Version tested: Xbox 360
Amazingly, there are bigger problems with reviewing this than the fact that all the AC/DC-related gags have been worn thin by pieces on other rhythm-action games. That's just what happens when about half your song output is about hailing the wonder that is ROCK. (The other half being about hailing the wonder that is sexual congress).
The problem is that the whole thing is somewhat slight - and the question is how much does that matter? It's a standalone version of Rock Band which is being sold for about 25 quid, but only contains the eighteen tracks of AC/DC's Live at Donington album. It's effectively a Track Pack - in fact, it's being marketed as such in the US. You're able to import all the music into your Rock Band library with an included code. In fact, if you do own the game, you probably want to do that immediately, as the software is openly crippled compared to even basic Rock Band 1.
There's no ability to access the Rock Band shop or play any of your other downloadable content - which, perhaps, is understandable in that they didn't want to the game to be a cheap solus pack for those who are only into DLC. What's less understandable is the lack of a character editor, meaning you're stuck playing with whatever random, amusingly-clad cretins the game chooses to generate.
Which is a problem with AC/DC. If you're specifically buying into the fantasy of being AC/DC, you want to be the exact amusingly-clad cretins that are AC/DC. Or, at least, have the option to be them. If I'm not wearing a schoolboy's outfit, the guitar solos - no matter how enormous - are somewhat lacking. Same goes for the stage shows. Being a punk-metal Midlands kid in the early 90s, I listened to tales of wonder from older kids who'd seen AC/DC live, with podiums and fireworks and bloody cannons. Cannons! AC/DC are a band with cannons in their songs! While a dedicated cannon-based peripheral is probably too much to ask, you'd want something to embellish the dream of school-trousered Rock-Godism in game. But no. It's just stripped down Rock Band with AC/DC songs.
And I really do mean stripped down. As well as the previously mentioned absences, there's no online play and no real tour mode. Rather than zipping around the world to different destinations, it's basically slowly ascending the set-list, one song at a time, whether you're playing solo or as a group - so if you get stuck, you're stuck. One good point is that there's no real need to bother. Outside of the game modes, all the eighteen are available in Quickplay.
But just to marry that with a bad one, it appears this was built on Rock Band rather than Rock Band 2, so problems that had been consumed by the great beast of history come climbing bloodily out of its maw, like being unable to continue playing a previously started tour game without at least a couple of members. Perhaps most weirdly, for a game that promises to let you play a whole set, there's no locatable option to just play all eighteen songs in order. Or, in fact, any multiple-song set at all.
The tour mode being in the set-list creates another problem too. While I'm sure it rocked Donington, AC/DC weren't exactly thinking about little things like difficulty curves when they were planning it out. That means that you have these random spikes when a tricky song makes its appearance. I suspect "Thunderstruck" will be a relatively brutal opener for a newcomer, for example. The hardest song, "Let There Be Rock" - the only one that tripped me up playing through first time on my usual weakling Hard - comes a couple of tracks before the end. The closing "Highway to Hell" and "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" are a welcome relief after the seemingly endless "Let There Be Rock". Or, "Let There Be Hand Cramp", as I prefer to think of it.
So the immediate urge is to dismiss it. For all but the most rock-band-phobic AC/DC-loving gamers (i.e. those who would only want to play AD/DC, ever) this is essentially an album-length Track Pack for twice the price of what you'd pay if it were available as a download. There's nothing of the extra interest that's coming in, say, Guitar Hero: Metallica. It is, to be blunt, a bit of a rip-off.
But there's something that could overwhelm that. It is, to be equally blunt, THE POWER OF ROCK. So, damning objectivity, I looked to the furnace of drunken subjectivity and gathered a group of men of to my North London hole. Women were forced away. Alcohol was drunk. Manly chili consumed. THERE WAS ROCK. Until we got a bit bored and played standard Rock Band 2 instead.
AC/DC, while arguably the definitive Hard Rock Band, have a few problems as singular fodder for a total Rock Band experience. AC/DC's material is about the primacy of the riff. And when the riff is not rampaging across an ancient Savannah with other, lesser riffs grabbed between its teeth, it's transformed into a solo and is soaring into the ether like a pterodactyl made of whirlwinds and fire. Meanwhile the bass is going plod plod plod and the drums are going drum drumity drum. And the singer is dying. You suspect that this would have sat a whole lot better as a pre-World Tour Guitar Hero pack.
As one member of the ROCK PARTY (and a real drummer) who couldn't make it put it, "Surely on anything higher than medium Rock Band's drums are going to be harder than just playing it for real." And while there are some fancy bits - and being a live set there are some long solo sections - he's got a point. It's even worse for the bassist - any lower settings on most of the songs are superhumanly tedious. Like the Ramones, part of AC/DC's joy is that they're pretty damn formulaic - big riff, bloke screeching, bass and drums primarily supporting. Being the latter two isn't much fun - especially across an hour-and-a-half set.
Conversely, swapping the head-person role puts a lot of responsibility on the guy with the axe. And the singing - well, not many people have lungs for the task which AC/DC sets you, putting aside the issue of familiarity with the material. Singing AC/DC if you know it is hard. Singing it when you don't is just painful. Doubly so, for anyone having to listen to you croak. The live set nature also highlights one of the standard issues with Rock Band - not actually having much of a clue what's awaiting you when you select a song. Some songs are expanded hugely with epic solos and t-t-teasing the crowd. Knowing that this one is a ten-minute one before you start would be a step forward.
While there were glorious moments certainly, the basic monotony gets to you. The immediate response to starting up Rock Band 2, to be welcomed by a snatch of Motorhead was a cry of "Now that's a Rock song!" Even something as prissy as Jimmy Eat World was welcomed like a long lost love. And we went a little early 90s Riot Grrl with Rebel Girl. And, well, mixed it up.
As we drifted into the night, I had a straw poll of what everyone thought AC/DC Live: Rock Band deserved out of ten. Scores varied between three and zero ("It should be made an example of"). I'm going for two. This is only of interest to those who really, really, really need AC/DC now. Even moderate AC/DC fans can afford to wait until it's reduced to a sub 15-quid price (i.e. what it would be as downloads) or when the publisher lobs it on the Rock Band store. In other words, to return to the opening question, how much does it matter if it's this slight? It matters a lot.
That said, if it's reissued with a plastic cannon, automatic ten.
2 / 10