The first thing you're bound to notice about Rock Band is how much better its graphics, sound and presentation are than the competition's. Although most of your time will still be spent staring at seemingly endless streams of multicolored dots as they scroll by, the game's enhanced character customization tools and phenomenal sound should keep you (and your audience) coming back for more. Of course, you'll have far less of an audience than you did with Guitar Hero – why would your friends sit back and watch when they can join in for themselves?
My band's going to need to practice
before we start seeing scores
like these.Drums and vocals add a lot to Rock Band's experience, and as a result, this is a title that's meant to be played with at least two (and at best three) friends. Unlike the trusty old guitar controller, the game's drums and microphone seem to cater to those with actual musical talent. If you know a singer or percussionist, get them over to your house to give Rock Band a shot – they're sure to marvel at how much this game feels like the real thing. Here's warning you in advance: drumming takes real rhythm and singing requires a reasonable ear for tone. If you lack either of these, you may be better off sticking to guitar.
Rock Band's set list is certainly more varied than you may be used to. Since Harmonix no longer had to limit itself to great guitar songs, the usual heavy metal is accompanied by some notable pop tunes and classic rock masterworks. If the sixty or so tracks that ship with the game aren't enough for you, be sure to check out the weekly releases available for download on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. Provided folks don't mind spending two dollars per track, my guess is we'll continue to see Rock Band's song library expand well into the future.
As good as Rock Band is, it's certainly not without its faults. The first one of these is a biggie: the $170 price tag. Sure, the game's selling well enough now to be in short supply, but what parent in their right mind is going to shell out that much cash for a game when just a little bit more buys their son or daughter a brand new Wii? This isn't to say the price isn't justified – from a design perspective, the new guitar and drum controllers ooze quality. Still, it's going to be hard to attract newcomers when the price of admission is so high.
Those sharp looking instruments are another problem for Harmonix and Rock Band's publisher, Electronic Arts. Sadly, their engineering doesn't quite live up to the same standards as their design. From day one, rumors have been flying around the internet of faulty strum bars and unresponsive drum pads – I myself am now on my second guitar. Though I tip my hat to Electronic Arts' gracious exchange policy and phenomenal customer service, no one likes to pay top dollar for a cool toy only to end up feeling like a product tester. If Electronic Arts is able to put an end to quality control issues quickly, this probably won't be too big of a problem. Only time will tell.
For the diehard fan of music games and anyone who fell in love with Guitar Hero 2's cooperative mode, Rock Band is a definite must-buy. Few games have such power to bring together a group of friends for an evening of music and laughter. Even though your tour will never take you past your living room, Rock Band's focus on fun and the promised pipeline of downloadable tunes make this seem like a worthwhile investment.