Rock Band: the words are music to the ears of every Guitar Hero fan. The new rhythm game from Harmonix--the developers of Guitar Hero 1 and 2--is more of a music delivery platform than a simple continuation of the gem-scrolling formula. It expands the instrument selection, adding a microphone for singing and a drum set for tapping, in addition to the bass and lead guitars. It brings the whole thing online, adding several modes for four-player rocking. And, most importantly, it brings with it the promise of downloadable songs, released on a weekly basis.
"But Nick," you sing in a high falsetto, "What's the deal with the online modes? I heard there won't be that many. And DLC is great, but are we only going to get a few Foo Fighters songs every week? Say it ain't so. Also, I played the game at Best Buy and the guitar was broken. Is this the real game? Or is this just fantasy?"
"I see a little information for you man," I reply, spotlights casting an eerie shadow on my face. "Rock Band guide, Rock Band guide, here it is and it's a huge thing."
Most probably know the basics by now. Rock Band takes Guitar Hero, adds the drummer's scrolling window next to the bass and lead guitar, and slides a horizontal display up to the top of the screen for the vocalist's lyrics. It's a jam-packed screen for quartet jamming, and it works great.
The Release Dates
The game itself hits stores in the US on Tuesday, November 20th for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with a PlayStation 2 version arriving on December 18th. Unfortunately, as we reported earlier this week, Canadian rocker-wannabes will be waiting a few extra weeks to get their hands on any version of Rock Band. The game's been delayed for the Great White North until December 17.
Wii owners may have the longest to wait, but could have a surprise in store for them when a potential Rock Band port arrives. Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos has stated in the past that the game will likely make an appearance on Nintendo's system, adding that it would take advantage of the Wii remote in some way.
For those with Guitar Hero guitars and light wallets, the stand-alone disc can be found for the standard $60, or $50 on the PS2. However, individual instruments will not be available for purchase at launch. Unless you shell out the full $170 for the bundle--which includes the guitar, microphone, drum set, USB hub (PS2 and 360 versions), and game--you'll have to either find a friend with the extra instruments, or play online with your existing guitar to get the full effect. Even those that buy the bundle will need to procure an extra guitar in order to singlehandedly fill out their band. Pricing for the individual controllers has not yet been finalized.
There are a few minor differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 bundles. The PS3 bundle comes with a wireless guitar (achieved using a USB dongle), while the Xbox 360's Stratocaster is wired. This discrepancy will exist for at least a few months; Harmonix will be releasing a wireless 360 Rock Band controller early next year. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 packages will come with an external four-port USB hub in order to accommodate the multiple instruments, whereas PlayStation 3 consoles will have enough existing ports to handle the extra peripherals. Lastly, the PlayStation 2 version will not be supported with downloadable content, a major black mark on that particular version.
Also new is a five-switch effects knob, which applies a chorus, auto-wah, echo or flange effect to the band when Overdrive is activated--still achieved by either vertically raising the guitar, or hitting the select button. While the game obviously supports "Lefty Flip" mode for left-handed players, the new Stratocaster also features a detachable strap peg, allowing for more comfortable use by those with south paws.
Guitar controller compatibility is becoming an obnoxious, headache-inducing internet pastime. And so, with the release of a Guitar Hero competitor, the question is even more complicated: what the hell guitar do I need to play this game?
The answer? All Xbox 360 guitars are compatible with Rock Band. All of them. Even most third-party controllers should work. However, things aren't quite as rosy for PlayStation 3 owners.
For Xbox 360 owners, both the Guitar Hero 2 X-plorer and wireless Guitar Hero 3 Les Paul will fill in as extra instruments. PlayStation 2 users have their pick of controllers released to this point, although while Harmonix has stated third-party controllers will work, testing results are scarce at this point.
As for the PlayStation 3, it was once believed that any PS3 Guitar Hero guitar would work. However, IGN reports that the PlayStation 3's wireless Guitar Hero 3 controller, the Les Paul, won't work with Rock Band, at least in its current slate. That puts PS3 owners in a tough spot, as individual Rock Band instruments won't be available until next year and there aren't any other guitars they can use with the game. However, the PS3's wireless Rock Band controller is interoperable with the PS2 version, and vice versa.
On the flip side, Rock Band guitars do not reliably function with Guitar Hero games--publisher RedOctane has been notoriously unfriendly to third-party peripherals with its games--making the Guitar Hero-branded controllers the most compatible between the two franchises. Of course, no Guitar Hero controllers feature the Rock Band effects knob. Feel that headache coming on?
Unfortunately, there really is no ideal solution for Xbox 360 users who wish to continue playing previous Guitar Hero games. The best combination would be a Guitar Hero 3 wireless Les Paul for bass, with a wired Rock Band controller for lead guitar--if the Les Paul wasn't known for having problems with its detachable neck, dropping notes at random in some cases. And the X-plorer is undoubtedly the worst of all 360 guitars, making it an even less attractive option. Hopefully most prospective buyers will already own a guitar, thus freeing themselves of the hard choice.
