This is going to be yet another Rock Band post, so if you're not interested in the game (and really, what's wrong with you?), feel free to skip it.
Hillary and I finally got to try everything out last night. After anticipating the game for so long, I figured that it would almost have to be disappointing in some way.
Fortunately, I couldn't have been more wrong. The game is an absolute blast to play, and we kept on rocking for three hours straight (skipping dinner), despite sore wrists and ankles from the non-stop performing.
It's probably easier to just go over the highlights of the game and give my first impressions.
- The Fender Stratocaster is really nice, and it feels frighteningly like a real guitar. The fret buttons have a small learning curve, but I think they're easier to use than Guitar Hero's. The strum bar isn't clicky at all, but this doesn't bother me because I alt-strum (up-down-up-down) everything anyway. For you downstrum-only thumb players, it might be harder to get used to.
- The drums are amazingly fun, but extremely difficult with the kick pedal. It's hard enough to keep a rhythm with two hands, but just try throwing a foot into the mix. I mostly played on Medium, and while I didn't fail anything, I came dangerously close a few times. It's going to be months (or years) before I'm playing Metallica songs on Expert.
- Singing is much more satisfying than I'd expected. I'm not a good singer by any stretch of the imagination, but I nailed "Black Hole Sun" (mostly by virtue of already knowing all the words), and scraped by on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter". Hillary belted out a great version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps", and she seemed to really take to the vocal section of the game.
- The notecharts are very well-designed. There are very few random three-note chords even on Expert, and the solos can get pretty hard without throwing in a bunch of bullshit notes that don't even exist in the audio track (Guitar Hero 3, I'm looking at you). The aforementioned "Gimme Shelter" is possibly the best guitar chart I've played in any of the Harmonix music games thus far.
- The character customization is extremely deep. When you start, your entire band is wearing cheap T-shirts and ratty jeans. There are literally hundreds of outfits and accessories to buy, as well as several dozen hairstyles, make-up schemes, and facial hair options (even the Lemmy-stache is included!). There's even a custom tattoo designer. As your band gains fame and money, the members develop new looks and become unique. It's a really cool way to do customization.
- The backgrounds and band animations are incredible. The problem with a music game is that you're generally looking at your note chart or lyrics. If you take a minute to look at the band on-stage and how the crowd is reacting, you really get a sense of the level of detail Harmonix put into the game. If you're really kicking ass, your singer might stage-dive into the crowd during a vocal break. The audience may even sing along with the chorus. The venue design really gives you a sense of being in a smoky, seedy bar that smells like ass (and, presumably, will scale up once you're playing 30,000-seat arenas).
There have to be a few tiny blemishes on the otherwise perfect experience, of course.
- The Band World Tour mode requires that the band leader is present. The resulting problem is that the band leader is a character
, not a player, and each character in BWT mode is locked into an instrument. Hillary's guitarist was chosen as the leader (we're not sure why/how; she wasn't player 1, nor was she the one navigating the menus), which means we always
have to have a guitar or bass player. No drums/vocals combination. This also means that when Hillary wants to sing or play drums, I have to play guitar or bass -- on her character. It's not a huge deal, but it makes switching instruments a pain in the ass if you have less than three people.
- The guitar note charts are a lot easier than Guitar Hero's, at least for the first half of the game. In GH2, I can play most songs on Expert but rarely have a good score. I breezed through most songs on Rock Band's Expert setting. I know it gets harder (and the downloadable tracks are way more difficult) , but playing through "Creep" or "Here It Goes" multiple times on Expert isn't much of a challenge.
- The downloadable charts don't seem to be as good as the ones included on the disc. Obviously, stuff like Metallica is going to be more difficult, but I was really disappointed at the note charts for the Queens of the Stone Age songs we tried -- songs that should be a lot more fun.
- No online Band World Tour mode. I know that Harmonix never promised one, but it seems like a no-brainer. In fact, this is the one scenario where I'd be okay with the game requiring the band leader to be present.
Still, these are extremely minor complaints. The game is the most fun I've had with a music game in, well, ever, and we still haven't unlocked 70% of the songs.