Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein throws down on Rock Band, and delivers what has to be the single best thought on the game I’ve heard to date: “…if you are going to play the game with a group of friends for more than a night, shouldn’t you just form a real band?“. It’s a great perspective on the game (and yes, she does enjoy it to the degree a non-video gaming professional musician probably would), and worth the read.
Having gotten some Rock Band action over the Thanksgiving holiday, I certainly see the appeal. It is fun to play with a rowdy group of friends, and I’d kinda like to have it just so I could have a drum set that wouldn’t drive my wife bugshit crazy (and that would fuel my new-wave band love). But it’s just not a must-have for me. The out-of-the-box song selection left me more than a little cold, without only a few tracks that I enjoyed playing (Though let me tell you: I can’t convey how frustrating and embarrassing it is to fail playing a song I can actually play in real life.), and the idea of dropping just south of $200 dollars just so I can spend even more money buying a song selection that I actually care about (let alone doesn’t make me want to stab myself in the ears) via Xbox’s marketplace certainly qualifies as ridiculous.
My biggest beef with the game is that, from a vocal standpoint, it’s just too rote. Whomever has mic duty can monotone their way to a 90% or higher through any song, as long as they hold the notes for the appropriate length of time and can manage to raise/lower the pitch a little, while any embellishment from an actually talented singer can get you fast dropped from the band. Maybe I’d like it better if it were called ‘Cover Band’, cause there’s no real rocking to be had. Though to be fair that’s a limitation of the game software, and there’s simply no way to reward genuine originality in the game.
On the plus side: The graphics are gorgeous, and the synch-job between the audio and your digital rocker’s movements are nearly spot-on. The interface is slick, and the customization options are a fantasy rocker’s wet-dream, as you can make yourself look like everything between teddy-boy rocker to full on spangled Hair Metal god. The difficulty settings are individualized, so that neophytes can play alongside longtime Guitar Hero vets, and the online community lets your band ‘compete’ on a ranking board based on how many fans you’ve accumulated. (Which is another weird point. There’s no conceivable way flubbing an Aerosmith tune is going to lose you 10,000 fans anywhere outside of Boston)
All said, it’s one of those enjoyable games that you should encourage a friend to buy, just so you can have it as a drunken party favor towards the end of the night.