Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Where Rock Band Went Wrong

First, sorry for my absence (again) this past week. I've been distracted by the usual February schtick of one kid with the flu, followed immediately by one with pink eye. Good times. Fortunately, they're both doing better. Unfortunately, my cat of ten years has been sick for a month now and I think the end game is fast approaching for her. (We find out more later today, I hope.) Trying not to get too broken up about it, but she's been a wonderful cat, especially these last few years of having kids with the lack of attention she's gotten because of it. We'll see what results this latest trip to the vet bring.

Moving on.

Last night, I picked up Rock Band. If you read my Gameshark.com review, you know I absolutely frigg'n adore the game. The local multiplayer World Tour Mode is just about as fun as gaming can get. But as I haven't had much opportunity to utilize it lately (just once, since the New Year), I've been stuck with the Solo Tour and the more I go on with it (I still haven't been able to finish Green Grass and High Tides on Expert w/the guitar), the less I understand the lack of attention Harmonix seems to have given it.

The Band World Tour mode has everything. You can create a band member for every player in the band. You can design band logos and associated stuff to put it on. You can actually "tour", choosing different geographic regions, different locales (and locale sizes) and generally grow from a small, local band to a band that has a huge "fan" following and travels the world. Plus, you can take on set list challenges and create your own concert set lists. As I've said many a time before, it's liquid awesome.

So why the hell is none of that in the Solo Tour mode?

This is, after all, not just a game about doing the whole Simon Says thing with a bunch of colored blobs and a fake plastic axe. It's about atmosphere. And, on stage, the entire game oozes it, as does every last pixel in the Band World Tour Mode. But the Solo Tour? It's just Guitar Hero all over again. Actually, it's even more limited, since you can't choose the song you want to play independently of the location you play it in. Nirvana's In Bloom will always be played to the backdrop of the same shithole it appeared in from day one. You'll never get to take it to a bigger concert hall or stadium. There's no fan following or building of your band. There's no set lists or associated challenges to accomplish. You just play the songs without any customization of the backdrop whatsoever. And there's absolutely no reason I can fathom for it.

Okay, so the point of Rock Band is the band. I get that. But Harmonix still has to recognize that a lot of players are limited to the Solo Tour. Not only that, the social aspects of this game in multiplayer sort of take care of themselves. I mean as fun as the World Tour is, you get the band feeling just by playing the game with your buds. So, if you want the entire game to be about the band, then let the solo players actually create a band, and do everything an actual multiplayer band would get to do. Let the solo player actually choose what every member of the band looks like (rather than just their lone rocker) and have it remain consistent from song to song (vocalists excepted) instead of the random and rather bizarre switching of band members as you play the game. Let the solo player do the challenges, create the set lists and let them do it in whatever concert location that's currently open to them. The whole darn nine. There is no way that allowing the solo player this freedom does anything but enhance the gameplay.

Rock Band is a great, great game and I think the people at Harmonix are utterly brilliant. Also, the post-release support its getting from weekly downloads of new tracks is phenomenal. (And it stands in stark contrast to the lack of such tracks from Activision for Guitar Hero III.) But they really dropped the ball on the Solo Tour in a big, big way. I've grown so incredibly tired of knowing that I'm missing out every time I load up the game and make that lonely trek through the menus to the Solo Tour. Sure, adding these features to the solo game won't make it as good an experience as the local multiplayer, but it sure as hell wouldn't have hurt.