Friday, March 07, 2008

Completist Game Review: Rock Band

Completist Game Reviews aren't meant to be timely. The opinions herein were generated after many months of playing a game, long after the hype and honeymoon impressions have worn off. If it's beatable, the reviewer must beat it. Would you review a movie without finishing it? No. The game will be played not in the rushed manner of most review sites but as the average player will experience it... On his own time, at his own pace.

We've dedicated a lot of space on this site to Rock Band coverage, so it's no secret that we were excited for this game. Now that it's been in our hands for a couple of months and we've played the almighty heck out of it, does it live up to our expectations? Yes and no.

Rock Band takes the Guitar Hero concept and expands it so far beyond the original's design as to render it obsolete. Even if Rock Band didn't have drums and vocals, it would put Guitar Hero to shame. The difficulty curve feels smoother than Guitar Hero, and the note sequences never feel like their trying be tough for tough's sake.

More after the jump...

Also the presentation is much better, with some really slick graphics and a lot of options for customizing your own characters instead of picking from cheesy stock avatars. Watching the virtual band perform a song can actually be pretty engaging, because they all really do look like their playing their instruments (as opposed to GH's stiff animatronic-looking models) and they're being shot in the style of an awesome 70s rockumentary.

The drums bring a whole new challenge to things, and even though I know it's probably an illusion I can't help but feel like my gradual improvement is a laudable accomplishment. Something about banging pads and stomping a pedal feels more constructive than pushing buttons on a toy guitar. I'm sure that I still wouldn't know what to do with a real drumset or even be able to keep time without the help of onscreen prompts, but it feels pretty great when you finally get your hands and your feet to operate independently of one another.

The song selection is also really great, and the regular stream of new tracks available every week keeps the experience fresh.

Unfortunately, the experience isn't perfect. My gripes might seem like quibbles, but they are things that still burn my biscuits after a couple months of playing the game, so they're worth mentioning.

First of all, it's cool that you can create your own characters to play with, but you have to choose an instrument for that character and then they can never play anything else. So if you're like me and like to play a little bit of everything you'll have a "Guitarist Albo," "Drummer Albo," and "Singer Albo." Three different characters! It's a pain in the ass to make three characters when you should really only have to make one that has the animations for each instrument built in. I can't imagine that would actually be difficult to program. What's the deal?

Secondly, the Band World Tour mode (the "main mode" of the game) has a flawed design. It's cool in concept--hop from city to city playing gigs to earn money and gain fans. But as you progress through the game (especially early on when your gig choices are limited) you'll find yourself playing the same songs over and over again. I think our first time playing we did Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" six times. I like the song and all, but that kind of repetition gets old quick. The Tour "ends" (you can keep playing gigs if you like) with a six hour marathon run of all the standard songs on the disc, but there's no grand finale ending, just a polite text message of congratulations.

One way in which Rock Band is inferior to Guitar Hero is the peripheral design. The guitar, while good looking, feels incredibly cheap. The neck feels like it could break off in a strong wind, and the "added functionality" of the effects switcher and the small buttons high up on the neck are just gimmicks (though I can see how the small buttons might be useful for a small child). The drums are fun to play but also feel really cheap. They are rickety, foam is sticking out from under the pads, and the hard plastic the pads are made out of isn't pleasant to hit with a stick and creates an awful racket. I purchased some foam drum pads from a guy on the internet, which helps the sound and feel of the drums a lot, but it sucks that they didn't come out of the box feeling better.

The game is at its best as a party game, with people rotating through instruments and all having a good time. It really is a blast to hang out with friends and bellow through these great tunes. The only thing that gets in the way of the fun is the fact that there really aren't that many easy songs, so playing with first timers tends to leave them left out. This wasn't as much of a problem with Guitar Hero because in competitive play it wouldn't matter how bad someone was doing, the game would still let them play to the end of the song, which would provide them with more practice. In Rock Band, if you fail you can be saved by your bandmates, but after three times it will end the song prematurely. This leaves your fellow band members disgruntled and you singled out as a bad player without that extra practice you need so much. In my experience with party crowds the newbies get frustrated and withdraw from the group fairly quickly, which defeats the whole point of playing in the first place. It would have been great if there was a "Party Mode" setting that would remove the "three strikes and you're out" rule so everyone could keep playing and be happy.

So it's not a perfect game, but the fun factor is still extremely high and considering there's not another game like it around, it gets our top score of FOUR STARS.

Note: The reviewer was playing the XBox 360 version of the game.


Hunter said...

Albert, I want you to create a Safe Day for me where I can come in and learn the drums, and there's food and drink, and no one controversial comes over, and I get some rhythm and I become useful.

Jamie said...

i didn't know i was that controversial...

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