Version tested: Xbox 360
The timing is a little unfortunate, perhaps. Green Day make their raucous stage debut as a videogame headliner this Friday, mere days before Rock Band 3 is expected to steal the limelight at E3 with whatever new toys Harmonix has stuffed up its lager-stained denim sleeve.
As the second band-specific instalment of the music game series, over 50 million record sales suggests there'll be enough punk-drunk fanboys and girls to ensure Green Day plays to another packed house. But will it be the gig of a lifetime?
Rather than offer a narrative of the band's development, the game focuses instead on their three most significant releases: 1994's Dookie, 2004's American Idiot and 2009's 21st Century Breakdown. The first two appear in their entirety, the latter is six short - those being DLC already released which can either be purchased or imported if you've already got 'em. Otherwise, albums in-between (Insomniac, Nimrod, Warning) have a mere seven tracks in total to themselves.
As a tracklisting decision it makes good sense, devoting the lion's share of the games's 47 tunes to the band's most important, successful works. Delivering full-length records intact on the disc without deliberately riddling them with holes through DLC greed is welcome; similarly, arbitrarily culling tracks from American Idiot would have been as offensive to fans as slicing a song out of the Abbey Road medley.
At the same time, however, it handicaps the sense of progression in career mode. Skipping the group's niche, shape-shifting six-year career pre-Dookie is fair enough; but with just three venues in which to perform, each linked to one of the big trio of albums, the experience is robbed of any real insight into Green Day's evolution from excitable teenagers squawking at a garage wall to stadium-filling rock colossi.
Where The Beatles: Rock Band took you on a beautifully-crafted journey through a career, punctuated by lavish visual set-pieces, never-before-heard studio material and insightful trivia, Green Day is three stadia (one of which is fictional) and a collection of rare archival material to unlock - sizeable and worthy enough, but supplied in a way that feels separate rather than woven in to enrich understanding and appreciation.
After the painstaking ambition of Beatles, it feels like a backward step - and certainly the career mode is a substantially less compelling offering as a result. But there is a positive flipside.
Harmonix hasn't wimped out creatively so much as channelled its energies into different areas. And as a result, the heights of Green Day: Rock Band are arguably the most convincing, atmospheric, exhilarating moments of the series to date.
Material from the nineties is reserved for The Warehouse, a suitably downtrodden approximation of the venues the group frequented around Dookie. The Fox Theater in Oakland, California, meanwhile, is chosen as the setting for 21st Century Breakdown, being the venue in which the group first performed the album. But the centrepiece of the game is the Milton Keynes Bowl, which hosted the band's first headline stadium show in 2005 and, in the game, is the venue for American Idiot-era material - and its most engaging sequences.
Billie Joe, Tré and Mike have been motion-captured extensively while performing their hits and the results are impressively convincing. (Sadly, the same cannot be said for the crowd, with spectators boasting all the facial definition of Raiders of the Lost Ark's melting Nazis).
With Milton Keynes, Harmonix has also captured the atmosphere of an outdoor music festival with considerable flair; when the crowd joins in on big singalong numbers like Wake Me Up When September Ends, I feel the unmistakable tingle of a 'great live moment' down the back of my neck. That's a remarkable feat of sensory trickery when you consider that it's the original recording with crowd sounds layered artificially over the top. Neat touches like call-and-response banter and setting the crowd off clapping only add to this.
Similarly there's a palpable drama to the climax of a track like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, with flames bursting from the stage and the camera panning wildly around as that menacing coda with its irregular loop of chords plays out. This is not just the Green Day instalment, but the entire series at its majestic best.
This contrasts sharply, in particular, with The Warehouse, with its drab, charmless aesthetics; and the Fox Theatre, despite its fancy light displays and monochrome sequences, feels deflating after the wide-eyed adrenaline surge of Milton Keynes (a sentence I never expected to write in any medium).
It's a pity, then, that more outdoor stadia couldn't have been worked into the game. As it is, after the global whistle-stop tour and dream sequences of The Beatles: Rock Band, this feels like being short-changed.
Difficulty-wise, expert axe-wielders will be challenged rather than overwhelmed by the game's trickier numbers, largely due to the chord-driven nature of the band's arrangements, with the test (particularly with early material) one of endurance rather than digital dexterity. The same broadly applies to drums; meanwhile for karaoke kings, Billie Joe's vocal range is narrower than that of many of his peers, which should come as a blessing to gamers and terrorised neighbours alike.
When the game was announced, many questioned whether Green Day had the depth, breadth and quality of material to sustain a full game. As a fan of 'the hits', but someone who could never be described as a hardcore follower, I would answer yes without any serious reservations.
For a punk three-piece, there's a pleasing spread of moods, tempos and tones here, from the runaway-train chippiness of much of the early output to the earnest croon of Last Night On Earth and the affecting simplicity of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). And the structural versatility of the more grandiose numbers, like the widescreen sprawl of Homecoming, offers self-contained dramas that are great fun to play through as a group.
Incidentally, one of the few issues I had with The Beatles: Rock Band was that the massively varied instrumentation used in the recordings at times exposed the limitations of the game, which remained forlornly anchored to its toy guitars and drums.
There are no such problems with Green Day's oeuvre, which Rock Band fits around like a glove and rarely feels like it has to compromise to maintain the illusion (playing cello parts on the bass is pretty much the extent of it). So while Green Day: Rock Band is far less ambitious than its predecessor, it is perhaps more comfortable in its skin.
The feature set is regulation Rock Band fare, both online and offline, and support for two- and three-part vocal harmonies has been carried over from the Beatles version (mostly two-part at best here, though). Existing instruments remain cross-compatible, of course, and tracks can be exported into other versions of the game.
Overall, Green Day devotees should have little to complain about here (aside from perhaps the gaps in the catalogue). As fan service it crowd surfs into the living room with ample generosity and verve. But, irrespective of one's tastes, next to the breathtaking attention to detail of The Beatles project, as a celebration of a group's creative output the package feels a little insubstantial.
That said, if you're a Green Day fan it's a no-brainer - an already excellent music game with a disc full of the music you love - and for that you can happily add a point to the score. Otherwise, as intoxicating as the experience can be at times, with Rock Band 3 and the innovations that may bring (keytar, please!) on the horizon, the question of whether to buy now or wait becomes a more difficult one to answer.
7 / 10