I can see the comments section already--"Rock Band? Haven't we had enough of fake guitars?" "There are landfills loaded with old drum kits waiting for you back in 2007." It's true that the rhythm game craze has come and gone, dragging the glut of Rock Revolutions and Guitar Hero 12's into a shallow, plasticky grave known as the clearance aisle. Regardless, forsaking the entire genre because of a few embarrassing holiday seasons would be a mistake, especially as online gaming continues to dominate the world of multiplayer. Sometimes a late night comes around when you just want to play a game with your friends. One that has you working together toward a common goal that doesn't involve killing or calculating or, hell, even competing.
That right there is the beauty of Rock Band--any Rock Band. Its gameplay is relatively simple: use your favorite rockin' peripheral to match the symbols mimicking the notes of the song. Harmonix could've left things as simple as "better performance, better score," but instead opted to fuse cooperation even deeper into the gameplay. Is the guitarist struggling through his second solo in "Highway Star?" Better pop your Overdrive. Want the long sustain on that 8x multiplier in the final chorus to finally nail the five-star rating? Just like a real band, you'd better be in sync, and you'd better be talking.
I know a good deal of people who would find issue with that phrase, "like a real band," so let's address the elephant in the room. Yes, Rock Band is just a glorified way to "play" a recording, not a way to make your own music. Yes, Rock Band has you mastering fake instruments that, out of context, look absolutely ridiculous. Yes, I've listened to the incessant, decidedly non-musical clicks that those instruments make.
But you know what? Shove it. If I may put on my snooty musician's hat for just a moment-- I've been doing this most of my life, you know -- I'll admit that there's nothing like the surreal experience of playing in a band. It's totally unique. Fortunately, I can also admit that, although not a perfect duplicate, Rock Band is extremely capable of recreating the better bits and pieces of that experience.
Before I found a consistent group of guys to jam with, sharing that level of camaraderie and near-psychic communication with any of my non-musical friends meant the world. Pick any weekend night half a decade ago and there's a good chance that the four of us would be swapping instruments and calling songs as our classic/metal/pop/punk/alt rock band "May Contain Peanuts" took on the digital world, one venue at a time.
I remember drumming through the three minute fade-out of "Welcome Home" while simultaneously reassuring my dad that "Of course I'm on my way out," and "Of course I know that it's 11:30 and you're outside and the car is running and you're running out of patience." I remember the fury and frustration everyone felt when someone accidentally exited the six-hour-long Endless Setlist a mere four songs from its completion. I also remember all of us getting over it, and diving right back in.
Best of all, I know that we weren't the only ones. Wandering around the PAX East expo hall at 1:30 a.m., I was amazed to see that the yearly Rock Band stage was absolutely packed. Friends and strangers got up, played their favorites, and had the time of their lives as an audience cheered them on the whole way... in 2013. Maybe it's time to get the band back together and finally catch up. I'll bring the pizza.
Looking for stuff to play outside of the stuff we already tell you to play on a daily basis? You're in luck! Every Saturday we'll recommend a game for you to check out, complete with a story on how we found the game and why we recommend you play it.