Harmonix's follow-up to "The Beatles: Rock Band" is another single-band title, this time featuring the long-running Bay Area pop punks Green Day. The choice makes sense. Green Day has a cross-generational appeal and has maintained a high level of popularity for going on 20 years now. It's great from a marketing perspective: a younger-skewing, yet still classic-rock-friendly band that has enough well-known material to fill a disc. Harmonix worked hard to deliver a full Green Day experience; the sheer amount of unlockable video footage, old photos and Green Day memorabilia is amazing. It's a new standard for single-artist music games.
That said, I'm not sure I'm on board. For me, this is the least compelling "Rock Band" game to date. While I enjoy Green Day, there's a difference between a good song and a good "Rock Band" song. A great many amazing tunes just aren't that fun to play. Green Day's stock in trade is power chords, delivered in clipped, repetitive eighth and 16th notes. Billie Joe Armstrong might be a great frontman, but he's no master guitarist. The bass and drum tracks are more interesting than guitar, but playing this many Green Day songs in a row gets boring. To be honest, I felt some of the same things about "The Beatles: Rock Band," but the breadth, depth and quality of the Beatles' songwriting gave me fascinating musical touches to notice and focus on. Here, the repetitiveness of the material is a slog. This is especially true of the first tier of songs, which are pulled entirely from the classic "Dookie," a fondly remembered but musically one-dimensional album. You'll notice the band members using the same strumming phrasing or rhythmic tricks over and over again or stealing them outright, as when "Warning" lifts the riff from "Picture Book" by the Kinks.
The game hits its peak in the second tier of songs, performed at the Milton Keynes arena. Here you'll play some well-chosen tracks from the band's middle-period albums as well as the entirety of the blockbuster "American Idiot." The tunes are more diverse, especially some of the epic "American Idiot" song suites, such as "Jesus of Suburbia," which is the best song in the game, throwing new parts and melodies at you minute by minute. The final tier consists of the less satisfying "20th Century Breakdown" album, which adds a new layer of pomp and (thankfully) more complex studio-musician lead playing. As a quick aside, I'm still boggled by the decision to include the a cappella "Song of the Century" on the track list: Couldn't this spot have gone to a more worthy full-band song?
If, like me, you've cooled on the music genre in recent months, I don't think Green Day is the band to reignite your love affair with "Rock Band." In the future, maybe Harmonix could attempt a single band title based on a more complex and more fun to play band, like Muse or Rush. This title has all the craft that Harmonix usually puts into its games; I just wish there were more songs I wanted to play more than once.
GREEN DAY: ROCK BAND
- Platform: PlayStation3, Xbox 360, Wii
- Developer: MTV Games/Electronic Arts
- Price: $50-$60
- Rating: Teen