Rock Band is the best money I've spent on video gaming. Ever.
That's a bold statement. It may be too soon since its release to make such a statement, but right now I can't get enough Rock Band. If this industry had any legitimate award societies, I would nominate Harmonix for Developer of the Year, Rock Band for Game of the Year. (Too bad the best we have is the Spike VGA program... complete with category "Most Addictive Game Fueled by Mountain Dew.")
Simply put, the amount of content to play is staggering. Four band roles, 45+ songs with more each week, a huge multiplayer campaign, dueling, and insane character creation. Compared to competitor Guitar Hero 3, which I find highly ironic is Harmonix's previous game series, this game shines in ways Guitar Hero will never know. That is entirely because Harmonix has a different vision for music games that is unique to them and no other developer. They make games to celebrate music and the essence of human-music interaction.
Let me start with the basic gameplay. The game comes with 45 tracks + a few bonus songs. I've already purchased a few tracks and I'm to about 55 total songs. You know I love math so here we go:
55 songs X 4 tracks per song X 4 difficulties per song = 880 unique tracks
Compared to Guitar Hero 3's total content (70 songs X 4 difficulties X 2 tracks = 560 unique) you can see already that Rock Band has 36% more tracks to play than its competitor. However, Rock Band isn't about how many songs there are to play, it's about presentation and simulation, or rather the "how" and "why" you're rocking out.
To get an idea of what Harmonix delivers with Rock Band, it helps to make comparisons to the Guitar Hero series. Guitar Hero 1 introduced me to the joy of simulating rockage. It was about solid rock tunes that are fun to jam. The learning of this game's rules and how best to hold and play the controller were exciting and stimulating. Hearing music in a different way, picking up on guitar notes and understanding rhythm and song architecture made Guitar Hero an educational experience pioneering further interest in music.
Guitar Hero 2 was a slight departure from the previous title. I already knew how to play the game; I jumped straight to Expert and played through all the game's songs in 24 hours. It was great to have new songs to play and master, but the overall feeling of the game was slanted towards earning 5-stars on much harder songs. It didn't have quite the same educational and exploratory experience as the first game. I can't say for sure, but it felt like the game lost a little bit of its soul under the publishing eyes of Activision.
Now comes Guitar Hero 3, crafted by established developer Neversoft, of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater fame. Harmonix had left Activision and Red Octane to work with MTV and EA on Rock Band. I dreaded what Neversoft would do with the series. Would they simply clone Guitar Hero 2 and add new tracks? Or would they insert their own takes on the music game genre? The answer was a combination of both. Guitar Hero 3 maintained the sense of style Harmonix left behind, but the gameplay was an even greater shift towards relentless solos and tricky guitar work.
This is the divergence of the two games I'm talking about. Guitar Hero 3 focuses on melting faces with amazing guitar skills, while Rock Band returns to the roots of what made Guitar Hero 1 so phenomenal. I've still got ties to the Guitar Hero series (nailing Slayer's Raining Blood on Expert for the first time is an intense feeling), but I am positively ecstatic that Harmonix renewed their vision for the music game genre with Rock Band. An experience of learning, having fun, and accessibility.
The two main reasons why I see a return to the original Guitar Hero experience: the drums and World Tour mode. Sitting down with the drums for the first time was exactly like picking up the SG controller with Guitar Hero 1. The sense of new and stimulating ways to play a game, figuring out how best to sit, how to hold drumsticks, how NOT to hit the 360 button... such a mind-expanding time. The vocals don't have the same effect; I've been singing in cars and showers for years =)
World Tour mode is the other masterpiece. Getting together with your friends, making rock personas, coming up with a band name and icon... what a great time to be alive. Moving from city to city and seeing these actual venues with your band's name on the sign, hearing the crowds sing along to the songs, timing Overdrive use to max out that score multiplier... I really salute you, Harmonix.
As you saw earlier, I hosted a launch party at my house for the game and invited about 15 people to come celebrate the game with me. The party was fantastic! Everyone was psyched to play the game they've been waiting for since it was announced. We jumped right into World Tour mode with the band name "omg play" as we were so impatient to get started. Having everyone sing along to the songs they love was an experience I witnessed first at PAX 2007. Seeing it then I knew I wanted the same thing for my launch party.
It's 3:20am and I'm just jumping around sub-topics here. Let's talk about character creation. It's the most insane combination of clothing, hair styles, and customization that I've ever seen in a video game. Players can select from either gender, four schools of style, several faces, so many hairdos, a fantastic amount of clothing from the four styles, and a small version of Photoshop with which to ink the skin! Math time.
Total character possibilities? First, let's exclude the gargantuan numbers introduced by the near-freestyle tattoo shop. Also these numbers are from best memory, just to get an idea.
2 genders X 4 rock styles X 6 faces X 20 hairstyles X (4 shops X 20 colors ^ (20 tops X 12 bottoms X 8 shoes)) = approximately 9.11 x 10^2500
Throw on top of that rings, gloves, accessories, make up, and THEN a mini-Photoshop for tattoo creation that goes on both arms, chest, and the face? The numbers are STAGGERING. Oh wait, I forgot about all the instruments! There are plenty of models of real world guitars, bass guitars, drums, and mics to select as well. Those odds suggest that you will never, ever see the same Rock Band character twice.
Add to that the fact that not all of these options are available from the get go. There is an element of RPG character building at work. The clothing costs money, earned from playing gigs. Some of the nicer items cost thousands of dollars, while a single gig might only net you $20. See where this is going? It looks like Harmonix took a few notes before designing this game.
What else can I say about Rock Band? Tons. But I need sleep and more Rock Band. I'm looking forward to the complete albums coming soon, from such artists as The Who and Nirvana. I've also heard that Metallica will be premiering a new song exclusively on Rock Band as downloadable content. Amazing stuff. I can't wait to watch the full effects this game will have on TWO industries. In the mean time, come over to my place and play in my band, Zeus' Testicles.