In 2005 Red Octane released Guitar Hero, a rhythm based music game in the vein of Dance Dance Revolution - except players used plastic guitars to follow the beat instead of their feet. The risky move of selling a game and guitar for just under a hundred dollars paid off for the company and a brand new genre found its way into the spotlight. It has been three years and Harmonix, the developer behind the successful franchise, has moved on. Guitar Hero III was developed by Neversoft while Harmonix went on to create Rock Band
. No longer forced to be a guitar legend, players are now given the freedom to create their own four person band employing a drummer, vocalist, bassist, and guitarist. Is the world big enough for two musical giants? Hardly, because like all great musical feuds, there has to be a Dandy Warhols
and there has to be a Brian Jonestown Massacre
, (that was a reference to the documentary "DiG!
" rent it now.) So who’s winning right now? No need to wait until the end of the article - the winner is Rock Band, the two main reasons being variety and downloadable content.
Truth be told, Guitar Hero III does guitar better than Rock Band. If a single player wants to master fake guitar skills, they’re going to play Guitar Hero. However, if that player has a group of friends who can come over or even play online, the solo play of Guitar Hero becomes sorely lacking. Rock Band, played with four people, blows any mode in Guitar Hero away. Rock Band is not about mastering a specific song or instrument, Rock Band is about having fun. From naming the band, creating surprisingly customizable avatars for the players, and somehow convincing one particularly outgoing friend to hop on vocals, Rock Band is a social experience that has been lost in the recent upswing of online only multiplayer games of this generation. Within a few songs, players will be itching to hop on the drums, and even more eager to hop off when the rest of the group berates them for failing on “Enter Sandman” yet again. There is no passively watching one person rock out on a single instrument, this isn’t a game to view, it is a game to play.
The next-gen versions of Rock Band (PS3 and 360) support downloadable tracks, meaning all a player has to do is hop online, select a track for about two dollars, download, and play. As of this writing, 94 songs have been made available for download and over 8 million songs have been downloaded. Because of this, Rock Band has become its own platform. Players who shelled out the $160 for the game and instruments are given at least three songs every week to add to their arsenal. This constant influx of content is not only giving Harmonix loads of cash, but also giving players a reason to keep coming back. If a group gets together once or twice a week to jam, they’ll never be without new songs to master. Guitar Hero III also offers downloadable content, but with a few caveats. Tracks are rarely available on their own, forcing players to buy packs of three, two of which might be songs they have no desire to play. Also with Guitar Hero III, the songs are simply new guitar tracks, while for the same price, Rock Band’s tracks can be strummed, drummed, or gloriously warbled off key, in any combination the player desires. Not to mention Guitar Hero III offers only a third of the amount of downloadable content as Rock Band. So while Rock Band has become its own self contained experience, Guitar Hero III players are forced to shell out cash for song packs or full disc-based expansion packs, all with equal parts great songs and dud songs. Players want to customize their content, not be forced to pay for content they don’t want or need.
Guitar Hero came first, but Rock Band has done music gaming better. With Guitar Hero fans awaiting an Aerosmith
expansion pack and the inevitable Guitar Hero IV (which has been confirmed to include more instruments) Rock Band fans are left to continue to enjoy their ever expanding musical world. With over 200 songs set to be available by the end of the year including the option to buy entire albums for fifteen dollars, Harmonix doesn’t need to worry about Rock Band 2. The developer and the players are perfectly content with their relationship, and that is rare in the console world of 2008.
One final note for all you Portal fans out there. The end theme "Still Alive" is available to download for free on Rock Band. The song is fantastic, but the cake is still a lie.
Share your thoughts, band names, and track wish list below!
Story by Dan Chruscinski
Starpulse contributing writer