Rock Band Review
How do you follow the incredibly popular Guitar Hero games? By bringing in the rest of the band, of course. The developer responsible for the first two Guitar Hero games, Harmonix, now brings us Rock Band, a game in which you not only have the chance to be a virtual guitar hero, but a drum god or singing star as well. The cover charge for this band is not cheap, though. For $170 you get a guitar, the drum kit, and a mic along with a copy of the game, and you'll still need to pick up another guitar if you want to fill out your band with a bassist. That's a lot of money to be sure, but odds are that you'll get a lot more mileage out of this game than most. We'd all like to forget about a few games that we've spent $70 on only to regret it a half hour into the game (or less!). If you already own a Guitar Hero game for the Xbox 360, then you'll be able to save the cost of the second guitar because the Guitar Hero guitars are compatible with Rock Band. You can even just pick up the game on its own and play just the guitar parts to save some scratch, but then you'd miss out on the primal joy of pounding out the beat on the drums.
There is a lot to Rock Band, which while good for the gamer is not so good for the reviewer because it's going to take a bit of work on my part to touch on everything. I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning and let you know what you are in store for after bringing the sizable Rock Band box home and dumping its contents on your living room floor. The first thing that you'll notice is that none of the instruments are wireless. To get around the four instrument cables and two USB ports dilemma, Rock Band provides a mini USB hub with four ports. You plug the instruments into the ports and the hub into the 360. There is a downside to this solution in addition to the reintroduction of wires into your formerly wireless videogame domain, namely that the USB hub is powered and needs to be plugged in while you play. For me this is always a bit of a hassle because available plug space is at a premium and I loathe having to untangle wires as I reroute cords and struggle with power bricks, but it may or may not be an issue for you.
If you've ever held a Guitar Hero 3 controller then you'll instantly feel a deep familiarity with the Rock Band guitar. You have a flipper for your strum bar to simulate the plucking of strings, color coded buttons on the fret bar, and a whammy bar. The Rock Band guitar feels a bit heavier and more solidly built than the Guitar Hero guitar, but the differences go beyond the feel of the two guitars. The Rock Band guitar's fret buttons are flush with the handle and are only color-coded on the tops of the buttons. This gives the controller a more realistic look, but it also gives it a different feel for those used to playing Guitar Hero. The Guitar Hero buttons stand out from the handle and so there's some separation between the buttons, but on the Rock Band guitar the separation does not feel as pronounced. This isn't that big a deal if you play at easy or medium, or even at hard in most cases, but expert level video guitarists may have to go through a short adjustment period. It will also take a short adjustment period to get used to the strum bar. The Rock Band guitar's strum bar does not have the characteristic clack of its Guitar Hero cousin and feels a lot softer.
The Rock Band guitar also sports a few new features not found on the Guitar Hero guitar. The first is an extra set of fret buttons near the base of the handle. They're there to make the guitar easier to use for younger players and for older players who want to really get into their solos. There's also an effects switch which changes the sound of the guitar. It's not too easy to switch between the five effects while playing, but it is cool how you can change the sound of the guitar to match the style of the song that you're playing. Once you've played through the song list a few times you'll begin to settle on your preferred sound for each song and just set the switch before you begin playing.