of experience.
Rock Band has a less lenient timing system, resulting in a narrower window for hitting notes. This can make it challenging to hit faster sections of songs, as some riffs that would be effortless in other games proved difficult in Rock Band. Additionally, hammer-ons and pull-offs are more challenging due to changes in how they are displayed on-screen. The notes that can be hammered-on or pulled-off look identical to regular notes, making it difficult to distinguish them during faster sections of songs. While the gems indicating these notes are slightly smaller, they are still challenging to see, especially on standard definition televisions. Overall, Rock Band’s timing and note display can be challenging, particularly for those unfamiliar with the songs.

Let me begin by acknowledging that the 3/4 scale replica Fender Stratocaster included with Rock Band is not as effective as the sturdy Gibson models designed for Guitar Hero (whether wireless or not). However, this does not detract from the fact that it is still an excellent controller and undoubtedly the most visually appealing guitar controller available. The attention to detail in creating a peripheral that feels like a genuine instrument is remarkable. As someone who played a Fender Stratocaster throughout high school, I felt completely comfortable holding the controller.
The fretboard buttons are flush with the surface, and the colors are only visible from above and below the neck. This design choice enhances the controller’s realism, making it feel more like an actual guitar rather than a gaming accessory. However, the lack of tactile feedback made it difficult to keep track of finger placement. Despite spending many hours playing, I still struggled to maintain proper fingering. While the flat buttons added to the controller’s authenticity, they didn’t quite provide the necessary physical cues for optimal gameplay.
The strum bar on the controller has undergone some modifications to make it tighter and quieter, eliminating the clicking sound that veterans may be accustomed to. The bar’s design has also been altered, making it slightly larger and featuring an indent for easy finger plucking. While it may take some time to adjust to the lack of clicking, the absence of extraneous noise enhances the authenticity of the experience. However, the Stratocaster controller may pose difficulties when quickly strumming a long, fast series of single notes, which can be frustrating. In contrast, the wireless Gibson controller from Guitar Hero III proved to be more effective in nailing these sections, suggesting that the issue may be attributed to user error.
To satisfy Fender’s attention to detail, the guitar peripheral includes a “tone” switch that can add effects like chorus, wah-wah, flanger, and echo to the sound when the guitar is in “Overdrive” mode. While this feature allows for further customization, it does not affect scoring and is considered a gimmick. The smaller buttons higher up on the neck also fall into this category, as they can be tapped during solo sections to perform the solo without strumming. While this opens up possibilities for one-handed or two-handed finger tapping, it does not affect scoring and may not be preferred by those aiming for perfection. Those interested in physical performance may enjoy these features, while others may avoid them.

