Monday, June 9, 2008

Rock Band Post (Finally)

So, I've had Rock Band for a couple months now, but I haven't actually written a post on it yet. I've mentioned it in posts, but I haven't actually written a post dedicated to its pure, unadulterated awesomeness.

There's a couple reasons for this. The main one being that there really isn't much to say besides that it is incredibly, ridiculously awesome. I mean, everything about it is awesome. Playing it is a lot like playing the first Guitar Hero. It is filled with energy and excitement and ideas and you can't help but get swept up with them.

Just the character creation system had me completely consumed for at least the first month. I was literally creating characters and having them play gigs just to provide them with money to fill up their wardrobe and really look like rock stars. I very quickly had a full band of hot girls, slowly testing different looks and styles until each one had finally found just the right look. Of course, since that's happened I haven't touched the system again, but that's okay. This was just another way to get me into the game and the characters, and that's what was really important. And this is another similarity to Guitar Hero 1. Not all of the ideas have been executed to completion just yet. This is the start of something great; a remarkable start, but a start all the same. I would love it if there were additional costumes or hairstyles available for download. I'm also looking forward to them further expanding the creation system and adding more faces or more customizable faces.

Similarly, I think Band World Tour mode still needs some work. It's a really awesome idea and it's way better than slowly accessing a track list, but it's not quite right yet. I like that this mode eliminates the old proglem where there's a single song stopping all of your progress in the game, but it's significantly extending the game time without increasing the total number of songs available to me at all. The inevitable result is that I'll have to play the same songs over and over again, which isn't as much fun as playing new songs. It gets worse because you can't access any of the songs you've downloaded. This means that the entire Band World Tour only really uses less than half the songs I have (except during sets that are random or let me pick the set myself). I love the idea of fans (although at this point they don't actually serve much purpose) and playing bigger gigs earning more fans and money, but there needs to be a way to make it worthwhile to go back to Band World Tour after I've downloaded tons of songs. As it is now, I pretty much only do Band Quickplay because that way I can choose from all my songs and see them sorted by difficulty. Even when I've got a group that I've formed a band with over, we'll still end up switching to Quickplay mode after a little while because it works better to take turns picking the song we want to perform, rather than trying to find whole sets that we all want to play (in the end, we almost always just pick random). I don't know if maybe download packs should add extra gigs in the world or if gigs should often have a random song guaranteed to be either a bonus track or a downloaded song, but something needs to be done.

Drums, of course, have had me addicted for ever since I laid eyes on them. I am incapable of holding a rhythm, but somehow I've managed to learn...when I'm holding the Rock Band drumsticks while sitting front of the Rock Band drum kit and watching the screen. And that is totally awesome. I mean, ridiculously awesome. It's something I never believed I could do. At this point, I've now played drums to the point where I can five star almost any song on Hard and so I'm playing more and more Expert. Get that: Expert. This means that I actually know drum patterns at this point. That is crazy. It reminds me of what it was like to get addicted to Guitar Hero. All over again. Only it feels even better.

I've been surprised how much fun vocals are as well. I am one of those people who can't sing, but likes to think he can, and given some music is typically willing to sing, though typically fairly quietly because I don't really want people to have to listen to me. And, well, Rock Band will let you do that. And, I've actually managed to improve a lot in that area as well. When I started I could actually fail on Easy, and by this point I can survive almost any song on Hard. It'd be nice to someday be good enough to typically get four or five stars on Hard, but surviving is where I'm at now, and I'm proud of that. Yeah, that's right, proud of it. That's pretty awesome too, since there's not very many games where my ability actually gives me pride. I mean, doing the guitar and drums on Expert doesn't make me proud (although I do like showing it off).

