E3: Rock Band attracts hordes of groupies

by Erin Bell, special to CBCNews.ca

One nice thing about the new scaled down E3 is not having to fight the huge crowds to get hands-on time with games - although Rock Band is proving to be an exception to the rule with journalists swarming it like locusts on corn.

Targeting closet air guitarists and rock idol wannabees, Rock Band is a rhythm action game on a scale never before seen in North America, which will allow up to four players to perform together as a band using guitar, drum and microphone peripherals. (The guitar controller doubles as a bass as well.)

The game supports solo play on one instrument as well as the multiplayer experience either locally or in cooperation with other players online.

Rock Band screenshot.

Developed by Harmonix and clearly inspired by their previous games Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution, Rock Band introduces drums and bass into the mix for the first time.

Another exciting change with Rock Band as opposed to other rhythm action games is that its soundtrack will consist of the original songs as performed by the original artists that made them famous, as opposed to studio musicians doing their best impersonations.

Sixteen songs have been announced for the soundtrack so far, encompassing everything from Black Sabbath and David Bowie to Nirvana, Weezer and Queens of the Stone Age. Distributor Electronic Arts also announced that new downloadable content will be made available regularly after Rock Band launches this holiday season for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. These downloads include not only individual songs, but entire albums, the first of which will be The Who's "Who's Next."

The guitar controller is modelled after a Fender Stratocaster, and the drum kit, which consists of four electronic pads and a foot pedal, looked sturdy and seemed to be holding up well under the pounding it was taking.

The big question, of course, is how much will everything cost, and how will it be packaged – it might be nice to be able to buy one peripheral at a time and gradually add pieces of equipment to the band. Unfortunately no details have been announced yet.

Erin Bell is a Toronto-based freelance video game and technology journalist, and is reporting on her fourth E3.