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Rock Band – The rant

posted on December 11th, 2007 by christian

Ever since it was released, some folks have had it in their minds that Rock Band would destroy Guitar Hero. Their logic ranged from “It isn’t being made with greedy Activision at the helm” to “four instruments are better than two, amirite?” These wonderfully spun arguments failed to recognize important things, such as the fact that Rock Band was being published by greedy EA and that Harmonix is owned by greedy MTV. Nevermind the fact that the game would be a massive undertaking and was completed in less than a year. These warnings were not heeded by many. Caution was thrown to the wind. It was Rock Band or bust.

Congratulations; you just paid to beta test an unfinished and rushed game. Sadly, most people are doing it with a smile.

Rock Band centers around the idea of making you and your friends the center of the show. This isn’t about goofy avatars that we may not even like; now we can put ourselves directly into a game. Start a band, go on tour, become legends of the stage. How can it possibly go wrong?

What we were never told during all of the hype was that Rock Band was not giving us the the stage, but signing us to a record deal. It lures you in with its promises, and once you are in, you are trapped by its rules, slowly working time and again to make yourself great, only to find yourself at what feels like square one. There are confusing and pointless rules to follow, and touring isn’t quite as great as you first thought. Eventually, you may find the magic that comes to life on stage is not worth the hassle it comes coupled with. Harmonix told us they were delivering a true band experience. They were fucking right.

Unless you decide to live a life of nothing but Quick Play of the handful of songs initially available, you are going to have to do some Single or Multi player touring. You start off by making your character, playing around until they’re just right. Or rather, almost just right; after all, you can’t enter your own home town in your profile. Just do the best you can; there’s no way to alter physical appearance after this step. Now you have your character, ready to drum or sing or shred his way to glory. He is stuck in a ratty shirt and a torn pair of jeans (unless you’re a singer, which apparently gives you better initial clothing). Take a look at the clothing store. You won’t be able to afford the perfect ensemble for quite some time. You thought you would start off as a rock star? Have fun looking like shit until you can piecemeal an outfit together. Don’t worry too much; the game will slowly offer you monetary rewards and clothing unlocks for completing songs. If you pray hard enough, you might actually earn something you want to wear. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with fifty bucks and a wardrobe you’ll never touch. I got my character fully outfitted after seven songs. It could have been three times as long if I wanted a few other items. Where will you wind up?

The clothing system is asinine and inexcusable. In most games with robust create-a-character support, the player has full reign over cosmetic changes, with the give-and-take coming into play when deciding traits/moves/etc. Sometimes this rule is broken in something like a mech game, in which different pieces carry different stats, and so you cannot start out with the best gear. Rock Band has no reason for its decision other than to simulate your character rising in fame and wealth as they play, but that means that in some cases you are going to have to settle. I settle for things in real life, and it is one of the reasons I often go to games. If customization and personalization are supposed to be key features, it doesn’t make sense to make them inaccessible, especially considering we are going to play through your damn game anyway.

With that out of the way, we can focus on the fact that you cannot change your character’s instrument. You can counteract this by making four people of identical appearance, but each person needs a unique name. I hope you have multiple nicknames (or you don’t have two friends named Lisa). Your characters cannot share their money with buddies, they cannot share their progress in any mode with others, and whoever is the creator of your band is forced to use the character they started it up with. Everything in Rock Band is tied to specific characters, rather than simply your gamertag. You have almost no freedom with how to approach the game. You can’t simply fire up some custom characters that look like your friends so they have someone to play as when they come over. You can’t swap instruments with your band whenever you feel like mixing it up, not without starting from square one (or if you are the band leader, in which case you literally cannot switch up). The “right” way to play as a band is to have no deviation, for everyone to begin and end where they are, and for everyone who wants to play the game to start from the bottom rung. There is no free ride to be found here, and when you see the possibilities of the character system, choosing a random schmo in quickplay feels like punishment. You couldn’t get through the game, so this is all you get. Thanks Harmonix.

Playing Rock Band solo is a lot like playing Guitar Hero, and that isn’t so bad I suppose. Just don’t try and look at what you’re missing out in with the full MP mode. Achievements, venues, and even some clothing will be out of your grasp. I understand this game was meant for multiple people, but if you can’t respect single player fans as much as Guitar Hero does, how do you expect some people to jump on the bandwagon (answer: by relying on deluded fanboys)? Is there any reason why you shouldn’t have access to the new MP Tour system? Absolutely not, except to punish you once again, this time for playing alone.

Of course, you may not want to try the MP Tour mode. It seems clever, allowing you to hit up venues and gain fans and money. But when every venue asks you to play a random set and a set of your choosing in addition to a list of preselected songs, you are going to play some tunes more than once before long. You are going to coast along until the random set throws something out there that you can’t win or don’t want to suffer through. Now you can finally know what it feels like to be a band that is tired of playing a smash hit at every venue they play. Don’t like it? Then your band isn’t going anywhere.

