Review: “Rock Band” Part 1: hardware, difficulty, modes

January 2nd, 2008 by Tommy Gun

Rock BandNote: we have it for the Xbox 360. Each person needs to be signed into an Xbox profile (it can be the same one). Some things may be a bit different on PS3.

I started writing this review right after getting the game, two months ago, and have since added to it. There is so much more to say about the game, though, that I have left some things out to talk about later. I have broken it into two parts, and apologize for the unorganized format. It's not so much a review as it is a discussion.

Quick Summary: Rock Band is Guitar Hero/Drum Hero/Karaoke Revolution combined. Made by Harmonix, the creators of Guitar Hero, it's the ultimate party music game.


I actually love the guitar. The neck is a bit smaller, so it doesn’t hurt my fingers as much (I have small hands), but it’s also longer, which is nice. I absolutely love the feel of the fret buttons, it’s something you really just have to try. The strum bar is…weird. It’s kind of nice because you don’t have to move it very far, so you can alt strum really fast. However, there’s no click, and it’s so “soft” that it’s not as easy to keep a constant rhythm. So far it has not broken, after two months of play.

The drums: well, I’m pretty biased here, because I play Drummania on a Yamaha DTXplorer set in my room. So, compared to that, these aren’t great. But compared to the home drummania controller, these are way better.

The drum pads are hard, and LOUD. It takes some getting used to the placement of them, and they almost drown out the music. Mine don’t register rolls very well, which is a problem others have had. This is serious. There are songs that I’ve failed on Hard, because it has a string of red notes, and the drum simply can’t keep up with it, even though I’m hitting them. I’m going to get a replacement and hope it’s better. I’ve done the “tape mod” and beat the game on Expert, but it’s not perfect.

I was worried about the bass pedal, but it’s actually better than I expected, and pretty easy to press. Be careful not to step too hard in the middle of it, because you can feel it flex and other people have broken theirs. After beating Expert, I now loathe the pedal. It is okay for a plastic pedal, but boy does it wear out your leg. Since there’s no rebound, it’s very hard to sustain rapid beats. I hope to do one of the “real bass pedal mods.”

I also didn’t get the official “Rock Band” drumsticks, I got cheaper, rough (blank) ones. I wouldn’t use them anyway, since I have my own, but hey, I want some Rock Band drumsticks.

The microphone is good. Just a USB mic, but it’s solid, with a Rock Band logo.


I was worried about the guitar difficulty, but now I’m totally fine with it. It IS easier than Guitar Hero (save for the DLC), but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. Since the guitar takes some getting used to, it’s probably a good thing they didn’t rival GH3. Plus, GH3 was hard for the sake of being hard, where RB is more logical.

When we started the BWT mode, I played drums on Expert. Compared to Drummania, it’s considerably easier. Due to my dislike of the pedal, and the fact that my other bandmates (roommates) play on Easy/Medium, I just play on Hard for the BWT. There’s no incentive to play higher, and we play for long periods at a time. The only other complaint is the lack of hyperspeed! I play Drummania on 3.5x hi-speed, and some of these songs really need it.

Difficulty Requirements:

In BWT mode, some setlists must be played with everyone on Hard/Expert, which some people don’t like. I don’t mind it, it gives the game legs — keep playing and you’ll get better, and there will be new stuff you can do. But for people who don’t like it, maybe they should have made it like the wagers (e.g., “get five stars for double the fans”). Play on Hard and you’ll get something extra if you pass it. At the very least, I wish the setlist had an icon next to it telling you what difficulty is required. It’s frustrating going through all the venues, finding a setlist you want to play, and then finding out it’s too hard for my roommates.

Logo Creator:

The logo creator is cool, and easy to use. You can grab different pieces of art, change the size/rotation/color, and use multiple layers. The annoying thing is that it takes a million button clicks! You have to select a layer, then select “modify,” then “rotate,” etc. It would be much better to have quick-menus when you pull the triggers. Hold L to select a layer, hold R to select modification — that sort of thing.

Rock Band vs. Karaoke Revolution:

I have Karaoke Revolution, and we’ve had big parties where we all play. But somehow, the RB karaoke is even better, and shouldn’t be underestimated. The scoring is even better in RB.

KR has a meter you need to fill up by singing on pitch. On Expert, you have a bigger meter. RB is different, in that you actually can be a little off pitch on the easier difficulties, but on Expert the “pitch line” is thinner so you need to be more accurate. In other words, in KR your pitch has to be dead-on, most of the time. In RB your pitch can be slightly off the entire time.

The only downside is that RB doesn’t have duet mode with the band.


The tutorials are pretty cool, because they’re taught by people from the bonus song bands. The vocal tutorial is taught by Helen from Vagiant, while the drum one is taught by the dude from The Konks. I didn’t bother with the guitar tutorial.

Practice Mode:

You can change the speed of the replay by pressing the D-pad, which is great, because it also automatically loops the section you chose. So you can just keep playing it, gradually speeding it up, without ever stopping.

Disconnected instruments:

Just a tip: we accidentally bumped the cord or something, and the mic said it was disconnected. Even after completely unplugging, and plugging it back into the hub, it wouldn’t work. The same thing happened with the drum later that night. If that happens, unplug the whole hub from the Xbox, then reconnect it.

Read part 2 of the review »

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