Undoubtedly, the PS3 and Xbox 360 era of games will be remembered as one of the best generations this industry has ever had to offer. When you think of timeless classics such as Bioshock, Uncharted, Left 4 Dead, GTA IV, Assassin’s Creed II and even something as recent as The Last of Us, you get a feeling of just how much gaming has come from two sticks hitting a ball to one another. For me, one of the most defining games of this generation was something which seemed to be over in a flash. A fad that has seemingly been forgotten due to one series bleeding the idea dry. Although Harmonix had created the first two Guitar Hero games, everything fell into place once Rock Band was released but, for me, Rock Band 2 changed my perception of gaming.
The rhythm gaming scene exploded when Guitar Hero 3, owned by Activision, sold over 1.3 million units in it’s first week as gaming had found its new fad. It seemed as though everyone was buying a Gibson Les Paul guitar and holding ‘Guitar Hero parties” until the wee hours of the morning. It encouraged so many people to put down the plastic guitar and pick up a 6 string.
While the Guitar Hero 3 boom was in full effect, I was at college at the time and a lot of my fellow students loved the game, too. We would often find ourselves going into stores that had the game on display and playing for our entire lunch break because it was so different, fun and challenging. As I soon learned that there would be a game that would take the experience a step further, I couldn’t wait for Rock Band to be released a few months later.
Like any new game, or musical instrument for that matter, it took a while to grasp these new instruments with the drums, singing and bass, too. That was what I spent most of my time doing in the first Rock Band. I was learning how to play the game and by the time the sequel was released, I was in the perfect position.
Even before the game was released, the setlist that the game was released with was near-perfect. The fact that you could import your songs if you had purchased the original Rock Band was a brilliant feature and one which became a leading feature for the Rock Band series. Songs from Dream Theatre, Rush, Linkin Park, Metallica, Jimmy Eat World and Pearl Jam to name but a few showed of the brilliant artists that this game had to offer.
Combine these songs with the strong list of songs that were included with the original, there were days of fun to be had trying to master these songs on the different instruments. The challenging factor of the Rock Band series made it different to any other game, even the poor Guitar Hero ‘band’ games which followed on from Rock Band’s success. It was the idea of progression that was one of the most addictive things about the game. Once you had mastered a certain difficulty, you would move onto the next level and it was continued progression. Unique to rhythm games but has the same idea of ‘levelling up’ as you find in most games these days.
As much as games such as Call of Duty, Halo and GTA IV have shone as multiplayer games, Rock Band 2 was head and shoulders above these games in terms of multiplayer. With regards to the online-multiplayer, I never had any problems with any other player as everyone knew what they had to do. If someone had put it on too hard a difficulty, then there were other players who would use the infamous “star power” to save their band mates.
It was all about equality in the sense that if there were 4 of you playing in an online game, you would get to choose 1 song each meaning you could play your favourite song as well as some other classics. The only thing which was a tad repetitive with the online multiplayer was that most people picked songs from bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Testament, Disturbed and Soundgarden constantly.
In terms of local-multiplayer, Rock Band 2 was brilliant. While the setup was almost the exact same as the original Rock Band, the number of songs you could choose meant that no experience of Rock Band was the same. Because up to 4 players could play at a time, having a full band was very entertaining but also very sociable.
I used to invite friends round to my home if my parents were away so that we could play until the early hours and have a great time doing it. It made you feel as if you were in a real band. While I had already accomplished the expert difficulty on guitar, bass and drums and most songs on hard, I decided to take it up to the next level by buying a microphone stand. I bought it from a local music shop and it sounded as if I was actually a member of a band. It certainly felt as if I was in a band each time I played the game.
The main part of the Rock Band series which made it such a stand out game was the consistent downloadable content being provided on a weekly basis. For 5 years, the developers of Rock Band had been adding new songs for the community and these included great one-hit wonders, full albums and great tracks from unknown artists.
There was a point in time where every Tuesday (I think) the new DLC would be announced and it was available on the Xbox 360 the next day. The anticipation to see what artist was appearing next was brilliant. Although Harmonix would often reveal clues as to who the band or songs were, you never knew what great content they were going to reveal next. Although many games claim to be community orientated, the Rock Band community seemed to be one of a kind. Some of the team behind the game would often interact with the community and give them the chance to vote for songs to be released or even win the chance to be able to have their bands song in Rock Band 3.
Leading onto Rock Band 3, I was extremely excited for this game when it was unveiled. The addition of playing with an actual guitar as well as the additions of keyboards seemed like a great idea. But, like all peripherals, the costs of these additions were too expensive. By the time RB3 was released, Guitar Hero had already robbed the rhythm gaming genre for all its credibility. This had a huge impact on the overall feeling of the Rock Band games from this point.
A few months after RB3’s release, my interest in the series became far less than what it once was. I had completed the World Tour mode and had even bought myself, at great expense, a pro-mode guitar but it was so difficult to use. You had to be so precise and it felt like an extremely difficult Rock Band instrument rather than an actual guitar.
Looking back on the Rock Band series, the main thing that it has changed about me has been my taste in music. Before I played Rock Band, I was very much into my rap and R&B music and had been for many years. I would often dismiss my friend’s attempts at getting me to listen to anything rock orientated. As I began playing this, I fell in love with the pop-punk, rock and metal genres of music. Ever since then, rock (mainly pop-punk) has very much been my preferred taste in music.
After spending a lot of money and time on buying songs, learning them and also buying the separate Beatles and Green Day games, I turned my main focus to games as a whole after my experience with the series. I had some of the best gaming moments I’ve ever had while playing Rock Band 2, as well as the series as a whole. I do still play the game from time-to-time but, only for a few songs. It’s a shame that gaming fads such as the rhythm gaming scene have to end. It allowed me to see gaming for what it really was and that there were great communities out there with like-minded individuals like me who just wanted to enjoy games.
As far as this generation goes, I will always remember it for Rock Band 2.