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Tonight, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star December 23, 2007

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Impressions.

It doesn't look amazing, but to play it is to love it

A word of warning: if you play Rock Band, you’ll never want to go back to Guitar Hero. Up until now, Activision’s game has ruled the peripheral-dependent rhythm action roost. But no more; original GH devs Harmonix have upped the stakes so significantly that their old series is very definitely playing catch-up.

As I said yesterday, even without the drumming and singing elements, Rock Band would be the better game – the new Fender Strat guitar feels less like a Fisher Price My First Guitar and more like an actual, real-life axe. Sure, it’s a little lightweight – reports on its flimsiness abound, with many complaining of wonky strum bars and such – but so far (touch wood) mine has held firm against some firm and fast downstrokes; Go With The Flow in particular is a one-way trip to RSI-ville. The drums have no such issues – chunky, solid and impressively put together, they’re an absolute joy to play, and – outside the Japan-only DrumMania series – an entirely unique videogame experience. The kick drum pedal really adds to the experience, somehow making it easier to cope with the pat-head-and-rub-tummy ambidextrousness required. The singing is just Singstar all over again, except seemingly a little more forgiving – the gently undulating arrow making you feel far more in tune than the wayward dots peppered around the notes in Sony’s karaoke-fest.

Perhaps most importantly of all,  Harmonix clearly know best when it comes to note placement, especially on the lower difficulties – making it feel like you’re at least contributing to playing the song, without ever making it patronisingly simple nor overly tough – GHIII certainly has something to learn in this respect. On one or two occasions during songs you’re familiar with, there’ll be the odd ‘missing’ note that throws you, while Guitar Hero veterans will likely want to skip Medium difficulty altogether, as it’s noticeably easier here.

The presentation is a definite step up for Harmonix

The basics of the guitar (or bass) playing is understandably close to Guitar Hero, with just a few tweaks – all of which improve the experience. Even on the guitar itself, the improvements are immediately obvious. The strum bar doesn’t have an irritatingly noisy ‘click’, while the fret buttons are closer together and thus it’s easier to slide along the neck. Solos now have an onscreen percentage ticking ever upwards as you play, adding pressure to perform perfectly, but also an incredible sense of satisfaction when you nail a tricky bit of fretwork – further heightened by the fact that the crowd now clap and sing along when you’re playing well. Even before you hit the multiplayer mode, these moments will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand firmly to attention, especially in songs you’re fond of – and there’ll likely be plenty. Granted, not everyone will agree, but for me this tracklist beats any of the Guitar Hero games hands-down. As always, the beauty of these games is that even songs you might be no fan of before you play suddenly turn into classics when you’re strumming, drumming or howling along – Wanted Dead Or Alive becomes a wonderfully anthemic triumph, while the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Maps is no longer just superb, but transcendentally brilliant (particularly on drums). And there’s always downloadable content for those dissatisfied with the provided songs. 

I’ve not spent long enough with the multiplayer to give an entirely balanced view of the ‘true’ Rock Band experience, suffice to say that with two or more players it becomes something even more special. Whether you’ve got a guitarist and drummer perfectly in synch, easily achieving a five-star score, or if you’ve a bassist and vocalist surviving a dodgy start and nailing the final section of a song to just about scrape four stars – with that satisfying ‘ting’ marking each rating increase – Rock Band provides wish-fulfilment like no other videogame can. True, it might be expensive, but at its very best, it will have you beaming with utter elation. One copy of Rock Band on PS3 – £90, shipping costs – £30, import duty – £who knows. High-fiving your three band-mates after an impeccable gig – absolutely bloody priceless. 



1. chris - February 22, 2009

first comment! I was looking for real guitar songs. (like REAL real not in games…)

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