[1 July 2010]
There are obsessive Green Day fans in this world who will buy Green Day: Rock Band, and those fans will love it because it is all Green Day, all the time. There is no developer more concerned with appeasing its licensees than Harmonix, and the experience that Harmonix delivers is utterly consistent with what one would expect from a game featuring Green Day. Never will the Green Day fan have to contend with songs by other bands, because the point of an artist-specific Rock Band package is to feature and glorify the band—and only the band—on the cover.
There are also obsessive Rock Band / rhythm game fans who will buy Green Day: Rock Band because it is a Rock Band game, and those fans will like it because it is Rock Band. Perhaps Green Day wasn’t all that high on the list of most gamers’ lists of potential bands to get the full game Rock Band treatment, but they’ve been around a while, they write catchy songs, and Harmonix can be counted on to represent those songs as well as they could possibly be represented in rhythm game form. Because Green Day: Rock Band is a Rock Band game, and because nothing in it significantly changes the Rock Band formula, it is by definition a playable, enjoyable game.
That said, Green Day: Rock Band is a comedy of missed opportunity, an enhanced track pack that does nothing whatsoever to court the rather large group of people who won’t a) buy everything Green Day does or b) buy every Rock Band game that comes out.
For example: as much as I am loathe to give away the endings to games, I don’t think this counts because it’s not as though I’m spoiling a narrative twist here—indeed, there is no narrative or unifying thread to speak of in Green Day: Rock Band. When you finish the “career mode” (which basically means beating every song in the game except the vocal solo “Song of the Century”), you’re treated to a video of Green Day playing “She”. But it’s not just any performance of “She” that you get, oh no, it’s the one that MTV went and used as the official video while it was milking the Dookie cash cow for all it was worth, the one with a hyperkinetic Billie Joe rant at the beginning that goes on for a solid minute. While this is admittedly a fun little performance, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s not a rare take on the song, it’s not custom content exclusive to the game, it’s just a little video tossed in for the sake of a “congratulations”. Once the video is over, roll credits and call it a day.
It’s not a bad way to finish, really, but it feels lazy. Maybe if there had been a reward of some sort beyond some achievement points and an oft seen video, it would have felt more satisfying, but no, that was it. All there was left to do was go play some “challenges” (read: songs that you’ve played before, exactly as you played them) or get online and play with other people.
Another apparent missed opportunity is in the song selection, made up of three full albums (assuming you’ve downloaded the Green Day DLC or bought the “Plus” edition of this game) and a smattering of singles. The career mode shoves the Nimrod and Warning songs into the set with the American Idiot songs, which seems like the best place for them given the choice of Dookie, American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, but still feels awkward alongside the American Idiot-era visual scheme of the set. The band’s two pre-Dookie albums are completely ignored, and the EP Sweet Children is referenced by an achievement in name only. To make matters worse, Harmonix has made it clear that there are no intentions of making any more DLC than what already exists for the game, devastating fan hopes of ever playing, say, “2000 Light Years Away” or “Redundant”.
The reason for the necessary limitation on additional content is the effort that would have to be put into animating the band’s avatars for this additional content. Billie Joe, Mike, and Tré move differently than the traditional Rock Band rock stars, and as such, it’s not just a matter of going from the stock guitar-picking closeup to the stock drum-bashing quick zoom for this game—the graphics for each track would have to be specifically programmed for any new track that would be added. It’s the same limitation that keeps the DLC for The Beatles: Rock Band from being compatible with the mainline Rock Band games, though it’s obvious that EA/MTV (rightly) figured that there would be more of a market for Beatles albums than Green Day ones. As nifty as it is to watch Tré dance around the stage for the acoustic intro to “F.O.D.” and see the giant, projected disco ball appear for “Last Night on Earth”, I can’t imagine that people wouldn’t have sacrificed such visual candy for the sake of the ability to play more songs.
As mentioned at the outset, despite the criticisms, Green Day: Rock Band is a fine, professionally-produced offering from the folks at Harmonix. I’d be lying if I said that hearing some of these songs didn’t drudge up some pleasant memories of gloriously oblivious headbanging. The problem is that it never transcends the “gussied up track pack” feeling that The Beatles: Rock Band utterly demolished. Without a pretty severe price reduction, it’s awfully hard to keep from recommending that prospective players simply get online and download some songs they really like and play them on Rock Band or Rock Band 2, unless it’s truly Green Day that they’ve been waiting for.