Rock Band vs Guitar Hero 3: Day 3, the Rock Band Drum Kit

Today was my day to test out the Rock Band drum kit. The biggest challenge for me here was setting it all up. Now everyone’s gaming space is different, but for me, I have a 52″ LCD TV, and directly in front of it, a couch and a coffee table. So the very first thing I had to do is drag our rather substantial coffee table out of the way. Then I needed someplace to sit. Really, if you’re going to do this drum thing seriously you’re probably going to want to invest in an adjustable stool. A quick Google search tells me you can spend anywhere from $20 to $200 for a drum kit stool.

Well, the best I could do in a pinch was a plastic Adirondack chair. So I dragged that into the living room, and spent some time fiddling with the arrangement of the drums and particularly with the drum pedal. Since the chair didn’t adjust, I ended up pushing the drum kit pretty far away from me in order for my foot to feel comfortable on the pedal (to where it felt almost like the gas pedal in my car). Anyway eventually I got something workable set up.

My first experience with drumming was pretty frustrating. I admit I’m no musician, but I can at least tap out a steady beat, and on Easy mode there’re a lot of places with long strings of evenly placed notes to hit, and I kept messing them up. Finally in frustration I called in the girlfriend for a second opinion, and she had the same kind of troubles. Finally I remembered that there’s a “TV Calibration” feature in the game. We’d had no problems with guitar or singing, but I tried it anyway. I just had to tell it I had an LCD TV and it calibrated automagically (there’s an option for a manual calibration as well). And that did the trick. I went from getting 2 stars to getting 4 stars immediately after the calibration.

Drumming is fun but requires a lot more real talent than the guitar does. And even though the drums aren’t as loud as I’d feared they would be, I think I was still subconsciously trying to hit them ‘gently’ so as not to disturb the neighbors. I think that’s ok for Easy mode, but if you watch the YouTube video below you’ll see that to get good you have to be willing to go for it.

I honestly think most Rock Band Drum Kits are going to end up gathering dust, at least with the casual players. I’d love to have a practice area where I could get a stool and set up the drums and not worry about bothering the neighbors, but that isn’t really practical for me, and I don’t think it will be for most people. And the reality is that I don’t see myself dragging furniture around after a long day at work just so I can relax with a little Rock Band. Right now you can get Rock Band in two configurations: the game only, or the set with drums, guitar and mike as well as the game. If that has changed by the time you read this, think long and hard about buying that drum kit.

After dinner, I picked up the guitar again and played some more of the solo Rock Band ‘career.’ I guess I’ve played through about 20 songs so far. One of the big differentiators between Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band is the play lists. I found Rock Band is pretty middle of the road for my tastes. There aren’t a lot of songs I just love, but neither are there many that I hate. GH 3 is more about the ups and downs. There are songs in that game I just adore, and some that are just horrible noise to my old ears. Now this is going to be really subjective, and I’m an older gamer. Suffice to say I’m really happy when I run into Rolling Stones or ZZ Top, and a lot of the bands I encounter in Rock Band I’ve never even heard of.

Of course ultimately you’ll have played through the careers and you’ll just be playing for fun, and at that point you can start buying downloaded songs, and cherry pick your favorites, so long-term I’m not so sure this is going to be a huge factor.

I’ll also reiterate that the learning curve in RB is a lot smoother. I’m still getting 4 or 5 stars on all the songs (and managed a 100% once). Over in the GH 3 camp, there are still “Easy” mode songs that just destroy me (Slayer, anyone?).

So I’m still standing by my preference for Rock Band. Oh, I did find one ‘gimmick’ here, and that’s “the big rock finish” which is a freestyle section at the end of some songs…you basically just mash notes as fast as you can to generate a huge pile ‘o points at the end of a tune. I could really do without this section since it generally ends up sounding likes two cats fighting in a 50 gallon drum. But it still isn’t as awful as the GH 3 Boss Battles.

Anyway, here’s a great video of someone rocking out like mad on the RB drums. It’s pretty long, but if you can, watch it at least until they cut out the game audio; it gives you a good idea of how loud the drums are.