Put three or four of these instruments together and two things happen. First, the screen begins to get a lot more crowded, with scrolling tablatures for guitar, bass and drums taking up the majority, with and lyrics plus pitch and timing indicators for the singer at the top. Secondly, something special kicks in.
Remember those moments in Guitar Hero where you kind of forget that you were playing a silly plastic guitar and could almost convince yourself that you were playing the real thing to a throng of adoring fans? No? Well, maybe that’s just me. However, Rock Band can and does give you something close to the feeling of jamming through a real band, complete with those magic moments where everything comes together in some kind of sublime harmony.
This is when Rock Band takes us somewhere even Guitar Hero has never done before: to some bizarre realm where any loser can rock a stadium, School of Rock is the best film ever made and you can’t wipe away your cheesy grin. It’s too intense to be called a party game, but it’s one of the best multiplayer experiences imaginable.
Ingeniously, Harmonix has even made group dynamics a game mechanic. You can survive one awful player if everyone else is playing well, and even rescue someone on the point of disaster by kicking in overdrive to distract the angry fans. Rock Band even solves the problem of what the singer can do during instrumental passages, with a neat hand-clap/tambourine feature built into the singer’s microphone.
As always, much rests on the quality of the song list. Interestingly, Rock Band and GHIII actually share a few tracks (including The Killers’ ‘When You Were Young’, Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Cherub Rock’ and Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’). Meanwhile, we get different songs by many of the same artists (Muse’s ‘Hysteria’ instead of ‘Knights of Cydonia’, Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ instead of ‘One’).
All in all, though, what begins as a bit of an indie-heavy, rock-light list turns into a pretty broad selection of alternative, metal and hard rock, covering everything from hoary old classics like the Stone’s ‘Gimme Shelter’ and Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ (which will always have a special place in my heart after Elite Beat Agents) to NME favourites like Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s ‘Maps.’ And towering over them all is the mighty Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive’ – a mighty slab of pure US rock cheese that tastes even better as three or four of you career into the ‘I walk these streets…;’ crescendo. This alone is worth the price of admission.