Rock Band, First Hands On

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One part karaoke, 2 parts Guitar Hero and just a hint of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat will get you the latest and perhaps the most innovative and fun rythm based games of all time. Media Geeks recently got a hands-on sneak peek of Rock Band, out November 20th. MTV, Harmonix and Electronic Arts are bringing the rock star fantasy to living rooms around the world, and during a special tour, they auditioned ‘bands’ at the E for All video game expo in Los Angeles.

To sum it up, Rock Band brings this genre to a new level. Players choose from Lead Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums or Vocals and choose one of 35 (announced) songs from the best in rock from the 70s through the 00s. Initially, my immediate draw was to the drums. I’ve been playing, and loving, the Guitar Hero series for a few years now, so I wanted to get a feel for something different. Surprisingly, it was the vocals position that really got my juices flowin for the title. On tap for our set was Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

At the risk of exposing myself, I’m a car singer. I’m usually rockin out in my car to Linkin Park, Metallica or the Chili Peppers when the mood strikes, so the lyrics aren’t foreign to me. What took me by surprise was how accurately the game detected subtle voice inflections and scored them based on how the original artist sings them. The difficulty level determines how forgiving any mistakes you make. Watching others less…talented than my self at the mic revelead that even if you’re absolutely tone-deaf, as long as your voice raises and lowers in time with the music, being on key means nothing.

Next up, drums. 4 pads, a kick peddle and a couple of sticks. Unlike the guitars, these toy drums actually mimic the play and mechanics of a real drum sets. Anyone who’s played Guitar Hero will instantly know the feeling of actually playing the instrument. Its a rush that’s hard to describe to someone who’s never done it themselves. The harder of the drum combos involve one or two of the regular pad and the pedal at the same time, so you’re gonna need more than hand-eye coordination to play well.

Finally, the guitar included with the new title has a few changes. Immediately you’ll notice that the previously colored frets now have more of a wood look with the colors placed on the edges of the fret board. The fret buttons themselves are more flush with the fret board and are more comfortable. The strum bar now has a lip on its edge, which I personally haven’t decided if I like or not. The strum bar felt stiffer than other guitar controllers taking a bit of getting used to, but this may have been a result of overuse from so many hands on the same guitar. The whammy bar makes a return, but didn’t immediately seem to make a difference in gameplay. A pickup switch has been added to give audio effects to the notes played. Finally, developers duplicated the 5 frets closer to the strum bar, should you so choose to really get that rockin’ solo playin feel.

There’s a lot here to get excited about. Rock Band is gearing up to be the ultimate party game with plenty of online replayability and a tour mode that simulates taking the band on the road, drumming up business and getting into bigger and better venues. A wide immediately available track list and the promise of downloadable songs, not to mention entire albums, should keep wannabe rockers goin long after the new year.

We’re less than a month away from an Xbox 360 and PS3 bundle. Media Geeks confirmed that a version for the Nintendo Wii WILL be release in the UK sometime in 2008, but details were not available. Look for our full review, coming soon.

Christopher Kirkman

Christopher is an old school nerd: designer, animator, code monkey, writer, gamer and Star Wars geek. As owner and Editor-In-Chief of Media Geeks, he takes playing games and watching movies very seriously. You know, in between naps.

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