Rock Band • Page 2

It's a hard rock life.

While my guitar gently bleeps

There's no doubt that Harmonix is treating every instrument in the game with the same care and attention. In the hands of a lesser developer Rock Band could stink of cash-in, but with the team behind the original Guitar Hero, Amplitude and FreQuency, we get the impression these guys would rather be making music than making games. "The thing that we're looking forward to is just turning people into musicians," says Daniel Sussman, Harmonix employee and member of punk band The Acro Brats.

"We've seen it to some extent with Guitar Hero where we heard stories of people trading in a toy guitar for a real one and that makes us happy. Hopefully we're going to see a lot more of that - groups of people who get the high from Rock Band that go on to form their own band."

For Harmonix, the branding of the in-game peripherals is important, not just to give users the real deal in their hands, but as a way of giving something back to the music industry.

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"If you look at the music industry there's a lot of resentment about the fact that videogames are taking kids away from music," says Sussman. "For me, I'm a musician and I've been playing guitar for as along as I can remember. So I'm thrilled to be taking people along for the ride. Working with people like Fender, Boss, Roland - it's a way for us to ground what we're doing in reality. The fact that Fender is supporting what we're doing, that's good karma."

U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi

The actual on-screen action in Rock Band is plain ugly, but perfectly functional. Three instruments divide the bottom of the screen while lyrics run across the top. The fret boards are transparent enabling a view of your character rocking out. It's a mess to be honest, but thankfully this is one game where what's on screen visually isn't nearly as important as the tool in your hands and the sound blasting your ears. You can build and customise your own avatars from a selection of various gurning rockstar parodies, but again it's not important. I love System of a Down but I don't to stare at them, know what I mean?

The fact that I wouldn't listen to a good portion of the licensed music but am happy to play along with it perhaps indicates that the tracklisting isn't as important as it might first seem. And even though we've heard the tracks a thousand times (some of them in other games), the likes of Black Sabbath, The Who, David Bowie, Nirvana and Blue Oyster Cult are perfect for jamming. Certainly, Don't Fear the Reaper is better placed in Rock Band than it was in Midway's Roadkill. What matters is the feeling you get from playing these tracks.

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Although there's no doubt that Rock Band is going to cost more than the average videogame, it's promising to offer value for money. Players are getting four games in one and it's claimed that the guitar portion alone is bigger than Guitar Hero. Add your vocal game, drumming sessions, bass parts and the four-player co-operative play that ties it all together, and there's no denying this should be the complete rock n' roll experience. And, similar to Guitar Hero, it also comes complete with a World Tour mode where bands start out playing spit n' saw dust venues before climbing the the stairway to rock heaven. You'll just have to supply your own booze, drugs and, erm, shark.

The deciding factor of whether you pick up Rock Band isn't likely to be the fact that it's all about rock music. That's not important. It's the price that will seal the deal for many. And if it doesn't break your bank, then you're going to get countless laughs out of standing around with your mates - Jack Sabbath, Brain Maiden and Tracy DC - and getting down like crazed hard-rock nutters.

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