The lights are on
Green Grass and High Tides. If those words send a chill
through you, then at some point we shared a great trial – beating Rock Band's
guitar career on Expert, and confronting the nearly ten-minute long odyssey
that was The Outlaws' 1975 song by that name. Even if you did manage to cross
the finish line, it was only an entryway into yet more challenges ahead. Rock
Band's escalating difficulties, regular sequels, and endless downloadable
content added up to an incalculable breadth of game time – and I loved every
second of it.
Most Rock Band faithful were already familiar with the
fundamentals of gameplay after two years of playing the various incarnations of
Guitar Hero. With the original developer of Guitar Hero at the helm for Rock
Band, expectations among music game faithful were high. Harmonix did not
Rock Band offered everything that Guitar Hero had already
succeeded at, but expanded the concept to bring in new instruments and a long-term
vision for delivering ongoing content. For my part, I instantly fell for Rock
Band's many approaches to play, and began to split my time between conquering
the guitar career and an equal effort at trying the drums for the first time.
My dedication to Rock Band traces back to two sources: a
love of music, and my fascination with challenges in which it's always possible
to improve. Rock Band taps both by providing top notch tunes and an array of
ways to improve one's skill at the game.
The first installment of Rock Band features a surprising and
eclectic song list. Classics like Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" and Rush's
"Tom Sawyer" sit alongside tracks from The Killers and Queens of the Stone Age – and those songs can keep a player
busy for months. However, it's the long term approach to the music that really
floored me, and kept me involved in the Rock Band franchise for years to come.
Subsequent installments of the franchise offered opportunities to draw earlier
song lists into the new sequels, resulting in an ever-growing catalog of music
to play. Plus, in what remains the single most impressive approach to DLC yet
attempted by a game developer, Harmonix rolled out over 4,200 songs (including
the brilliant indie-style Rock Band Network entries) in an uninterrupted streak
of 280 consecutive weeks of new content, giving players a smorgasbord of their
favorite songs to purchase and play. Over the years, more than any game I can
recall, I found myself returning to Rock Band and its sequels again and again.
Even when I stopped playing for a month or two, I'd hop back in for several fevered
days of playing old favorites, and downloading newly released tracks.
(Thanks to YouTuber JPrez44)
Beyond the ever-expanding palette of songs to play, Rock
Band offers a challenge that is hard to put down. Though "Green Grass and High
Tides" was perhaps the most memorable stretch of hours I poured into a song, I
love the way the game constantly throws new surprises at me. Learning the drums
demanded that I teach my legs to pedal tap with the same precision I'd taught
to my arms and fingers when playing guitar. Later, the addition of the keyboard
brought yet another twist in the knot, and another variation on watching those
endless note-highway streams. In every case, the ramp up from medium, on to
hard, and the final summit of expert feels rewarding and engaging, and provides
a sense of improvement and mastery that few other games can match.
After all these years, Harmonix halted their seemingly
endless stream of new DLC a few months ago. Even so, I still find myself coming
home at the end of a long day and popping in Rock Band from time to time.
Inevitably, when I do, I begin with the plan to just play a couple of songs.
However, when all is said and done, I don't end up surfacing for air until a
couple of hours later. The sheer joy of interacting with the music and testing
my (now sometimes rusty) skills has endless appeal. Rock Band remains one of my
favorite titles, and it's also undoubtedly one of the franchises I've invested the
most effort and time in over my many years enjoying games.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.