'Rock Band' players head bang to top of awesomeness charts

by Brittany Coombs | 12/4/07 1:03am

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by Courtesy of Devin McManus / The Dartmouth

In case you were wondering, this delusional back story was brought to you courtesy of "Rock Band", the latest and unequivocally greatest installment in this generation's ongoing series of beat-based music video games. Developed by Harmonix Music Systems, the team that crafted "Guitar Heroes I", II and "Encore: Rocks the '80s", the much-hyped "Rock Band" is everything longtime fans of the "Guitar Hero" series could have hoped it would be, and still more. Presenting drums and the microphone as the lifelike new peripherals, "Rock Band" has summarily eclipsed "Guitar Hero" as the genre's gold standard -- understandable, considering the concept is basically "Guitar Hero" meets Percussion Hero meets Vocals Hero meets Bass Hero.

"'Guitar Hero' is for players who want a real individual challenge, or for people who just don't have more than two people around at once," Andrew Sandoval '06 said. "But 'Rock Band' is clearly the best party game. Having to work together [requires] completely different mechanics, and the Band World Tour mode makes playing together totally awesome and purposeful."

Currently available for the Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $150, "Rock Band" sports so many exceptional features it's almost impossible to broach them all in one article -- but I'll try. For starters, the graphics of the game are outstandingly detailed and creative, blending traditional Harmonix graphics that are cartoonish and over-the-top with a look that is almost disturbingly realistic. Forty-one brand new venues showcase diverse lighting and pyrotechnics, and with new locations like Paris, Rome and Stockholm, the series finally acknowledges that countries other than America and Great Britain have been known to occasionally rock out.

These extraordinary visuals are most on display when it comes time to custom-create the characters of your ragtag bunch. Yes, that's right, cherub rockers -- you can now hand-craft your virtual show-stealin' persona from the ground up, modifying his or her every physical feature from height and weight to eye color, skin tone and facial type. No more settling for Lars Umlaut or Pandora. "Rock Band" even offers a shopping district where you can spend hard-earned gig money on threads, accessories, haircuts and tattoos that are categorized by what look you're trying to achieve -- be it punk, metal or goth.

But rest assured that this bevy of novel features isn't simply fantastic veneer on a product that underachieves.

At its core "Rock Band" is like its forebearerss, thriving on downright good music. The game's song list is sensational, and proves the masterminds at Harmonix are finally taking cues not only from their own knowledge of era-defining bands, but also from the expressed desires of series aficionados. Though staples like Aerosmith, Kiss and Black Sabbath return for the umpteenth time (this is not a bad thing per se), several modern groups like Jet, Fall Out Boy and OK Go make their pixelated premieres, and many familiar faces like Boston, the Ramones and Queens of the Stone Age reemerge for the first time since their debut on GHI. Popular alternative rockers like The Clash, the Pixies and Radiohead also make long-overdue first appearances. And a spectacular bonus is the music's authenticity -- 51 of the 58 songs are master tracks.

On top of that, the cup of downloadable content positively runneth over: individual songs can be obtained inexpensively on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and full albums from Nirvana, Metallica and The Who are on the way.

In terms of general gameplay, "Rock Band" takes a great idea and runs with it. Solos, at times feeling interminable on "Guitar Hero", now have defined beginning- and end-points, and their successful completion amplifies your personal multiplier. Low scores no longer feel undeserved since the number of stars the group is earning fills up over the course of the song. Best of all, different difficulty settings can be played by all four band members simultaneously, allowing beat-game neophytes to team up with seasoned vets. In this vein the lone bad news is that concerning the drums and microphone, mastery of either is probably unachievable for anyone other than a real-life drummer or a trained vocalist -- the new peripherals are just that mercilessly realistic on the hard and expert levels.

The good news, though, is that Overdrive ("Rock Band"'s version of Star Power) can revive any band mate that fails during a song, and drumming and singing are both quite fun, no matter the setting.

Indeed, "Rock Band" is so surreally enjoyable it seems almost unnatural that it has two noteworthy flaws. One major hang-up involves the frustrating parameters of band set-up, which require a player to "start individual characters for each instrument and tie one person to being a 'band leader'," as Sandoval pointed out. This may seem trivial, but after meticulously designing an in-game alter ego, the last thing a player wants is to be unable to select it. An even bigger problem is the inability to pit your band against another band online, a feature that would send gamers worldwide into an immediate fun-induced coma. However, since Harmonix is currently making software to amend both these issues, it appears virtually all of "Rock Band"'s criticism is negligible and temporary.

"If you're looking for a music video game and have enough friends who will play through the whole thing with you, 'Rock Band' is the best product out there," Devin McManus '09 said. And it's true.

A brand new world of cooperative gameplay, immersive customization and ridiculous peripherals awaits you, and it will leave your jaw dropped, your ears bleeding and your fingers calloused. Just the way you like them.