The vast majority of these songs are original tracks from the artists, with only a few covers scattered throughout the tracklist. Only a few of the covers really stick out much. The Geddy Lee on "Tom Sawyer" is a bit overblown, and the singer of Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" is a bit odd sounding as well. But by and large, the covers blend in nicely, and whoever did the vocals for Steven Tyler and Bruce Dickinson on the Aerosmith and Iron Maiden songs respectively deserve some kind of vocalist soundalike merit badge.
The only real problem with the tracklist is that some of the songs aren't the kind of immediately recognizable stuff you would expect in a game that's all about a bunch of people getting together and making elaborate band karaoke. Quick, off the top of your head, immediately think up the melody to The Police's "Next to You," or Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster." None of these songs are unpleasant to play or anything, but they don't quite fit into the scheme of songs anyone can just pick up and rock to, especially on vocals. Heck, just about anyone can probably whine their way through "Cherub Rock" or snarl through "Enter Sandman" on the lower difficulty levels. But Aerosmith's "Train Kept a Rollin'"? Maybe not so much, but perhaps that just depends on you and your friends' personal tastes in music.
Clearly Rock Band's focus and ultimate strength is as a multiplayer game, specifically a cooperative one. This is also evidenced by the game's somewhat less captivating single-player element, at least compared with its multiplayer game. You can play solo in quick play, or in one of the three solo career modes, one for guitar, one for vocals, and one for drums. These all follow the basic formula laid down by Guitar Hero, with tiers that unlock in order of increasing difficulty. One nice thing is that each instrument's career offers a totally different track order, scaled to the difficulty for that specific instrument. The other cool thing is the fact that you can customize your own rocker for each instrument. You start out with some basic edits, and then as you go, the cash you earn in the career mode lets you buy all sorts of wicked rock garb, tattoos, haircuts, and the like. But as far as the progression of the career itself is concerned, it's pretty boilerplate. Nothing of note really happens during the course of the career, and it ultimately lacks the dynamism of the band world tour mode.
Band world tour is the co-op career mode. Two to four players can create their own rockers and start rocking right away, and band members can jump in or drop out at any time, so long as the profile of the band founder is always signed in and playing. The mode is essentially a much more fleshed-out version of the same sort of tiered career mode as the solo tour. You start out as a nobody band, playing the teensiest club in your hometown. As you play gigs and perform well, you'll earn more fans, which helps propel your band ever forward toward rock stardom. You also earn stars in each gig, and the more stars you collect, the more gigs that will unlock in each available city.
This mode is, in a word, addictive. Working to gather as many fans and stars as you can becomes almost compulsive after a while. If you've got friends with you willing to stick it out, you could potentially lose a lot of hours of your life touring the world. Another thing that makes band world tour so cool is the presentation of it all. As you grow your fan base, you'll earn the opportunity to get a crappy van, then a tour bus, and even a jet. You'll have the chance to win another band's roadies, hire a sound guy, get signed to a label, and eventually work your way into the hall of fame. It's an awesome experience, to be sure.
The mode itself never actually ends, letting you continue to earn fans and keep playing gigs, though after a while you will forced into the higher difficulty settings, which potentially spells trouble if you start running into songs you don't really know yet, and you eventually start to run into a fair amount of song repetition, especially if you haven't already unlocked all the game's songs in the solo tour. Starting out fresh guarantees you'll be playing a lot of the same songs again and again from the very beginning. If you unlock everything in solo, the tour opens up a great deal. While 58 songs might seem like a lot to pick from, you're still going to end up repeating songs a fair amount, especially when you do the special challenges, which automatically pick random songs for you.
It is perhaps a good thing, then, that Rock Band is supported with lots of downloadable content. Several song packs (including artist packs for bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Metallica), single-song downloads, and full-album downloads (The Who's "Who's Next" will be the first) have been announced thus far. Pricing on these songs is slightly cheaper than the Guitar Hero song packs, but not so much cheaper that you won't notice the hurt on your wallet if you start splurging for every song that comes along. Still, the idea of getting regular downloadable content is great (Harmonix and MTV are apparently going to start out by releasing songs on a weekly schedule), and the full-album download idea is awesome. Even better, any song you download makes its way into the rotation in the band world tour, which should alleviate some of the repetition over the long haul.
The one truly unfortunate thing about the band world tour mode is that it isn't online. That might be a dicey prospect for those without regularly available friends with a similar love of music games. The good news is that there is an online co-op quick play option, so if you and your buddies just want to get together and play single songs as a band for fun and high scores, you can. The online also includes competitive options, such as a basic score duel (same instrument, same difficulty, play the entire song) and a tug-of-war mode (same instrument, any difficulty level, trade off sections of the song, try to win the crowd over to your side by performing the best). These modes are about as enjoyable as Guitar Hero III's online component, so if you dug that stuff, you'll definitely dig this. The online modes also performed well across the board, with no noticeable lag while playing.
Perhaps one of the best things about Rock Band is its presentation. The in-game visuals are of very high quality, with great character modeling, top-notch animation work on each musician, and lots of neat lighting and visual effects during the course of the performance. And the best thing about all of that? None of it causes the game to slow down whatsoever. The note charts stay steady no matter how much craziness is going on in the background. If there's any flaw to be found in the visuals at all, it's that the notes on the note charts are a little on the small side. It's not a big deal in one- or two-player play, but when you have both guitars and drums going at once, it can sometimes be tough to make out whether you've hit a note or not. Also, if you're trying to figure out which version of the game to get, visuals won't make much difference. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game look pretty much identical to one another.
Seriously, if you're able to get good at hard and expert drumming in this game, and you still can't play a solid 4/4 rock beat on a real drum kit, seek professional help.
The presentational quality goes well beyond the visuals. Everything about Rock Band just feels authentic. It's the little details, like how some arenas will put your band's name in big lights behind you on stage, or how when you're performing well the crowd will start singing along with the vocalist. Awesome stuff. Heck, even the game's loading screens are cool, offering up some neat band trivia, as well as dynamically generated band photos featuring your created musicians in a variety of delightfully exaggerated rock poses.
All told, Rock Band turns in an absolutely stellar performance. And much like any real band worth its salt, it's not just because of one or two things that it does well while the rest fall by the wayside. Each individual component of the game is good on its own, but it's when you put those things together into a collective whole that the game truly shines. Ultimately, the $170 investment is bound to be a sticking point for some, especially those who don't have readily available friends who can come over and rock whenever the itch needs to be scratched. But even with that caveat in mind, Rock Band is easily one of the most ambitious music games ever produced, and that it is so successful in its ambition makes it something really special.