Demo Unit Quality Assurance
Build quality of the expensive instruments is a major concern following the many reported issues with Guitar Hero 3 controllers. If you've played Rock Band at a Best Buy or Wal-Mart and noticed a strum bar felt a little weak, or a drum pad a little noisy, don't fret. According to Harmonix community manager Sean Baptiste and others, the peripherals are quite a bit sturdier in their final form, and demo units are in the process of being replaced with finalized equipment.
"Keep in mind that the final drums are a bit quieter than what's on display at Best Buy/Walmart," says well-known Harmonix employee CptUnderpant on the Something Awful forums. "The retail guitars also have sturdier strum bars, especially for downstrums."
Read on for information about the drums, the microphone, the game's various modes, and the full song list. _PAGE_BREAK_ The Drums
As for the basic gameplay, it's still about hitting the pads and kick pedal in time with the corresponding gems. Freestyle drum fill sections will be included in songs, allowing drummers to let loose improvised jams. Overdrive is activated after these freestyle sections with a crash cymbal.
Because the drum set comes far closer to matching an actual instrument than the five-button guitar, playing drums on expert difficulty will come pretty close to a real musical simulation. Two drummers facing off in the game's Tug of War mode, warring with back-and-forth beats, should make for a unique experience.
Some users have wondered about the noticeably-loud drum pads after playing demo units, but as mentioned above, retail units will likely be less abrasive in sound quality. Still, if the noise becomes too much, modding the set is always one option.
"The drum heads are detachable, so you could try and pad the inside of each drum pad," comments CptUnderpant. "You'll lose sensitivity, but you'll gain quietness."
Because Rock Band is smart enough to judge pitch and pronunciation, you'll have to be on your toes to sing on expert mode. Lyrics and pitch indicators scroll at the top of the screen, with a small tick mark keeping track of how off-key you're actually singing in comparison to the intended note. In addition to crooning, the microphone will double as a tambourine or cowbell in some songs, requiring you to tap the mic with your hand. The unfortunate end of this particular feature is that it will make it somewhat difficult to sing and play another instrument simultaneously, though some have had success by blowing sharply into the mic on the appropriate beats.
Though bundles will ship with a Rock Band-branded mic, any USB microphone can be used with the game. In fact, Xbox 360 headsets will indeed function to a limited extent. However, you'll want a real hand-held microphone in order to pull off tricky vocals, as the game will have a difficult time interpreting your words through the low-fidelity headset.
For those wanting to play through the game's multiplayer-only World Tour on their own, or juts wanting to emulate their favorite instrument-juggling vocalists, it is possible to play drums or guitar and sing at the same time. You'll have to have the song memorized, and a some kind of rudimentary microphone stand will be necessary, but you can do it.
At first blush, Rock Band's gameplay modes are similar to those of Guitar Hero titles. Lead guitar, drums, and vocals will have tier-based campaigns, dubbed the Solo Tour Mode, and playable across four difficulty levels. Because certain songs will be more difficult for certain instruments, the song tiers will be ordered differently depending on the campaign.
In terms of other "returning" features, Tug of War is basically another version of Guitar Hero's Face Off mode, which has players trading off on sections of a song and competing to earn more points. Score Duel mimics Pro Face Off, a pure point-based competition with no back-and-forth. These modes will both be enabled for online multiplayer, in addition to Band Quick Play, the self-descriptive mode which puts four players together in a test of cooperative musical prowess. When in full band array, each member of the quartet will have the choice of playing at their own difficulty--although the game will automatically adjust point values based on the level of each player in competitive modes.
While bands can compete online in the quick play mode, the much-hyped Band World Tour will be relegated to offline play only, though it may be brought online in the future. World Tour has two to four players traveling around the globe to 41 venues in 17 cities, playing custom set lists that have the game streaming songs to your group one after another, as if you were actually putting on a show. If players nail a performance overall, they'll gain fans--if they bomb, they'll lose them. Bands will also need to accumulate stars, based on the execution of individual songs. Stars and fans will both go toward unlocking new venues.
Of course, cold cash will still be a factor, gained from the successful completion of shows. As your band grows in wealth, you'll be able to purchase clothes, instruments, and other bonus items from various shops. Managers will offer the band challenges, such as recording your next performance on DVD--if your band fails, you'll lose that many more fans for putting out a poor disc. Bands will be forced to choose between performing dangerously-unknown mystery set lists for extra rewards, or choosing to play at a larger stadium and face wide-scale humiliation.
You'll be able to design your own custom rock star, with unique hair, clothing, tattoos, and stage movement. Harmonix is planning plenty of community support for the online portion of the game, including leaderboards, band profile pages, photo shoots, and even blog pages. According to an OXM interview with Harmonix's Rigopulos, some even crazier features are in the works.
"When you name your band, you can create your band logo and edit the graphical style," said Riogpulos. "We're going to be able to export to your web pages, and from there you'll be able to take your band avatars, pose them, create album covers with your band logo and different scenes with your avatars. And then you'll be able to turn that into real world stuff. For example, figurines based upon your Rock Band avatars, t-shirts with your fake band's album art and your tour dates on the back from your accomplishments within the game, bumper stickers, old records, things like that. Really cool real-world merchandise based on this fictitious band that you've created in the game."
