This Game Goes to 11
Last month, our friends from MTV games stopped by the Alive office to give us a preview of "Rock Band." The new game is a lot like "Guitar Hero": You use a guitar controller -- a plastic device about three-quarters the size of a real guitar -- to play along, karaoke-style, to pre-recorded tracks. The game basically measures your rhythm; you get points and advance by strumming the guitar's buttons at precisely the right time. "Rock Band" adds to this a mic for lead vocals and a four-pad "drum kit," so up to four bandmates can perform at once, racking up points by keeping time together.
Admittedly, it took me a couple songs to get the hang of "Rock Band" (I had not played "Guitar Hero" before). But I can say, as a sometimes-aspiring musician myself, that "Rock Band" isn't nearly as much fun as playing in an actual rock band. Not even close. And in fact, in some ways it's harder to play the fake videogame guitar than it is to play a real guitar.
Much of the pleasure of playing in a real band (other than the beer) comes from the collaboration -- feeding off each other's energy, and getting into a collective groove. But "Rock Band" misses that point, because you're not getting in sync with your three bandmates, you're getting in sync with the computer, and succeeding at the game means conforming to a cold, rote rhythm that has little to do with rock 'n' roll.
Plus, the guitar controller -- you press "chord" buttons with your left hand, and "strum" another button with your right -- is nearly as tricky as playing a real guitar; the coordination required isn't as natural (nor as rewarding).
My suggestion to would-be "Rock Band" whizzes: Spend your $170 on a thrift-store guitar instead, spend your time practicing with it instead of playing videogames, and don't forget to pick up a 12 pack on your way to band practice.