Rock Band • Page 2

Are you still ready to rock?

You won't want to play Rock Band on your own though. The single-player modes are fine next to Guitar Hero's or SingStar's, but they're shallow compared to the main event, Band World Tour. You and up to three friends create rock personas, picking out faces and customising physique with slider bars, and then you get to name your band. We spent at least half an hour debating this before we even started playing.

With that out of the way, you start playing small venues, one song at a time with the occasional two- or three-song set-list. The set-list concept works well, allowing you to pick from songs you've already unlocked, or downloadable content (Jonathan Coulton's "Still Alive" from Portal is free, incidentally, so grab that by default), while mystery set-lists give you a glimpse of tracks buried deeper in the game, including some of the nine songs added to the PAL version (which US gamers have to pay to download).

Playing with your friends takes a while (and a good bit of alcohol, you'll probably discover) to demonstrate its charms, but points-scoring intensifies when you go into Overdrive as a group, and it's possible to rescue band-members who get booed off by going into Overdrive quickly, so errors and inexperience aren't always fatal. Before long your drummer's juggling his wooden sticks and counting you in, the guitarist is stomping around the room during solos and the singer's able to pop to the fridge between verses, and a number of songs end on a climactic passage where you can scream, jam and hammer the drums without restraint before hitting a final note to end the song with a big rock climax bonus. There won't be too many songs you don't know, either. I'm generally considered a musical dunce in the office, but even I knew the words to around 20 songs, and recognised another dozen.

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After a while you unlock a jet and get to fly around the world, but sadly you don't get to slap around groupies and develop a smack addiction.

That said, you will come up against a few brick walls. The inclusion of two French and two German songs in the PAL extras, which pop up during mystery set-lists, is a nightmare for your lead singer, and set-lists require you to play through each song on the list at the difficulty you specified prior to the performance. If you end up with a third song you've never heard before, or something tricky like Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock" or The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", your previously cocksure guitarists and drummers may come unstuck in ways they haven't with other tracks at the same difficulty, forcing you to abandon the gig and retry from the beginning at a lower setting. And while the game fills out your band with made-up nobodies when you're down a member or two, some tracks are unsympathetic to duos; Aerosmith's "Train Kept A-Rollin'", for instance, traps the singer in a lengthy tambourine sequence while the guitarist struggles with a massive solo, and if the guitarist gets booed off there's no opportunity for the singer to save him with a stored Overdrive until it's too late.

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The guitar difficulty isn't quite on a par with Guitar Hero III's roughest sections, but even experts at that game will find this challenging.

Guitarists may also struggle with the Fender's strum-bar and solo frets. It's not just that we're used to RedOctane's clicking Guitar Hero strum-bar, although we are; the soft strumming of the Stratocaster makes it difficult to work out exactly when you're activating a note, leading two of Eurogamer's best Guitar Heroes to suspect calibration problems until they switched back to GH3's Gibson Les Paul, at which point the problem disappeared. And while the solo frets are a neat idea, moving your hand between them and the regular frets at speed generally results in at least a couple of missed notes or, worse, having to glance down at the guitar neck to reposition fingers. You don't see Slash doing that - although admittedly you wouldn't notice anyway because of his stupid hair.

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