Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Geek Out: Working My Way Through Rock Band, Pt. 1

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 26, 2007

Oooh, she’s a killing machine, she’s got everything

Talk about a foregone conclusion. Put it simply–Shocker: Rock Band is awesome. Double Shocker: Rock Band is exceedingly expensive. I mean yeah, maybe you can get away with spending under $500 if you’re one of the lucky sons of bitches to have the luxury of already owning an X360, but that, uh, wasn’t me, so I’m already at least that much in the whole trying to get my hands on this game. Not to mention having to lug the fucking thing–unwieldy, to say the least–around New York all day just to make sure I wouldn’t get shut out from getting a copy. In the end, unless this thing ends up fixing just about every problem I have in my life, it’s gonna be hard to justify the effort and expenditure.

Rock Band is off to a good start. Why I didn’t think to include it in my Five Reasons Why I Don’t Care About the Writers Strike is lost on me, since it pretty well nullifies all five–even if MTV suddenly decided to do a countdown of the 2000 best alt-rock videos released in the year 1995, I don’t think I’d be around to watch much. It’s given me an always-functional activity to do with my roommate (who usually opts out on Guitar Hero after an hour or so, but was drumming with me until 3:30 the other night) and a fantastic built in party excuse to lure friends and acquaintances to my Brooklyn abode. It hasn’t written my 20 page paper on John Donne yet, and it hasn’t quite assuaged my fear of an eternity of crippling loneliness, but then again, I’ve only gotten a good 20 hours or so with it so far (Thanksgiving, could you possibly have come at a less opportune time?) so let’s give it another week or so to work at those.

So yeah, pretty much everything you’ve already heard about this game is true. The guitar is kind of weak, and the axeplay isn’t as great as it is in the GH series (and it’s lame that they only give you one, meaning you need to buy another separately to have the bass and guitar working simultaneously–c’mon, $170 isn’t enough??), but that’s about where the game’s flaws end. The drumming is expectedly exhilerating. As my roommate pointed out, it’s nothing like playing the guitar–when you play the guitar, you’re fully aware that you’re playing a glorified controller, but when you’re playing the drums, you’re actually playing the drums, sort of at least. I worked through the songs on medium without much of a hitch, but now that I’m getting into hard, I know it’s only a matter of time before the game shuts me down completely, which I’m actually looking forward to.

The vocals are pretty great as well. Aside from the fact that some songs can get kind of boring with the extended vox-less sections (and no, adding parts where you have to hit the mic to simulate a tambourine or cowbell doesn’t help, unless you’re playing “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”), it’s a pretty successful Karaoke Revolution-type integration. I also like that you can adjust the volume of both your mic and the vocal track, so that you can get a leg up from the original singer if you have no idea how the song goes, but it feels more like karaoke when you actually know the song pretty well. It can be tempermental, and sometimes you have to sing against your better instincts to do well in the song, but generally, it’s pretty cool, when it could’ve been disastrous. It will be interesting to see in big groups if anyone’s going to want to actually step up to sing, though–especially on songs like “Mississippi Queen” or “Green Grass and High Tides,” where no one under the age of 50 could possibly know how all the vocals go.

The only thing I’m really not sure about with this game yet is the Band World Tour Career Mode. I only played it for three hours or so, but already, the fact that you end up playing a whole lot of the same songs over and over again was starting to be a nuisance. Meanwhile, the game expects you to really care about making your band feel like an actual band–gaining and losing fans, playing increasingly large venues, competing against other “bands,” etc.–but these games’ attempts at any sort of plot or narrative arc always feel contrived and sort of boring (and very, very silly), and I have to wonder why these “bands” wouldn’t just rather do quickplay.

But enough of this big picture stuff. Let’s get into the lists and petty squabbles:

Five Best All-Around Songs (Good for All Four Instruments):

  1. The Pixies – “Wave of Mutilation” (Just about any Pixies song would be)
  2. Jet – “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (Officially having gone from the good kind of ridiculously catchy to the unbearably annoying kind and back)
  3. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (Kind of unforgiving with that vocal part, though)
  4. Coheed & Cambria – “Welcome Home” (Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are)
  5. Rush – “Tom Sawyer” (But you knew this one, right?)

