Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Preview: 'Green Day: Rock Band' Reps East Bay

By David Downs
Tue, Apr 13, 2010 at 9:10 AM

Green Day: Rock Band, to be released June 8 for the Wii, Xbox, and Playstation looks and plays like a real, action-packed Green Day concert. It's a faithful, authentic re-imagining of the band in the medium of the day. Casual Green Day fans or fans of Rock Band will enjoy a play-through, while die-hard fans of the East Bay band will be in pixelated paradise.

Now on par with the Beatles, Green Day: Rock Band is only the second Rock Band after The Beatles: Rock Band, where players control actual band avatars instead of their own custom avatar. Replacing the normal career path for Rock Band, players control Green Day through three “tours” representing different parts of their career.

You play 47 songs, including three entire albums: Dookie, American Idiot, and 21st Century Breakdown. And you'll play in three custom venues: Inspired by 924 Gilman (the Berkeley punk venue Green Day frequented as a young band), The Warehouse's aesthetic sets the stage for Dookie. American Idiot goes down overseas at UK's Milton Keynes amphitheater before a seemingly unending crowd of thousands. For the closer, the band's 21st Century Breakdown debuts at The Fox Theater in Oakland, a simulacra of the secret shows the band played there in 2009.

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Rock Band expertly replicates the Fox down to the stage height and the golden statues flanking the stage, and game makers Harmonix faithfully convey the energy in the building on those historic nights. Any Green Day live show is a kinetic affair, with Billie Joe perching atop monitors and Tre Cool leaping from the drum kit. Rock Band developed new technology to code for all those shenanigans, so rabid fans stage-dive and crowd-surf for the first time in-game, says Chris Foster, creative designer for Green Day: Rock Band.

In real life, the band members have kids and they're hip to the rhythm-game genre, Foster says. Green Day approved unprecedented access to their archival videos, photos, and outtakes, tons of which appear in the game as un-lockable rewards. The band told Harmonix to use them to honor the rabidness of their fans.

“Basically they just told us not to screw it up,” said Foster.

As per the rules, players score points by hitting buttons on a video game controller in time to the beat. (You can buy custom guitar, bass, drum, and vocal controllers for a more authentic feel.) Score enough points to advance to unlock harder songs, and new venues. Fail to score big and the crowd boos. In a special Green Day animation, the trio point accusingly at one another in what is called “the circle of blame”.

“They are really good musicians that craft incredibly catchy songs,” said Foster. “But they are willing to poke fun at themselves. It's part of how fun they are.”

Forty-seven songs appear in total, and most of the band's adult content in still in there, says Foster. Green Day: Rock Band had to cut out four swear words and their conjugates to make their “T for Teen” rating, but it doesn't detract form the game.

Watchers may say a certain rhythm-game fatigue has set in across the country, but it's hard to imagine the legions of GD fans out there avoiding such a precious collector's item. Harmonix creates the highest-quality titles in the genre, and Green Day: Rock Band still feels fresh and fun. I found myself getting 150-note streaks (on Easy) and looking “offstage” to my invisible guitar tech as if to say, “Are you seeing this? I'm killing!”

Rock Band's more recent guitar controller handles especially well. The pick action feels neither clicky like a cheap Guitar Hero controller, nor mushy. The latest fret buttons are embedded in the neck, giving them a solid feel that's lacking on older guitar controllers where the lateral wobble of the raised plastic button felt uncertain and cheap.

Plenty of people still question the point of rhythm games, including the White Stripes' Jack White, who says to quit playing and join a real act. But that's such a lame sentiment. The best of of the genre inspires musicianship as much as it mimics it. Green Day: Rock Band ranks among them.

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