Rock Band is painless to set up and configure, and all that is really required is a bit of synchronisation from your fellow band members. You can create a new band profile and participate in the Band World Tour mode, which will have you moving between a range of different venues to attract fans and ultimately unlock different methods of transportation, which then open up the rest of the world for you to tour. You can earn money and attract fans to increase your bands success, allowing you to play at prestigious venues and have a crack at more and more complicated tracks. There are many different ways to progress, from maintaining a solid average score to participating in benefit concerts - Harmonix have gone overboard here to compel you to stick together as a band and take on the world.
Where Guitar Hero concentrated on your ability (or lack thereof) to move your fingers faster than a sign language student after their fifth expresso, Rock Band nurtures this co-operative style of play to give a real sense of achievement.
Peer pressure plays a part here too - don't think you'll be able to skip an event without suffering the wrath of your fellow players, and if you think for a second you might compromise your bands score due to a lack of practise, you'd better have a replacement standing by. The Band World Tour mode is where you'll spend the most amount of time, unless you just want to jump straight in to a song and try out your skills, in which case the quickplay option is always available.
Initially you'll probably find each instrument pretty basic to pick up and play, and it won't be long before you'll want to stretch your legs and up the difficulty. Before you fire up "Run to the Hills" on Expert however, you'd be best to spend a bit of time in the Solo Tour mode. Here you can take on each song, ranked by difficulty, and unlock new songs that can then be used across the entire game.
Rock Band, along with Guitar Hero, look easy to those who haven't played before, however both games require new skills to be gradually introduced and developed. Although not as brutally difficult as Guitar Hero III, Rock Band at higher difficulty settings can very easily humiliate even the most seasoned veteran, particularly if they dare to lose their concentration for more than a few seconds.
Happily, the Overdrive facility can save your band members who have been performing poorly. The Overdrive is normally used to increase your score multiplier, which will provide you with more points according to the number of notes you manage to hit in a row, however it can also resurrect a member of the band who has failed the song. You only get to save them twice though - fail a third time and you'll take the rest of the band down with you. This is a great addition and really encourages all band members to look out for each other.
Another way Rock Band differs from its competition is in the freestyle sections included with some songs. These sections allow you to hit any note you choose without affecting the accuracy of the song, which in turn makes for a truly unique rendition. This culminates with the ending bonus featured on a number of songs which will have all band members furiously tapping notes to build up points. In order to redeem these points, all members of the band have to hit the final few notes correctly, so you'll need to pay attention or your fellow band members might start holding auditions behind your back.
Once you think you're ready to take on a bit of competition, you can battle for supremacy in a number of ways. Your entire band can jump online in the "Band Quickplay" mode, or you can challenge individual players in "Score Duel" (a comparison of your score with your chosen combatant) or "Tug of War" (each player has a section of the song to complete) which further extend the playability of Rock Band.
Of course, with any music game, if the track list is terrible nobody is going to want to play it. Again, Harmonix have pulled out the stops here, because with Rock Band's 45 song playlist plus thirteen unlockables and nine bonus tracks, there's something for everyone. We've listed these chronologically on page three of this review, and if you get sick of them don't forget you can jump online (with the Xbox 360 and PS3 version) and download more than two hundred additional tracks!
A lot of these music simulation games have come under fire from real musicians who in some way believe they're responsible for the dumbing down of the creative process behind music. It's a shame that such an argument is even angled in the direction of a platform that is so firmly ensconced in the entertainment sector that it's basically this decade's answer to Twister. Like all good social gaming experiences, it's absolutely not to be taken seriously, and exists solely to provide a lot of laughs and foster appreciation towards the artists who created the music in the first place.
Rock Band excels in the only way that matters to gamers - it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Our huge thanks to Goodnight Nurse and Electronic Arts New Zealand for making this review possible! Our video review is available at GP Downloads (80MB). Continue to the next page for a full track listing.