Since the rhythm genre's explosion in popularity over the last few years, the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series have constantly battled for supremacy. Rock Band's focus on providing diverse and regular downloadable content has proven popular with both fans and critics alike and the core gameplay still remains fun and challenging to both groups of casual fans and more hardcore players. When The Beatles: Rock Band was released last September to enormous commercial and critical success, both in and out of the industry, it was simply a matter of time before another band specific title appeared.
When Green Day: Rock Band was first announced at the end of last year it came as something of a surprise. While a standalone band-centred game was not particularly shocking, choosing Green Day as the group certainly stunned some. The band is definitely popular and well known, but it remained to be seen whether or not there was enough challenge and variety in their music. Similarly, the set list would have to reflect the diverse and lengthy career the band has enjoyed since the late 1980s.
As soon as the game begins the distinctive visual style becomes apparent, with some carefully thought out menu and loading screen designs reflecting the band's style aptly. This degree of attention to detail extends to the level design with three fitting venues that reflect different stages in Green Day's career. These are the Milton Keynes National Bowl (familiar with fans from the live album Bullet in a Bible), a fictional warehouse location similar to those the band would have played in, in their early career days and finally an old-school theatre in California. However, while these locations are all well designed and show the progression of the band, the fact that there are only three is a real disappointment. Most other band-specific titles have a myriad of venues, so the small number is rather disappointing, especially considering some of the big-name gigs that Green Day has performed. The band themselves look fantastic and the motion-capture really adds to the feeling of a live gig, with each song having specific actions which sets it apart from the more generic actions from other titles.
Aside from the immediate stylistic changes the core gameplay of the Rock Band series remains unchanged. For both the guitar and bass you must strum while holding down the fret buttons while notes move towards you on a highway in the centre of the screen. On the harder difficulties this becomes more complex with the addition of increased notes, a faster scrolling speed of the highway, hammer-ons and pull-offs and so on. The drums use a similar highway system with the coloured gems corresponding to the pads with horizontal lines on the pathway indicating a pedal note. Finally, vocals are handled using a karaoke method which provides you with the vocals to the songs and then assess your performance using the pitch of your voice as a measurement. Despite being the same mechanics as ever they still work well and prove that a simple but effective system can still work several years on.
However, the real test for a rhythm action title is the quality of the songs not only in how they sound but how they play across the instruments, which has been a problem in many recent stand-alone games. Thankfully, the sound quality itself is excellent with every song coming direct from the master recordings, which has become the standard nowadays. The soundtrack itself is more likely to divide opinion with 47 tracks present from the game, though these tend to focus on specific areas of Green Day's career. No material is present from the band's earliest and rawest punk albums due to problems with the master recordings, which is a real shame. While there have been some suggestions that some songs may be released at a future point as downloadable content, this currently seems unlikely. Also underrepresented is the period between Dookie and American Idiot, which still had a lot of interesting material despite moving away from their traditional style. This means there are only 3 songs from Insomniac, 3 songs from Nimrod and 2 songs from Warning. By contrast the remaining 39 songs come from only three albums (21st Century Breakdown, American Idiot and Dookie). It would have been nice to see this different period of the band's history explored to boost the set-list and provide a bit more variety among the songs. One further issue is the presence of censored songs, most noticeably the pause during American Idiot, which does take some of the edge away from the group.
Despite this selective compilation, the inclusion of two complete albums (American Idiot and Dookie) is particularly welcome and they really help to show why Green Day is so popular. Their most recent album, 21st Century Breakdown is present, although incomplete, but the missing songs are available as downloadable content. Even though the songs are focused on the more recent albums, perhaps understandably so, fortunately they are enjoyable to play. While Green Day is not a band noted for the complex fret shredding, the song selection creates a good challenge on both guitar and bass which scales nicely as the career progresses. The drums provide a solid selection of tracks with some tricky songs towards the end of the career mode, though nothing as challenging as those found in the previous Rock Band games. Surprisingly the vocals are enjoyable to sing along to and there are several songs which are both testing and fun.
In order to boost the playability of the career, which takes place over several sets in the three venues, there are various Green Day unlockables available. For each song you play in the career, achieving scores of 3 and 5 stars will unlock different photographs with a bonus for completing all the songs in a set. Successfully beating songs also unlocks "Cred" which is used to buy challenges, such as play the entire American Idiot album in a playlist. Completing these challenges will earn videos from throughout Green Day's career from across the venues. While these unlockable bonuses aren't as well integrated as some other titles, they are still a nice feature to have although it will take some time and effort to unlock them all.
While it is certainly true that the core appeal of Green Day: Rock Band lies with real fans of their music to begin with, there is certainly a lot to be recommended to casual and party players. There are some well known tracks that are great to play in the company of friends and the difficulty curve should accommodate both casual players and more experienced ones. However the title can't escape the limited musical range that Green Day has as a band and the concentration on certain elements of their career may put some people off. The game does well in justifying itself as an expansion rather than 47 downloadable songs, although this won't necessarily make you rush out and buy it if you aren't already one of the band's fans. For the more hardcore Rock Band fan base, this title is more difficult to recommend, but for any Green Day fans and party players, then there's a lot worse things you can do with plastic instruments.
Green Day: Rock Band (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
This game is good, with a few negatives.