But, what I've recently discovered is how truly incredible it feels to sing while playing guitar. Given a mic stand and a guitar, Rock Band completely changes. A wise man I know described this as a transformation from playing the game to performing. He's right. Although I've never been on stage playing an instrument in my life (but he has, os that's why i'm trust him on things like this), and I know I never will, this is what it must feel like to be actually doing it. Performing both instruments at once puts you entirely in the game. When you're performing like that, you're actually singing. When you're performing like that, you honestly can't tell that you're not actually playing a guitar. When you're performing like that, you believe that you're onstage. And it feels so good.

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to do just the guitar again and not feel lame. This is what karoake should be like (and with the help of alcohol, I'm pretty sure it is, but that's not the point).

But, so how do I feel about Rock Band versus Guitar Hero (3 and later)? Or, rather, how about I list all the ways that Rock Band puts Guitar Hero to shame?

But seriously, this game is better in every single way and the upcoming Guitar Hero: World Tour game just reinforces it. Rock Band captured the feel of the crowd and the stadiums and the stage performances way, way better. The things the characters do onstage are amazing to watch, whenever you get the chance. The character designs and art styles are totally cool, which was one of my main complaints about Guitar Hero 3. The writing is actually clever and funny. The song list totally blows Guitar Hero out of the water and is probably the best list since Guitar Hero 1. They got all the little things and the very big things absolutely right.

The downloadable content puts Guitar Hero to shame, every day of the week (well, every Thursday of the week, at least). I mean, think about it. I have 6 Grateful Dead songs on Rock Band. I have them because the guitar parts are amazing, but there is no Grateful Dead on Guitar Hero, and I don't know why. I have Boston's debut album. And, it is amazing. By the end of this month, I'll have The Pixies' Doolittle. Get that: Doolittle. Like, after they get around to releasing Nevermind, my life will be complete. Completely complete. I can barely even imagine how awesome it will be to do Nevermind from start to finish. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. And don't get me started on how awesome it is to have so many songs from The Police and Oasis and The Clash and from stupid (yet, somehow awesome) emo bands like 30 Seconds to Mars and The All-American Rejects and Paramore and Fall Out Boy. I mean, I even have a song from The Monkees, for goodness sake.

How can Guitar Hero compete with that? Well, they can't. So, their plan is to just milk the brand. They're releasing something like 3 different Guitar Hero games in the next 6 months (well, if you count the DS version, which I'm not sure should be counted). If I cared about Aerosmith at all, I might care about their Aerosmith version, but I don't; so, I don't. They've also announced that they'll be doing a similar Metallica dedicated game. Once again, I don't care. And then there's Guitar Hero: World Tour (subtitle: Playing Catch Up with Rock Band). They're adding drums and vocals, of course. And, well, their drums do sound pretty sweet. Otherwise, their feature list is made up entirely of functional improvements that people want to see in Rock Band. The character creation system will have more options than Rock Band. The drums will be quieter. The solo tour mode will be more like Rock Band's Band World Tour mode (while I'm sure the band tour mode will be exactly the same). They're even adding the music creation system that Harmonix said they wished they could get into Rock Band 1.

But, so my question can't help but be, so what are you offering me that Rock Band isn't? Keeping in mind, that I would be very, very surprised if, when I bought Rock Band 2, I wouldn't have access to the 50-some songs I've already downloaded. And the answer is, quite honestly, the name Guitar Hero. And, well, my response is: Guitar Hero 3 left a bad taste in my mouth, so, I think I'll pass. Which is too bad. I would really like it if Activision felt the need to actually differentiate Guitar Hero from Rock Band by doing things in a better or different way, rather than doing things the same way and shooting for feature parity (or, at this point, an incremental improvement over a game that will be about a year old when the new Guitar Hero comes out, so Guitar Hero will actually have to compete with Rock Band 2, which should have all the "features" that Guitar Hero has at an absolute minimum...possibly minus the quieter drum).
What I really want is to see Rock Band keep improving as a platform. A couple songs a week is an amazing start, but I want to see where it goes from there. I want to see singles and songs and whatever hitting Rock Band as often as possible. I know that's what they want as well, and I can't wait for them to get there.

That is all.


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