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Critical Reception: MTV Games/Harmonix's Rock Band

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Rock Band, Harmonix's groundbreaking multiplayer band simulation that critics praise as "immensely fun and consistently rewarding."
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Rock Band, Harmonix's groundbreaking multiplayer band simulation that critics praise as "immensely fun and consistently rewarding." After finding worldwide success with the Guitar Hero franchise, developer Harmonix ups the ante with Rock Band, a full-on musical group simulation title. Rock Band comes bundled with a guitar controller, a drumkit, and a microphone, and players are encouraged to form a four-player band consisting of lead and bass guitar, drums, and vocals. The experience doesn't come cheap, however, and many have wondered if Rock Band and its bevy of included peripheral controllers could be worthy of a price point of $169.99. Judging by its exceptional Metacritic-averaged score of 94 out of 100, reviewers unanimously agree that Rock Band's multiplayer entertainment value more than justifies the asking price. Dan Amrich at Games Radar claims that Rock Band possesses all of the addictive charm of Guitar Hero, and successfully extends its reach to multiplayer. "In Rock Band," he begins, "not only do you eagerly want to grab a fake plastic guitar, but you won't have to look far to find three other people just as willing to step up to grab a fake plastic bass, fake plastic drums and a fake plastic microphone." Awarding Rock Band a score of 10 out of 10, Amrich explains that the new instruments provide an even greater sense of musical creation than Guitar Hero, and that the game benefits greatly as a result. "The four pads and kick pedal mimic a basic electronic drum kit, and you still have to swing your limbs to hit each target," Amrich says of Rock Band's drum peripheral. "The higher difficulty levels require such skill that if you are not already a drummer, you're automatically on your way to becoming one." "The microphone is, well, a microphone," he continues, "but you still have to sing into it and match the pitch and length of the notes on the screen in order to do well. It's not always fun, even - it's a drag to be judged so harshly. But by constrast, we can't call that fake anything - that's singing. And for all intents and purposes, you're really drumming, too." Amrich notes that the solo guitar portion of Rock Band is practically identical to Guitar Hero, save for a significant drop in the difficulty seen in Guitar Hero III. However: "It's called Rock Band and not Rock Soloist for a reason - you gotta do this with other people to truly appreciate it," Amrich explains. "Part of the co-op game is working together and keeping an eye on your bandmates who might be struggling; your timely intervention can give them a boost and keep them in the game, or bring them back after they fail." "Damned if you don't feel like you're actually making music," Amrich praises, "which is the developer's not-so-secret goal, but who'd have thought they'd pull it off? It makes GHIII feel like homework, a technical chore you have to do. Rock Band, meanwhile, feels downright inspiring." Game Informer's Matt Miller contributes a score of 9.25 out of 10. "Taken as a whole, Rock Band is the best music game ever made," he asserts. "As a culmination of years of build up from the best music game maker in the industry, Harmonix has crammed a positively huge entertainment experience onto one small disc. It’s immensely fun and consistently rewarding." However, this praise doesn't always extend to the single-player campaign. "Taken apart into its disparate components," Miller explains, "Rock Band is a game with several small flaws that wise gamers should consider carefully before taking the plunge." "Even on the highest difficulty, the complexity of the guitar parts just doesn’t hold up well," Miller continues, "filled as they are with long stretches of two note chords and repeated rhythmic riffs. For this reason, the torch that Harmonix has passed to Neversoft in the form of Guitar Hero is still the place to go for solo shredders. Similarly, some of the vocal parts just aren’t exciting." Miller praises Rock Band's implementation of percussion, however, and feels that the drum portion of the game is where solo gamers will have the most fun. "Complicated and engrossing, the rhythmic gymnastics needed to master this percussion system are many and great," he writes. "Non-drummers will come out the other end of this game listening to music in a different way – hearing that offbeat kickdrum and applauding complicated drum fills." While Miller cautions against Rock Band's limitations as a single-player game, he highly recommends its multiplayer modes. "A lengthy and varied World Tour mode lets you build a band from nothing into the next big thing," he says. "As a solitary experience, Rock Band is exciting but limited. Play it the way its title suggests, as a band, and this holiday release is hard to beat." Nick Suttner at 1UP.com agrees that Rock Band is best enjoyed with others, and rates the title at 9 out of 10. "Let's get the touchy topic out of the way first: Rock Band isn't great if you're playing by yourself," he says. "After a Harmonix tradition of brilliant rhythm games (Frequency, Amplitude, Guitar Hero) built on a solo foundation with multiplayer as a delicious extra, Rock Band makes no bones about taking the opposite approach." "Take Weezer's contributions to the competing games, as example," Suttner writes. "'My Name Is Jonas' in Guitar Hero III is great fun to rock out to on any difficulty, while 'Say It Ain't So' in Rock Band is fantastic to play as a group. The songs were chosen quite purposefully in this regard, though it results in 'Say It Ain't So' being an inferior song to play by yourself." Suttner claims that Rock Band's multiplayer portion more than makes up for its disappointing single-player campaign, however. "Thankfully, World Tour Mode complements the multiplayer experience near-perfectly," he says. "The Rock Band multiplayer experience -- in any mode -- provides about as much fun as you can have with a videogame. Like the best co-op games, having your role and contributions so clearly defined makes it easy to enjoy whatever instrument you're playing, whomever you're playing with." "You can obviously chalk some of it up to the universally uniting nature of music, and making music together," Suttner notes, "but without the accessible mechanics of the game and Harmonix's structural polish, it wouldn't be the same. While Guitar Hero III was made with Guitar Hero fans in mind, Rock Band is built simply with music fans in mind -- leaving the experience as open-ended as possible." Critics caution that Rock Band's single-player modes may seem lacking to those used to the difficulty of previous games in the Guitar Hero series, and that the game's price tag may not be worth it for players who plan to take on the game's challenges alone. For those intending to play as a band, however, Rock Band appears to be a solid investment that promises many hours of playtime in both offline co-op and online multiplayer modes.

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