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"Rock Band"


Through my job, I get to meet a wide array of interesting techie-types, and a few weeks ago, I basically met the white toolie version of myself:

This guy has a massive man cave.  How massive?  At his townhouse in Clarksburg, MD, this guy has basically created a video game haven out of his basement and formerly-two-car garage, complete with eight LAN-connected PCs with flat-panel monitors, a stadium-seating area for 10 people with an Xbox 360 and a projector for a 8' x 10' screen, a small den with a projector and no couch for Wii play, and the former garage being stocked with six poker tables, two refrigerators and a 60" projection TV with a PS2 and eight controllers.  The first floor alone probably has $30,000 - $50,000 worth of equipment, especially when you factor in the nearly 500 games he has lying around for the various systems.  The guy has parties once a month, and he had one last Friday; I was so anxious to go I basically dumped Meg for the night so that I could run over there to see the guy's setup.

The highlight of the night?  That's easy--"Rock Band" for the Xbox 360 was setup on the 8' x 10' projector, so when I got to the guy's house (and wiped the drool collecting in my goatee), I setup in one of the comfy leather recliners behind the players to soak it all in...and, when one guy said that he needed a break, I got in to play bass on "Enter Sandman"...and I was hooked.

Here's the deal: you get like 60 songs with "Rock Band", mainly all rock songs that you have probably heard before dating from the 60s all the way to the present; you can download additional songs from the Xbox Live service, too.  Once you pick your avatar (basically, what your "character" looks like onscreen) and the difficulty level, you have to decide who's going to do what.  There are four members of the band you can play: the lead singer, the lead guitar, the bass guitar and the percussion section (which in this game is generally snare, bass, and high-hat).  Generally, singing and playing bass is easy; playing lead guitar is so-so to difficult, and playing drums is generally ALWAYS difficult.

As rhythm games go, once the songs start, everyone has a role.  The main goal is for everyone to perform their role well enough for the in-game "audience" to like your performance, similar to the "Guitar Hero" games, also developed by Harmonix.  If any one of the band members starts to blow it--say, the bass guitarist drops the ball enough times that he gets a strike--then the remaining members have to play well enough to allow your shitty band mate another shot to save the song, and if any band mate gets three strikes, the game usually ends.

All of the band members (whether you are playing alone or with up to three people) have to keep pace with the correct button taps or drum hits onscreen, which fly along at a pretty steady pace; singing is slightly different.  Along the top of the screen, the words for the song fly by, so don't worry--if you don't know the lyrics but can read English and/or do karaoke well, you'll be fine with "Rock Band."  The trick to singing is that you have to intonate with the songs correctly, raising or lowering your voice to match pitch with the song the way it was meant to be sung, as well as having the proper breaks in singing word to word.  And, occasionally, you are asked to scream or yell, which just makes the party that much funnier.

I'm a hip-hop and dance music guy by nature, so even though I had heard many of these songs in the past, I had never really imagined playing the bass for Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" before...but, even for me, playing the bass for that song was just fucking badASS!  With four people that get into it--and, all of the host's friends were pretty cool guys and gals--"Rock Band" is one of the funniest things for an outsider to watch ever.

Example: we did the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage"; the drums and guitar riffs in that song are great, but then, when we had to do the part of the song where there's a break, then a quick guitar solo, then one of the BB's yelling "WWWWWHHHHHHYYYYYYYYY!!!!!", our singer just totally sold out and was on his knees on the ground, holding the mic but rolling around like he was in agony, while the rest of us were playing the guitar like we were killing it at Wembley Stadium or something like that.  I mean, it was great.  And, because you can change the difficulty settings, even the most uncoordinated people in the room were able to make music, and that made the whole thing even sweeter.

Now, sure, the game and the equipment costs $170, and that is with only one guitar, drums and a mic (you'll need to buy a second guitar in order to get the full experience).  And, I played this on a wall-sized screen, so if you are thinking about playing this on your 30" plasma at home, I don't know if this will feel the same, especially when trying to play with four people.  And, if you don't like rock music, there's that, too; I don't know if "Hip-Hop Band" or "Techno Band" or "Country Band" is coming any time soon.  However, if "Pop Band" comes out, then maybe...but, for now, "Rock Band" is a great time and a great experience, especially if you can get friends to come over and play the game with you.  Good stuff!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


Feedback?  Comments?  Salma Hayek's digits?


Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  Buy this game right away, and don't ask me any questions as to why that's a good move.  A game experience that will almost guarantee repeated controller abuse, lots of ManScreaming and high resale value, you will assuredly play this bad boy for months on end. 

"$40":  Usually after games have been out for a while, they drop in price slightly, or can be bought for slightly cheaper in combination with other new games.  Usually, that's about $40.  You'll feel good getting the game for this price, since it isn't quite run-out-and-get-it-right-now good, but it has enough game in the box for a few weeks' worth of enjoyment.

"eBay":  This game is not too bad, but you'd be better off buying it used from either or eBay.  You also might let a friend buy this game, let s/he beat it, and then try to buy it from them to make them feel better.  Yes, this does tend to feel like "Sloppy Seconds."

"Rental":  Like my cousin Ron, you should always rent games that you aren't sure about first, to make sure that your $50 is going towards something worthwhile.  For games in this category, this is the maximum amount of money ($5) and/or time (3-5 days) you'll need to either gain satisfaction from the game, or beat the game in its entirety.  Rental-rated games are also sometimes perfect for a weekend when you are going to be at home on your ass, with some time to kill.

"Dogshit":  Games like this should have never been released.  If you play this game for any reason, you will regret every second of the experience.  Further, if you can get this game for free, don't do it, because even for FREE, it will still be a negative experience for you!

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09