You need nearly as much kit as a real band...Rock Band has been out in the US for a fair few months now and, much to the annoyance of us Europeans itching to get a play, has gone down an absolute storm. But finally, at long last, Rock Band is hitting UK stores, albeit only in its Xbox 360 version and we can finally see what all the fuss is about.
For those very few of you who haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, Rock Band is a rhythm game where players use guitars and a basic drum set ‘play’ songs by matching what buttons (or drum pads) they hit to the coloured icons on the screen. In addition to two guitars and a drum kit Rock Band also allows you to have a singer warbling out the lyrics to the song you’re playing… so that’s four of you playing simultaneously, hence the name Rock Band.
Now comparisons with Singstar and Guitar Hero are inevitable, so we’ll get those out of the way right now. On the singing front, Rock Band suffers from the same flaw as Singstar in that it only checks for variance from a set note on a note by note basis. In other words, you can sing as flat or off key as you want, but as long as you maintain that same flat note for the duration of the phrase you’re singing, you’ll ace the note. So for all you Singstar cheats, yes, the constant hum into the mic method still works.
EA have added a few extras to the singing part of Rock Band though, as singers can earn ‘Energy’, the Rock Band equivalent of Guitar Hero’s Star Power. You earn energy by acing the special glowing notes and activate it by freestyling a few whoops, ‘yeahs’ or any load shout in certain sections of the lyrics bar at which point you’ll go into Overdrive and score double the points. But seeing as singers might be standing around for some songs as the band plays EA have added percussion notes to the singing… basically you have to tap the mic in time with these notes for a bit of tambourine (such as at the end of Dani California) or even MORE cowbell in Don’t Fear The Reaper.
Probably the biggest draw for Rock Band is the drum kit, which means you can give it your best Keith Moon impression in the drum solo in Won’t Get Fooled Again… though it’s incredibly bloody hard. The kit consists of a kick pedal and four pads, coloured coded to match the colours in the game. Red is the snare drum, green is crash and yellow and blue are the cymbals. During songs, if you build up Energy, you’ll have the chance to freestyle with mini drum breaks and solos in which the last two pads become toms, allowing you to have a Muppets Animal drumming session, albeit a brief one. Hit that last green crash cymbal at the end of each break and you activate the drumming Overdrive.
And finally there’s the guitars. As with Guitar Hero II and onwards, you can play either bass or lead guitar and the controls system is pretty much identical to Guitar Hero – you hold down the correct coloured fret key and strum at the right time to play the note. The guitars have whammy bars to change the note pitch and you can still perform hammer-ons and pull-offs, which I reckon are actually a tad easier in Rock Band than in Guitar Hero.
But EA have added a couple of extras to the guitars in Rock Band, the first being a 5 way switch on the guitar that acts like an effects pedal. When you’ve built up enough Energy and given the guitar the customary flick to go into Overdrive, you can change the sound of the guitar with the switch… so you can have a bit of wah-wah, echo, flanger, chorus or just keep it vanilla and true to the original recording.
Also, right up where the neck of the guitar joins the body is a second set of smaller fret buttons. During normal play you can use these as standard fret buttons, holding them down and strumming as you normally do. But in the solo sections you don’t need to strum, just pressing the buttons in time with the colours on the screen is enough, meaning you can finger pick through a solo. Of course, if you want to be really flash try swapping between the two mid-solo for low and high notes… I suggest the end of Dani California if you want to give it a go.