The Five Songs That Are Actually in My Vocal Range and I Can Sort of Sound Good Singing, Sort Of:

  1. Radiohead – “Creep” (that “runnnn…RUNNNN….RUNNNNN….RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNN!!!” part is really a make or break)
  2. Faith No More – “Epic” (WHAT IS IT?)
  3. Queens of the Stone Age – “Go With the Flow” (Once I figure out how it goes, anyway)
  4. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun” (GRUNGE POWER BALLADS, motherfuckers. Where the hell are “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” anyway?)
  5. The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter” (Kind of. Old songs are harder to song, for some reason)

Drums, Please!:

  1. The Clash – “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (No other song quite matches the sheer pounding sensation of this one)
  2. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps” (Intro melts me)
  3. Metallica – “Enter Sandman” (Even better than the guitar part, somehow)
  4. Molly Hatchet – “Flirtin’ With Disaster” (So that’s where that intro is from, huh)
  5. Nirvana – “In Bloom” (Puts the Foo Fighters song into perspective, anyway)

Oh Man, That Riff:

  1. Weezer – “Say It Ain’t So” (Best part about guitar on Weezer songs? You almost always get the beginning and the end to yourself)
  2. Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (My #1 in the Top Ten Songs That Should Be Featured in Guitar Hero article I wrote for Stylus a year or so back)
  3. The Ramones – “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Still one of the all-time most perfect guitar songs)
  4. Bon Jovi – “Wanted Dead or Alive” (The song that makes you forget that there are no Guns n Roses songs to be found)
  5. Smashing Pumpkins – “Cherub Rock” (The one holdover from GHIII that fails to feel even slightly pointless)

Totally Pointless:

  1. The Hives – “Main Offender” (A particularly pointless song from one of the more pointless bands in recent years. Even “Walk Idiot Walk” would’ve been infinitely preferable)
  2. Sweet – “Ballroom Blitz” (Not a bad song or anything, but we already had to put up with the Krokus cover in Rocks the 80s, do we really need the original too?)
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Dani California” (The intro really does rip off “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” too)
  4. OK Go – “Here It Goes Again” (I had no idea there was a Surfer Rosa reference in the lyrics before, though)
  5. Aerosmith – “Train Kept A-Rollin'” (“Sweet Emotion”. “Walk This Way”. “Amazing”. “Love in an Elevator”. The number of classic Aerosmith songs–ones that would work beautifully–that have been stepped over in favor of the mediocre troika of “Last Child,” “Same Old Song in Dance” and “Train Kept a-Rollin'” in these games is utterly pathetic).

Are They Gonna Have Synths in the Next One?:

  1. The New Pornographers – “Electric Version” (Surprisingly effective choice on the whole)
  2. The Killers – “When You Were Young” (Getting to work on my Brandon Flowers imitation is one of the game’s more priceless joys)
  3. Deep Purple – “Highway Star” (I always thought that was a guitar solo–who plays the keyboard like that??)
  4. Boston – “Foreplay / Long Time” (C’mon, the best part of the song!)
  5. The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The two minute-long sections where the band on stage is just standing around doing nothing while the keyboard part goes on and on is pretty funny, though)

Gameplay and Packaging Gripes:

  1. “Energy”? Just fucking call it Star Power, guys. Either that, or change the concept a little.
  2. The pieces of trivia listed before some of the songs, dear lord. Does knowing that Michael Stipe once released a book of Patti Smith phots really illuminate gameplay on “Orange Crush” at all?
  3. I wish they had included some sort of carrying case for all the game’s equipment–as it is, it’s almost entirely untransportable, which is kind of unfortunate.
  4. If there’s a way you can play with the guitar or drums without unplugging the USB hub and plugging it back in each time you start the game, I haven’t figured it out.
  5. Not making the intro to “Maps” available to play on the guitar part seems kind of cruel.

More to come, surely.

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2 Responses to “Geek Out: Working My Way Through Rock Band, Pt. 1”

  1. Bonnie said

    To quote myself from your blog entry on GHIII… No matter what, Aerosmith should never, ever be on any list involving the word “pointless”. Even if it is just a video game review.

    “mediocre troika”? What the fuck, dude.

  2. Ria said

    Gotta agree with Bonnie here. “Last Child” and “Same Old Song And Dance” are two of my favourite Aerosmith songs. While “Train” isn’t my favourite, it definitely doesn’t belong on a “Totally Pontless” list.

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