This game is not about you. You will do what you are told, and you will like it. You will not see the fruits of your labor for some time. I thought it was bad enough when Harmonix told me I had to make sacrifices in some songs by playing boring parts and contributing to the band. I didn’t think they would take it this far. You want to love the things you play, especially when you feel the magic of three people playing at once (I’ll assume four is even better). But you can’t get there without also feeling trapped and harassed. This game wants you to experience both the highs and the lows of being in a band, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why one would want to pay $170 to do that. Too often games try to become work and we merrily accept it, and Rock Band is ultimate proof of this. I was wary enough of the game when I had the impression that there would be greater freedom, and now that there isn’t, I am stuck pulling night shifts with the game, so that when folks come over they can have buckets of fun.

Either Harmonix is pitiful at profile management, or this game was rushed. I am going to shoot for the latter. It explains the horrid framerate, scary animations , bogus notecharts, and probably even the defective guitars. Add in all every other issue I mentioned, and it makes sense. Rock Band is a massive idea that can lead to a lot of kinks, and the people behind it didn’t get the time to address them. I have a feeling that Rock Band 2 will be pretty amazing, but for now we either pray for patches or we better get ready to wait a while, as there are promises that this one will be supported for quite some time.

I’m just glad I didn’t actually go out and pay for this half finished game, though I am disappointed to see so many gamers give it a free pass, simply because they are afraid of being wrong, or because they want to fit in with all the other people who want to root for this false underdog in the playground fights that reside on the Internet.

Fuck that. I have been a Harmonix fan since Frequency. They have been on a skid in my eyes since the 360 port of Guitar Hero 2. If they don’t hit one out of the park soon, they are going to lose a loyal, and ultimately insignificant fan and customer.

2 Comments

  1. Tony said on December 12, 2007:

    The only argument I have with your article is that, in all fairness, the game is called Rock Band. Guitar Hero is exactly that … one person, on a guitar, leading the band. The entire idea of Rock Band is to have a group of people playing “instruments” in the same room, a lot of the times playing the same songs over and over to get really good at them in order to make money and fans … you know, like a band. A band isn’t one person … unless you’re Beck.

    I’ve now played through the game both solo and with three other people. The solo tour, although fun, only served to acquaint me with the songs I was unfamiliar with and allowed me to get a lot better at drums (the hardest hurdle to overcome if you want your band to do well). Because I want my bandmates and I to progress even further into the game I’ve used the solo tour to practice my drum skills and I actually feel like I can contribute more to our success. That’s awesome in my opinion. Not since I used to play in online leagues with Quake did I actually practice a video game in order to help out my “team.”

    I agree that the game was a bit rushed. My guitar was faulty and would register false down strums in the middle of song. I went to EA’s Rock Band website and put in a request for a replacement and it was at my house in three days, along with a letter apologizing for the delay and offering me a free EA game. Yes they dropped the ball with the launch (see my rant on that from launch day). Yes the faulty hardware was a stupid oversight. But at least they’re trying to make things right, and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the game you can enjoy one of the most unique video game experiences ever.

    That being said, I completely agree with your comments on the save system and the whole tying a character to one instrument thing. It sucks, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t patch it with all of the negative comments I’ve seen on the boards. However, it’s seems like for every one thing they do wrong they’re doing three right. The DLC for this game is infinitely better than the GH games and it’s only going to grow from there. That’s really where I see the value of this series.

  2. christian said on December 12, 2007:

    Great commnet Tony. your remarks on the titles of each series saying it all make a lot of sense.

    I think – in fact, I know – that most of my comments are a means to combat other statements and comparisons that many, many gamers are making that aren’t as well reasoned. For example, it is one thing for someone to say “Rock Band’s big band experience is better than playing Guitar Hero alone or with one buddy” That I can agree with.

    Saying “Rock Band beats GH in every single way” is silly and hyperbolic when GH offers an arguably better (or at least equal) single player experience. If they don’t focus much on single player in future installments, I will have no problem with that. It just means I might remain a GH customer as well, which most people (or at least VL readers) would reply to with “go for it”. When you have people calling for Rock Band to destroy the GH franchise, then I might lose that option, and that isn’t cool.

    Also, I feel that some of these issues do take away from the 3 – to – 4 player band experience. The best way to do it is the same as in real life – start it up with four people, and keep going. If new members come into the mix, it can get a little too complicated and hassle bound, at least when it comes to character generation.

    I think a lot of fans would do well to take a look at the title again – it says “rock band”, not “opening act at a dive bar”.

    Also, we’ll have to agree to disagree on one step back for three steps forward, as I find the presentation in Rock Band to be shoddy as all hell.

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