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Joystiq hands-on: Rock Band

Ross Miller

At the Electronic Arts suite, we had a chance to check out two tracks of Rock Band, Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" and The Hives' "Main Offender." A pseudo-stage was built in a corner, with both audio and video monitors in front of the positions for guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.

This was our first experience with the drums, so we tapped our toms to the Easy setting while various Harmonix and MTV employees filled in for the other instruments. The four pads, representing two toms, a high hat, and a snare, were crawled down the screen like you've seen so many times in screenshots and the Guitar Hero series. A foot pedal is also present for the bass drum, which is representing by a horizontal column that also scrolls down the screen. We had no problem following easy, but watching a Harmonix employee tackle (and subsequently fail) the hardest difficulty is a bit intimidating. It really does look like real drumming.

Gallery: Rock Band | 23 Photos

There were times in the drums where vertical columns encompassed the entire scroll. At this point we can riff anyway we want, and the four pads all turn into toms for that hard-rocking roll down the set. At the end of the fill is one night that, if hit, will activate star power.

The reason there is a special microphone for the game is because it's practically another controller. You just yell to activate the star ... er, band power (or style power, they still haven't finalized what to call it). During fills, indicated by a large green overlay, you're free to say whatever you want. Hello, Cleveland!

As for the guitar, the buttons are very shallow against it so it feels more natural and less toy-like than its Guitar Hero counterpart. It feels very natural, except we have figured out how you would "pull a Moore".

While we played base, the guy who was doing control paused the game. Turns out when you push down on the whammy bar, if you press down with your fingers instead of your palm, there is a slight chance you may hit the start button and pause the game. A design flaw? Absolutely. But Harmonix's people have already said there is a software fix in the works that will only cause the game to pause if you press down the start button for an extended time instead of accidentally hitting it. Style power is activated by tilting the controller like you always have.

One of the guitars seemed to have calibration errors, as no one could survive on it for more than 30 seconds, even on Easy. According to a Harmonix developer, there will be calibration options in the final game for your TV, as well as manual calibration options.

Though band power is shared, one musician failing does not end the rest of the band. Should one, two, or three people fail multiplayer, they will be saved if the last rocker standing activate style power.

The build we saw had four wired instruments on an Xbox 360. Harmonix told us that a hub was used to put all the gear on the console. They also reminded that they will be "aware of cabling issues" for any bundles, and that the PlayStation 3 peripherals will only be wireless.

How can we afford our rock and roll lifestyle? We're not sure, and Harmonix hasn't finalized pricing yet. For the drums alone, we're sold. Rock Band is great example of evolution for the series.

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