Harmonix gained recognition not only for Guitar Hero but also for Karaoke Revolution, published by Konami. The gameplay of Karaoke Revolution is a great match for Rock Band, with lyrics displayed at the top or bottom of the screen, depending on whether you’re playing solo or cooperatively. The included USB microphone allows you to sing along, but be warned: you’ll be judged on your pitch. If you sound like a howling wolf attempting to sing “Run to the Hills,” you and your neighbors may have a problem. Rock Band also incorporates percussive notes during non-vocal sections, which can be played by tapping the mic or clapping your hands (expect cowbell sales to skyrocket). In addition, there are talky or rapping parts where simply reciting the lyrics in time is necessary. For instance, The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” consists entirely of these types of notes.
The vocals in karaoke games, including this one, don’t require perfect pitch, especially for rock and roll. The game’s easiest difficulty allows for the vocalist to add their own embellishments and energy, which is essential for a good rock singer. However, on higher difficulties like Expert, the game’s standards are so strict that even Rob Halford of Judas Priest would struggle to get a perfect score. Even the slightest mistake, like a breath out of place or a metal growl, will result in the game calling you tone-deaf. This takes away from the fun and makes it more about meeting the game’s standards, resulting in sounding more like Britney Spears than James Hetfield when singing “Enter Sandman.” As a result, most people will opt for easier difficulties, regardless of their singing ability, to have some leeway to take liberties with the song.
Now, let’s talk about the part of the game that everyone is eagerly waiting for – the drums. While vocals and guitars are enjoyable, they may not be as exciting for those who have already tried them before. For most players, the drums will be the highlight of the game, while for others, it may be intimidating. Unlike the guitar section, where playing a real guitar is not necessary for success, mastering the drums in Rock Band requires the same level of rhythm and coordination as playing an actual drum kit.
It feels almost comical to refer to the drum peripheral as a controller, as it is essentially a fully functional drum kit. The four pads correspond to the various components of a real drum set, with the red pad serving as the snare, the green as the crash, and the yellow and blue as cymbals. The orange kick pedal, however, presents a unique challenge, requiring the player to coordinate their foot movements with their hand movements. As the drummer, your role is to maintain the rhythm for the entire band, hitting the appropriate colored pad when the corresponding gem appears on the screen. The gameplay mechanics are similar to those of the guitar peripheral, with the exception of the inclusion of a wide orange note reserved for the bass pedal kick.
The drum kit in Rock Band has its own version of “Overdrive,” which can be activated by successfully completing free-form drum fill sections. During these sections, players are free to play the pads in any way they choose, as long as they hit the final green note in the sequence. While this allows for creativity, inexperienced drummers may struggle and play randomly, potentially throwing off the rest of the band. It’s recommended that players stick to a signature fill to increase their chances of success, unless they are a skilled drummer like Neil Peart. However, if you are Neil Peart, it may be questionable why you are spending time playing Rock Band instead of performing live.
Rock Band’s drums are unique in that they rely heavily on the beat and timing of the song being played. Unlike other rhythm-based games such as Taiko Drum Master or Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band’s drumming is precise and accurate. This means that even non-drummers may struggle to keep up with the on-screen prompts without a natural sense of rhythm or the ability to count beats in their head. However, once players master the drums, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience, even on the game’s easiest modes. Overall, the drums are the most satisfying aspect of Rock Band.
The drum kit is robust and spacious, and includes full-sized wooden drumsticks. It can be disassembled for effortless storage and assembly, making it convenient to transport from one performance to another (such as taking it to a friend’s place). Setting up the kit for the first time took approximately 15 minutes, including unpacking it from the cardboard and plastic. However, subsequent assembly and disassembly sessions took less than five minutes, and after a few attempts, I felt like my experience as a roadie had significantly improved.
Rock Band offers solo modes, known as “Solo Tours,” for guitar, drums, and vocals. These modes follow a tiered structure similar to Guitar Hero’s “career” modes, with each instrument featuring a progression of songs based on its difficulty level. While these modes are straightforward, they lack any particularly fancy features. The guitar portions of the game may not satisfy advanced players, but the drumming career offers a nice challenge. Singing alone may feel a bit awkward, but overall, the solo modes provide a solid experience.
In this mode, the game’s character creator becomes available, allowing you to personalize the appearance and vibe of your rock avatar. While the creator may seem limited at first glance, it offers a range of options such as gender, skin tone, facial features from a small selection, height, weight, and more. With a vast array of hair options and an extensive Rock Shop, you can easily make your rocker stand out from the rest. The Rock Shop offers a plethora of clothing options categorized by genre, which you can mix and match to your liking. Additionally, there are countless tattoo designs that can be layered to create intricate sleeves and patterns. The Rock Shop also allows you to purchase new instruments and customize them with color and sticker options.

