You might want to take a seat.

Julie Rowe
Even the devil horns feel real. (COURTESY OF EA)

Ready? OK – don’t say I didn’t warn you.

EA’s “Rock Band” is the greatest multiplayer video game of all time.

There, I said it.

Just mentioning classics like “GoldenEye 007,” “Mario Kart 64,” “Halo” and “Super Smash Bros.” will generate mildly embarrassing, nostalgia-enhanced responses from loyal players, but “Rock Band” is a beast on a different level. It’s “Guitar Hero” times four – literally – and it’s one of the most entertaining gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

At its most basic level, “Rock Band” is “Guitar Hero” plus drums, vocals, bass and a superior track list. For instrumental simulation, colored rectangles flow down from the top of the screen and players hit the corresponding buttons to “play” the music. Vocals are more or less karaoke, with lyrics scrolling across the top of the screen and players matching their pitch to a moving horizontal line.

But to judge “Rock Band” as merely a sum of its parts would be a mistake. Played alone, each instrument offers an experience comparable to “Guitar Hero,” but when combined to create a fake four-piece band, the game enters a new realm of co-op playability. All players are equally involved, and unlike “Mario Kart” and “GoldenEye,” everyone is working toward a common goal: rocking the fuck out.

Maybe you’d be better off learning a real instrument, and playing the game could look a little ridiculous to onlookers, but this kind of fun just doesn’t need an excuse.

Like Clapton’s “Blackie,” but faker: “Rock Band’s” guitar is modeled after the Fender Stratocaster and looks borderline real from across the room. “Guitar Hero” regulars may be put off by the guitar’s strum bar, which doesn’t click when pushed up or down, but most players will grow accustomed to it. It’s actually more conducive to fast, repeated notes. The only real drawback is the guitar’s lack of wireless connectivity, but both Xbox 360 “Guitar Hero” guitars – including “GH III’s” wireless Les Paul guitar – are compatible with “Rock Band” on the Xbox 360 and can serve as either the bass or guitar.

How to outsource Ryan Seacrest: “Rock Band” is bundled with a wired USB microphone that has a nice, weighty feel to it. The mic works surprisingly well, broadcasting vocals through the TV while accurately judging pitch. This may or may not be a good thing, though, which you’ll discover the moment your male roommate attempts to belt out the sky-high backup vocals on “Gimme Shelter.” Let’s just say Let it Bleed has been taken out of regular rotation for a while.

Wanted: “Moby Dick” for “Rock Band 2”: The drums are the unequivocal star of “Rock Band.” The kit comes with four pads and a pedal simulating a bass drum. According to EA, playing the game on expert is like playing a song on a real kit, and it doesn’t feel too far off. Playing the guitar in “Rock Band” is nothing like playing a real guitar, but while playing the drums, I feel as if I’m learning an instrument. Legitimate musicians will likely dispute this, but if nothing else, it’s one hell of a good time.

Roadies not included: Although each instrument offers its own career mode where players can burn through the game’s 58 included tracks in a methodical manner similar to “Guitar Hero,” the real meat of “Rock Band” is in the multiplayer world-tour mode. The world tour includes two to four players and involves playing various venues around the world. Each venue offers new songs to play, but also includes a combination of pre-set and self-determined set lists of varying length. Band members can choose to play at a comfortable level of difficulty, but to gain more fans, everyone has to step up their difficulty level.

The Clash, Radiohead and Pixies . : All have a presence in “Rock Band” and are noticeably absent from any “Guitar Hero” title. Plus, most of the artists on both “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” have lent their better tracks to EA’s game: “Suffragette City” over “Ziggy Stardust,” “Gimme Shelter” over “Paint It Black” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” over “The Seeker,” to name a few. And this isn’t even including “Rock Band’s” already robust downloadable catalogue, which is adding new content on a weekly basis, including full album releases promised in the coming months.

$169.99 for a video game?: Yeah, and it’s worth it. For that price you could buy three regular games, but you’ll have a lot more fun with “Rock Band.” It’s the perfect game for a college house and will quickly put your month-old copy of “GH III” out of commission.

Rock Band

Xbox 360


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