It's not always easy being at the bottom of the world.
Our broadband sucks. Going on holiday to anywhere interesting usually costs a fortune, and don't even get me started on all those sheep jokes. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of geographic obscurity is that we invariably get everything a long time after the rest of the world - movie screenings, music tours, DVD releases and yes - video games too - are all affected by at least two thousand kilometres of nautical annoyance.
As you're reading this review, chances are that you're already aware of the logistical problems Rock Band has had to date.
It's no secret that the game has been on sale in North America since November 2007, and you might be forgiven for assuming that because we're reviewing it a year out from it's official launch that in some way Electronic Arts have dropped the ball and completely forgotten about New Zealand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even Europe didn't receive the game until September this year, and New Zealand's release date of October 24 places us two weeks ahead of Australia for a change. This is really down to the dogged determination of Electronic Arts New Zealand who, being massive Rock Band fans themselves, worked tirelessly to ensure kiwi's would get the chance to experience the game without all the hassles of importing it.
Enough about distribution - was the wait worth it?
Rock Band is the first iteration of a concept created to physically appreciate music in much the same way real musicians do, without the hassle of spending years practising. In order to achieve this, the entire bundle comes with a Fender Stratocaster guitar controller, a drum kit, and a microphone, along with the software required to drive it all.
In it's simplest form, players can compete against each other, or co-operatively as a band to play a series of escalating notes displayed on the screen. The notes are positioned as to emulate the correct notes and chords of the song you have selected, and the higher the difficulty, the more notes there are for you to hit, and the faster they will move down the screen. There is almost no learning curve required to understand how to physically participate, however there is a massive level of practise required to master the game on the harder difficulty levels.
In order to really test Rock Band and see just how well it stacks up in the real world, we caught up with New Zealand's very own Goodnight Nurse! These kiwi musicians know a thing or two about what it takes to make it in the world of rock, and were kind enough to spend an afternoon putting the game through its paces prior to jetting off to Australia for their headline tour. Check out the video below!
In order to appreciate just what developers Harmonix have created here, it's important we first take a look at each of the hardware components...
Fender Stratocaster Guitar Controller
Anyone who has played the Guitar Hero franchise will know just how important a robust controller is. This wired guitar is equipped with the requisite five fret buttons at the top of the neck, along with five at the base which have been purposely placed closer together to assist with high-speed solos.
The strum bar is possibly one of the softest and quietest available for any guitar controller out there, with no discernible "clack" during operation. This is either something you'll love or hate - personally I couldn't adjust from the Les Paul controller that shipped with Guitar Hero III and found the lack of positive travel detrimental on fast notes, but there seems to be plenty of chatter online from fans of this guitar, so your results may vary.
The whammy bar is solid and has an appropriate range of movement. Coupled with a unique effects pickup switch that allows five different electronic effects to be applied to your notes during overdrive and solos, you'll be hammering out your own music style in no time.
Other than the soft strum bar, the only other area that potential converts from Guitar Hero may find challenging are the fret buttons themselves. They lie relatively flush on the neck and have a small degree of lateral movement. This won't bother anyone overly until hard or expert difficulty, when sliding your hand over the keys becomes more important. Activating Overdrive seems to require a bit of effort here too - get used to putting the guitar almost vertical, or practise using the select key instead.
Rock Band Drum Kit
This is what separates Rock Band from any previous gaming experience. The drum kit consists of four pads mounted on a robust aluminium frame and connected via. wire to your console. The bass pedal slots over the base of the frame to prevent it from sliding all over the floor, and from there is connected to the drum kit through a 3.5mm plug.
The surfaces of the drum pads are touch-sensitive, and you can easily navigate the Rock Band menu by simply tapping them or using the drumsticks provided. This sensitivity carries over to the game itself, and although you may prefer to belt out drum solos it's not necessary, as a light touch works just as well. This is probably for the best, as there is little sound dampening and unless you've turned the volume up the sound of the sticks on the pads does tend to dominate.
The pedal itself is best used from an "always on" position, as you can get a severe case of cramp if you have your foot raised waiting for a bass note to come along. In a similar way to the orange note on the guitar controller, the foot pedal is most likely where you will run out of talent, so expect your transition from medium to hard difficulty to take a great deal of practise. But at least it's fun practise!
The USB microphone provided really isn't any different from what you can expect in any Karaoke title out there, such as the popular Karaoke Revolution series. It's weighted appropriately and feels much like a professional microphone, albeit with the omission of an on/off switch.
In order to connect and control the microphone, you will need a conventional controller, through which volume levels can be adjusted, and menus navigated. Emblazoned with the Rock Band logo, this sturdy piece of equipment can withstand being slapped against your palm to achieve a percussion bonus during some songs.
Although the Rock Band software is sensitive to pitch, you don't have to be any good at singing to score well. It's all about maintaining an appropriate sound, irrespective of the words you use. You can even hum your way to victory if you'd rather avoid terrorising friends and family with your tone-deaf rendition of Radiohead's Creep.
Next, we'll take a look at the software required to bring everything together.