One of the most buzzed-about games of E3 this year is Rock Band, EA's answer to Activision's popular Guitar Hero franchise. Instead of playing along to onscreen songs with one or two plastic guitar-shaped controllers as in Guitar Hero, Rock Band adds a drum kit and microphone to the mix, letting up to four rockers do their thing at one time.
The guitars are similar to the plastic Guitar Hero axes you're familiar with, and the mic is a standard plastic number you might find on a cheap karaoke machine. The drum kit is clearly the main focus here--it's got four pressure-sensitive pads, plus a foot pedal for hitting an imaginary bass drum. It all plugs into a small USB-style hub, which in turn plugs in into the console (at least on the Xbox 360 version we played).
The match-the-beat gameplay is virtually identical to Guitar Hero, but adding the drums and vocals, while it may make for a crowded living room, creates an entirely new dynamic. If your living room is too small, you can play online, taking on the drums, for example, while your friends play the other parts from wherever they are. But being in a band, even a fake one, is all about playing off each other, so playing online seems like it would be less fun by a wide margin.
The songs we saw were in the same general Guitar Hero vein, but EA's introduction of Steven van Zandt (of E Street Band and Sopranos fame) as the head of a music advisory board for picking songs at least made it seem like they were taking the music seriously.
But all this is moot if the game doesn't play well. To give Rock Band a test drive, we went over to a small private suite that had been set up to demo the equipment. With a few other journalists, we gave the setup a test drive. On David Bowie's "Suffragette City," I took on the vocals, and naturally, totally rocked, while the rest of the band struggled to keep up behind me--the drums in particular seems like they would take a while to get used to.
Then our fab foursome hit its stride with Weezer's "Say It Ain't So." As the song's final notes rang out, there was an audible pop and the lights went out. That's right, we had rocked so hard, we blew a fuse.
Actually, the lights were out in that entire row of rooms, and later, we learned, in random patches all along the next several blocks. Fire engines were soon blocking the street, and according to Wired, a transformer had blown under another hotel, causing a partial blackout. That's what putting thousands of Xbox 360s, plasma TVs, and power-hungry computers in a small stretch of beachfront property will do.
Later that evening, the rocking continued at the legendary Troubadour club in West Hollywood, where Microsoft VP Peter Moore took to the stage to play some virtual rock in a repeat performance of his press conference shindig from earlier in the week. Roadies then cleared the faux instruments and set up for the evening's legit entertainment, high-volume sets from the appropriately rocking Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age.