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Paul Nicholson
Nashvegas TN
Digital Marketing guy for Captain D's. Hockey fan, photographer, and father of 2 awesome boys.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rock Band: First Impressions

Update: this review wasn't based on the final version of the game, as it has only today (11/5) "gone gold". So the vocal issues may have been addressed in the retail version. Unfortunately i think it's a little too late to do anything about the guitar controller. We'll see.

Just got back from hanging out with my wife and sister, doing some shopping. Once we wrapped up finding what my sister needed, i forced them to follow me to Best Buy to try out Rock Band. I had heard on Engadget that many Best Buys had the demos, so wanted to see if ours did. It did!

So...how was it?
Not so fabulous.

First, the good:
The graphics looked great, and the parts were well written. The game also sounded good (as good as it could sound at an in-store demo). The song selection we rocked in store included "Should I Stay Or Should I Go", "Say It Ain't So", and "Main Offender". The demo also had "Suffragette City", "Tom Sawyer", and a few other tracks we didn't get to.

As a drummer, i was very skeptical that the drums would "feel" like drums, but i will say, it was remarkable how fast it felt like i was back home drumming. It was actually pretty funny, on the 'Beginner' settings, i found the drums very difficult, mostly because it over-simplified the more complicated rhythms (triplets, etc) to songs i knew well. I kept trying to play the "real" rhythm and getting being marked wrong. Once i upped the difficulty though, it was a lot of fun. But since i was already playing on 'Hard' on the demo in the store without breaking a sweat, i don't think drummers should look for a challenge in this game. The drum controller also felt like it could really take a beating (a good thing for a drum simulator). I will note: the in-store demo didn't have the foot pedal controller (though i was playing the kick part on the floor anyway to keep myself honest, and i really found that easier anyway), so no promises there, it could be flimsy.

Now, the bad:
The new guitar controller, which i was excited to play (with its extra 5-frets keys), was a major disappointment. It felt flimsy, and worst of all, proved to be so. The strumming switch (is that what it's called) was already toast. It wasn't registering strums unles you really mashed down on it hard. The whole guitar just felt lighter and flimsier than the Guitar Hero 2 controller i have at home - which is strange since i think it is also a little bigger. It was so bad, we actually couldn't play with the guitar. We kept failing every song, even though we had it on easy. It would only register about 1 in 3 notes. Bad bad sign, since this in-store demo has only been there for about 48 hours, and the Guitar Hero 2 demo that has been at the same Best Buy for months was still up and rockin' perfectly.

Equally disappointingly was the vocal gameplay. My sister and wife are both singers - and i don't just mean they lead Christmas carols with the family. They both majored in music with their vocal chords as their 'instrument'. We've played SingStar (a console karaoke game) too, and did very well (even i did). But over and over again, the vocal track failed out on both of them, even on 'Easy'. Now, there are a lot of people out there who are going to be horrible singers, but will want to play this game and have fun with their friends. On 'Easy', it should require absolute silence to fail out of the vocal track as far as i'm concerned. Maybe it was a problem with the mic, but if so, that again doesn't bode well. Same problem as the guitar - this Best Buy's SingStar demo has been running just fine for months. If this mic was dead after just 48 hours, that really doesn't bode well.

So...do i want this game? Would i recommend it?

I have to honestly say, not so much anymore. I'd love to play some of those songs on Guitar Hero, and playing drums was fun... but for $170+ this game was very, very disappointing over all. Fabulous concept, obviously. I just think there will be a lot of frustrated vocalists and down right furious guitarist in January as their controllers start dying. I'm actually going to remove it from my wish list until i have assurance that the game doesn't fall apart inside of a few months.

(I am kicking myself right now that i didn't take any pictures with my phone to make this a really good review. But if you want to see what the game looks like, check here)


Ekim said...

Strange. I had an almost overall different experience with the demo unit at my local Best Buy.

The guitar I used felt solid enough. Much more solid than my GHII controllers, without a doubt. The strum bar worked well, and the buttons were well synced up with the screen after a peek at the Options. (At first they weren't, I had to go into the lag calibration options and set it to a different LCD TV pre-set. It was lagging with the "LCD TV 1" setting. LCD TV 2 worked the best for me. Fortunately, the retail version will have a manual setting, a la GH, for better calibration.)

The solo fret buttons worked well, and within a few songs, I was able to move up and down the neck fairly easily. It's still going to take some practice getting used to the differences, but compared to the GHII and III guitars, I think in the long run I'll find the the Rock Band guitar the best of the bunch.

Maybe the guitar at your store just took a beating from all of the careless customers using it? When I first walked in, I saw two younger teenagers banging away on the drums like they were trying to crack a diamond with a penny, each kid using one drum stick each and missing the pad every other swing, while an older teen was playing the guitar pretty hard...

The regular white 360 controller that controls the microphone's pre-song setup had score marks and blemishes so bad it looked like somebody intentionally beat the crap out of it. Other demo kiosks in the store didn't even look much played, but for some reason, the Rock Band one took a hard beating in the few days that it's been out. I've never seen a 360 controller that looked that abused before...

Anyway, the drums worked after the demon kids were done. I was surprised at the overall quality of the drum set. While I'm no drummer, I've played on digital drum sets before, and it was a very similar feeling. I agree with you on everything there.

The microphone, I personally can't vouch for. My girlfriend tried it out, said the mic felt solid like other retail microphones she's held, and she enjoyed it well enough that she, who wouldn't even sing in front of me for the first 6 months of our relationship, wanted to sing a few more songs before we left. She's not a singer by any means, but didn't have any problems beating songs. On Easy, she was scoring 85-95% on average, singing songs she'd never sung before (she took on Black Hole Sun and In Bloom for her first time, too, with high 80's scores), so it's very possible there was something wrong with your mic.

After we left, we went straight to Gamestop to reserve it just to be sure we can still get it if there isn't a better deal/isn't available anywhere else on launch day.

We were on the fence between GHIII and RB this year, and after playing both, it's Rock Band all the way. Guitar Hero will have to wait until next year.

Paul Nicholson said...

Thanks for your take. I certainly hope you're right!

Anonymous said...

your sister and wife may be singers but i dont think that rock band was only made for people who know how to see....just like Guitar Hero wasnt designed for people who know how to play guitar(if it did. i'd suck and wouldn't have been able to play bark at the moon behind my head)

so i think that Rock band's mic was set up so that anyone has the potential of being able to sing regardless of talent