I've had the opportunity to play Rock Band with a large group of friends the past couple of weekends and to observe how people react and ultimately enjoy the game. To begin, Harmonix has made the Rock Band experience easy to grasp, even to those of us who can't carry a tune or have no musical background other than perhaps the ability to either sing in the shower or while in the car, with the volume turned up, so that we don't actually have to hear our own voice.
For anyone who has played either of Harmonix's first two guitar simulation games, Guitar Hero I and II, the interface will make you feel right at home, even with a few simple tweaks. Since I had to explain the game to friends, I realize that not everyone is familiar with this style of game, so I'll give a brief overview.
Simplistically put, notes or colored buttons appear on the screen, coming towards you. As these notes approach you, you press, or hit, the corresponding key or drum pad to play the note. Vocalists don't fear, you don't have to hit each note 100 percent like the original artist. You can drop an octave, as long as you keep your pitch and tone accurate. Now all that might seem easy, but the notes do come fairly quickly, and you'll soon find that it takes some time learn. That's it; that's really the nuts and bolts of the game, but it's the details and the entire package that really make this simple formula extremely fun.
The multiplayer experience is where the depth and breadth of Rock Band really shines. You can play with remote friends via Xbox Live in quick-play mode, in which any song that has been unlocked by any of the band members can be accessed. This is an extremely enjoyable experience, and I've been playing with friends on pretty much a nightly basis ever since I picked up the game. The game really takes off, though, when you have a band formed locally. The Band World Tour mode is the single most enjoyable part of the game.
Up to four players can create their own distinct musicians, and I do mean distinct. After you create your alternate ego and earn some coin by performing in gigs, you'll be able to start buying outfits from several distinct genres of music: goth, rock, metal or punk. You can add funky hats, tattoos, make-up and face paint; eventually, you'll end up with a rocker that you'll either love or be terrified of. In either case, you'll love the ability to completely customize your rocker. While playing with groups, I found that every 20 or 30 minutes people wanted to stop playing and go change their look, so I can't emphasize enough how enjoyable people found the ability to redesign their.
As with any starting band in the World Tour Mode, you'll initially be limited to your band's starter city and a small club. You'll need to earn a certain amount of stars in the songs available as well as fans to open up new venues and other cities. Included with the sets, you have chances to create your own set lists or play mystery set lists as randomly chosen by the game. Songs that appear multiple times could be considered repetitive; however, the game will add in songs that you download from the Xbox Live Marketplace, so you'll be able to incorporate those into your career to continually extend your enjoyment.
Rock Band will slowly push your career forward and force you to take up harder challenges. You'll be capped at a certain amount of fans unless you start pushing the difficulty level higher, as that will keep you from playing from larger venues. This can be a challenge for novice players, but I found that even people who started playing on the easiest setting were at least ready to take on the challenge of medium after an hour or so of play. That's not to say that everyone will be readily proficient, but folks will probably feel comfortable enough to try.
On picking up the game, my wife decided that she wanted to play the drums. She has no musical background, other than what she hears on the radio, and she played the Guitar Hero series just a little bit with me. I've got to say that watching her play really has me impressed. I took a few short turns with the drums and felt a little overwhelmed and much more comfortable with the guitar, bass or vocals. My wife has picked things up extremely quickly and has really gotten into the game, able to use the bass drum (kick pedal) as well as the four drum pads. She is ready to move up in levels of difficulty, and I'm still in between for myself.
As such, drums were the "hot" thing to try, as most people thought they were cool, but the "real" drummer we had here had a bit of a hard time, as well as a few other people. However, the more they played, the better they became. Guitar and bass were the safe choices and the easiest ones to pick up and play well. Folks who went that route felt rewarded for their musical choice.
Taking on the role of a singer was not for the faint of heart, as many people felt extremely shy and did not feel comfortable singing in front of the assembled crew. That feeling of shyness was melted almost immediately, though, with a single house rule: "No laughing at the singer." After a song or two, it was actually hard to have people give up the microphone as they were really enjoying themselves.
I've seen multiple reports of problems with the instruments, and people having to send them back for replacement — even straight from the box — so this is a real concern. I've been fortunate and have had good luck, but even I feel that the performance with the guitar is not quite as crisp as it should be, and I wonder if some of my performance could be attributed to that.
I've also seen questions about the difficulty level of Rock Band, most posed by fans of the Guitar Hero series. I think they were hoping that Rock Band would, in essence, follow those games in difficulty. Harmonix took another tact; they seem to be making sure that Rock Band — at least on the easier levels — is accessible to just about anyone. To me, this seems like the right direction, since this game isn't just about one instrument; it's about having multiple players share this common experience.