While the solo experience in this game is useful for practicing and learning songs, it cannot compare to the Band World Tour mode. This mode is cooperative-only and allows two to four players to create a band, choose a name and logo, and progress from small venues to large stadiums around the world. With over 40 unique play locations in various cities, players can gather fans and money from all over the globe. This mode is deep and could potentially continue indefinitely with downloadable content. The satisfaction of working together to complete a gig and earn rewards, such as a promised jumbo jet from the band manager, is unmatched.
The standout feature of Band World Tour is undoubtedly its cooperative gameplay, making it one of the most impressive party and social games available on any console. Having played the game with numerous groups, I can confidently say that the single-player experience pales in comparison, with the only real motivation being to improve in order to play with others. In fact, during one memorable band session with a group of non-gamers, everyone in the room was eager to join in on the fun by the end of the night, high-fiving and cheering our band’s name after a successful performance. If Wii Sports managed to capture the attention of soccer moms and grandmothers worldwide, Rock Band is sure to attract even the most skeptical “too cool for gaming school” hipsters. Harmonix has perfectly captured the energy and excitement of performing a real rock show in front of a live audience. Additionally, the game’s group-oriented design allows for players of varying skill levels to participate, with the option to adjust the difficulty level for each instrument on each gig.
Although the cooperative experience of World Tour Mode is impressive, it is not without its drawbacks. Due to the limited number of songs available in Rock Band’s soundtrack (approximately 50), players may find themselves repeatedly playing the same songs. This issue was evident during one play session when the supposedly “random” mystery set lists consistently included only two songs – “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones and “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage. The fun quickly turned into monotony as the players grew tired and annoyed with the lack of variety, despite having unlocked several other songs. It is worth noting that subsequent tours with different bands offered more diverse mystery gigs, but the game’s short setlist remains a concern.
However, in several cities, you can create your own set lists, giving the band more choices and preventing the set lists from becoming monotonous. Moreover, all downloadable content bought for Rock Band is integrated into the Band World Tour, considerably extending the game’s lifespan and mode.

One of the challenges I faced while playing on the Xbox 360 was the complicated save and band system. It was so confusing that I’m not sure if I can explain it properly. When a player signs in with their gamertag, they create a band and a character, who becomes the band’s leader. From then on, the tour can only continue if the band leader is signed in and using that character. This system becomes even more confusing when trying to resume world tours after a break, as each character is tied to a gamertag and save. It’s difficult to remember who did what under which gamertag, especially when all you want to do is rock out. Moreover, characters created as guitarists can only play the guitar, so if you want to switch to drums, you have to create a new character. Although this is frustrating, it doesn’t ruin the game, and hopefully, it can be improved with a future patch.
While Rock Band includes versus modes, they are not the main focus of the game. The cooperative and social aspects are much stronger and expected. The versus modes come in various configurations, including the popular drum versus drum battle. The game also introduces a new mode called Tug of War, where two instruments compete for crowd approval. All of these modes, including cooperative band modes, can be played online. However, the World Band Tour mode is only available locally, which may disappoint those who cannot gather with friends. It is highly recommended to play the game with others in the same room to fully experience the vibe and energy that Rock Band offers.
Rock Band truly embodies the passion and attention to detail that defines the music culture. Unlike the flashy and exaggerated approach of the Guitar Hero series, Rock Band opts for a more authentic and gritty design. However, the game still pays homage to various genres and rock classics, featuring nods to everything from grunge to arena rock. What sets Rock Band apart is the engaging and diverse gameplay that goes beyond just hitting the right notes. Each character is animated realistically with their respective instrument, and the camera angles and filters add to the immersive experience, giving players the feeling of being at a live rock concert. For example, during the finale of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” a psychedelic filter is applied, reminiscent of 1970s UK performance television programming. Overall, Rock Band is a game that truly captures the essence of music and the culture surrounding it.

The Rock Band game stands out as a unique case where downloadable content is not just a nice-to-have feature, but a crucial component of the game. Harmonix has committed to providing new music content every week, and to fully enjoy the game, it is necessary to have access to this content. Although some may argue that the game’s initial cost should cover all necessary content, the reality is that the Rock Band experience is limitless and constantly evolving.
While the songs included on the game disc are generally good choices, they may not appeal to everyone and some tracks may not even be recognizable. This was acceptable in Guitar Hero, but in a game where teamwork is essential and one player must sing, knowing every song is crucial for success. Unfortunately, unless you are playing with music experts, there will be instances where players will struggle with certain songs. The solution is the upcoming song DLC, which allows players to purchase individual songs. Once players become familiar with the disc content, they will likely be eager to purchase additional songs.
Rock Band is an exceptional game that surpasses its individual components. While each element is well-crafted, none are flawless. If you intend to play the game solo in your basement with a snack, it may not be the best fit for you. However, when played with friends who are eager to participate and take on different roles, there is no other game that can compare, whether in the music/rhythm category or any other genre.
I highly recommend the game for those who are eager to rock out with a group. Even if you’re uncertain whether your current friends will be interested in joining in, don’t hesitate to make new connections as the experience is truly exceptional.

Score: 9.5