A few final modes await those with strong bladders: the Hall of Fame Marathon, Mystery Setlists, and the Endless Setlist. The Marathon forces players to nail the eight hardest tracks in the game, all in a row. The Mystery Setlist will randomly assemble a slew of songs to throw at you. The Endless Setlist mode will have you running through every song in the game. Those who complete the Endless Setlist modes will unlock some type of "cool" bonus--presumably an in-game toilet of some kind.
Read on for the full Rock Band song list. _PAGE_BREAK_
Even with all of Rock Band's innovation, at the end of the day, it's really all about the music. Former E Street Band and The Sopranos cast member Steven Van Zandt is chairing Harmonix's musical selection committee, and so far he hasn't let fans down. The main set list is an even mix between old and new classics, the majority of which are original recordings. The downloadable content is even more exciting.
Rock Band's downloadable songs will come in a variety of packs and purchase plans. Most songs will cost $1.99 apiece, with some costing as little as $.99, and others as much as $2.99. Three-song packs will run $5.49. Full albums will also be available, but while some have been confirmed, they have yet to be priced or dated. One note for future European Rock Bands: songs will be localized, with different territories receiving varying DLC options.
Main Set List
(covers denoted by asterisk)
Rolling Stones, "Gimme Shelter"
Black Sabbath, "Paranoid" *
Mountain, "Mississippi Queen" *
Deep Purple, "Highway Star"
The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again"
David Bowie, "Suffragette City"
Sweet, "Ballroom Blitz" *
Aerosmith, "Train Kept A-Rollin'" *
The Outlaws, "Green Grass and High Tides" *
The Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop"
Boston, "Foreplay/Long Time"
Blue Oyster Cult, "Don't Fear the Reaper"
Kiss, "Detroit Rock City"
The Police, "Next To You"
Molly Hatchet, "Flirtin' With Disaster"
Rush, "Tom Sawyer" *
Iron Maiden, "Run To The Hills" *
The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go"
Bon Jovi, "Wanted Dead or Alive"
Faith No More, "Epic"
R. E. M., "Orange Crush"
Pixies, "Wave of Mutilation"
Metallica, "Enter Sandman"
Nirvana, "In Bloom"
The Smashing Pumpkins, "Cherub Rock"
Weezer, "Say It Ain't So"
Beastie Boys, "Sabotage"
Soundgarden, "Black Hole Sun"
Stone Temple Pilots, "Vasoline"
Hole, "Celebrity Skin"
Garbage, "I Think I'm Paranoid"
Foo Fighters, "Learn to Fly"
The Hives, "Main Offender"
Queens of the Stone Age, "Go with the Flow"
Fall Out Boy, "Dead on Arrival"
Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"
The New Pornographers, "Electric Version"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps"
The Strokes, "Reptilia"
Coheed and Cambria, "Welcome Home"
Nine Inch Nails, "The Hand That Feeds"
Ok Go, "Here It Goes Again"
The Killers, "When You Were Young"
Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Dani California"
Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld, "Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld"
The Konks, "29 Fingers"
Flyleaf, "I'm So Sick"
The Acrobats, "Day Late, Dollar Short"
Anarchy Club, "Blood Doll"
Bang Camaro, "Pleasure (Pleasure)"
Crooked X, "Nightmare"
Death of the Cool, "Can't Let Go"
The Mother Hips, "Time We Had"
Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, "I Get By"
Week of November 20, 2007
- Ride the Lightning
- And Justice for All
The Police Pack
- Can't Stand Losing You
- Synchronicity II
Queens of the Stone Age Pack
- 3's and 7's
- Little Sister
- Sick Sick Sick
- Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Fortunate Son" *
- Foreigner, "Juke Box Hero" *
- T-Rex, "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" *
- The Knack, "My Sharona" *
- The Runaways, "Cherry Bomb" *
- Wolfmother, "Joker & The Thief"
Week of November 27, 2007
David Bowie Pack
- Moonage Daydream
- Heroes *
- Queen Bitch *
Week of December 4, 2007
Black Sabbath Pack
- N.I.B. *
- Sweet Leaf *
- War Pigs *
Week of December 11, 2007
- Ramones, "Rockaway Beach"
- The Clash, "I Fought the Law"
- Buzzcocks, "Ever Fallen In Love" *
Week of December 18, 2007
- Radiohead, "My Iron Lung"
- Weezer, "Buddy Holly"
- Pretenders, "Brass in Pocket" *
Confirmed Full Albums
The Who, "Who's Next"
- Baba O'Riley
- Love Ain't for Keeping
- My Wife
- The Song Is Over
- Getting in Tune
- Going Mobile
- Behind Blue Eyes
- Won't Get Fooled Again (included with full game)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit
- In Bloom (included with full game)
- Come as You Are
- Territorial Pissings
- Drain You
- Lounge Act
- Stay Away
- On a Plain
- Something in the Way
Grateful Dead Collection
- Sugar Magnolia
- Casey Jones
- Uncle John's Band
- Touch Of Grey
And 13 more Grateful Dead songs.