Rock Band was the big arrival in our house this Christmas eve and its now been enough time to share some real thoughts on it.
Overall Rock Band is way better than Guitar Hero III. Lots of small things are better- more customization of the look of your avatar, more variety of songs. The big thing is that it moves things into a very social arena. Given the addition of voice, Rock Band has the potential to become the new karaoke, but rather than just signing along with your friends, you can do the guitar, drums or bass parts along with someone singing. The New Years after most folks had left a couple of friends stayed and we had great fun messing around with various songs.
They have also done a great job with the downloadable songs. Every Tuesday since their launch there have been 3 to 5 more songs, and they have done a decent balance of classics and newer stuff. There have been so many downloads that this already shows up some really big weaknesses in the XBox Live marketplace- it is becoming a real pain to browse through them, the description box is so small you need to wait for it to scroll to really see what the song is, and they don’t have the ability to do audio previews in the marketplace. Still, this is in serious danger of costing me $100-$250 a year if they can keep it up, and in an industry seeking ways to generate real revenue for music and artists, that should be gold.
There are two places where Guitar Hero III is still better. First, the overall feel of the guitar playing seems slightly better there- maybe its just that I got used to Guitar Hero first, but I feel like I get more places where Rock Band is just showing me missing notes for no reason. Also (go figure) the “solo play” for Guitar Hero is somewhat better, with the cool “boss battle” sequences, while the Rock Band solo play is just a list of songs.
Early production of the Rock Band guitar controllers apparently had lots of issues with the strum bar. Mine broke after just a few days but the EA return policy could not have been better. I just went to an online site, gave them a credit card # (just for a deposit) and they sent me a replacement in two days. I put the old one in the box and sent it back to them. No cost to me, very low hassle. Stuff breaks, but EA should be commended for having such a great approach to fixing it, and especially for letting me deal with it all on the web without having to talk to a support person.
Rock Band has the potential to be really huge. Its a bit expensive to get into it ($170), but the potential to be the karaoke “party game” replacement is huge, both in terms of being really fun and in terms of their potential market for the download songs. My advice would be to make sure they keep this scenario in mind as they produce new downloadable songs and game updates- make sure there are good modes in the game where its all about fun performing together, fun stuff to sing along with, etc. It would be great if they could do an update where you could have two microphones so people can sing along together, a better marketplace, better ways to browse the list of songs you own, etc.