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Rock Band is a fun, fun game. I have been a musician, so this whole debate about real instruments vs. plastic guitars and electric drum kits can just take a break while I talk about how cool this game is. You may not be making music, but you are having one hell of an immersive musical experience.

Rock Band is like tapping your foot to the beat, only with instrument-appropriate props. It’s like drumming on the back of an office chair, only with a full accompaniment. With a properly calibrated musical tool, you are catapulted into a realm where that metaphorical tapping of your foot has consequences ( à la Guitar Hero) on the music you’re hearing.

To be honest, I haven’t played too much Guitar Hero, so I can’t give you the super skinny on whether the tabs are harder in GH3 (although this is what I seem to hear from all corners.) I can tell you that the strum bar on the new Fender Stratocaster irked me for quite a while when compared to the clicky Les Paul. As obnoxious as that click may be to some, it’s handy feedback—the new bar is padded somehow, so there’s no noise, but it also feels a bit like strumming through molasses until you get used to it.

Some also seem to have difficulties hitting the overdrive, but I had considerably less trouble. It’s important, though, since overdrive is used to not only boost your score, but also to bring back players who have failed out. If you leave them languishing on the island of suck for too long, the whole band will crash and burn.

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Singing seems comparable to other karaoke games, although I wouldn’t recommend buying this game specifically to sing. That said, I wouldn’t buy this game specifically for guitar, either. I MIGHT, however, buy it for drums, because where else are you going to drum quite like this (except maybe an arcade)?

The drums have four pads to whack with real live drums sticks along with special create-your-own fills, and you can’t fake your way through each song, either. You really have to have an innate sense of the beat, and learn to drum on it. I managed to mash through an expert level guitar song (“When You Were Young” by The Killers, easily my favorite track) but couldn’t get through 8% of it on the kit.

Clearly what you are buying here is three games in one—four if your aspiration lies in being the grooviest Rock Band bassist around. The overlap is the fun avatar creation system (where you put together the raddest costume and most insane hair), and the track list, featuring 58 songs. That is, 58 to start with.

The brilliant thing about Rock Band (besides the fact that it even exists), is that it could very well be the wave of the future. Downloadable content (as of last week you could already purchase songs by The Police and Metallica, among others) promises an ever expanding repertoire of songs to choose from. Having MTV on board seems to guarantee that all the hits we could possibly ask for will be delivered.

Prices vary, but they aren’t terribly prohibitive at 99 cents to $2.99 per track, considering that you’re getting a playable experience and not just a tune to passively listen to. Harmonix would love to see everyone getting their rock fix this way in a few years, and a lot of that could depend on what songs get released for download.

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The main draw here is jamming with friends, but if no one will come over you can play in a pick-up group online, or duel for points. Even playing by yourself can be rewarding—after all, practice does tend to make perfect, or at least more perfect. The harder the guitar gets, the more my hands hurt, but the harder the drums get the more fun I have, if I can follow what’s going on. I wonder how many people will start scheduling official band rehearsals.

Retailing at $169.99 for the full package (Game, drums, guitar, mic, and usb hub—for 360), it’s not something that everyone will be able to afford right away. The peripherals will be available separately starting sometime next year, so if you know you want to be a drummer, you can just pick up the game and the set without worrying about the rest.

Rock Band is the game Harmonix always wanted to make, and the polish shows. It takes the rhythm genre and explodes it into happy fireworks for everyone to enjoy all at once.

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