Green Day: Rock Band has lot to prove, especially after the Beatles showed how to do it right just months before. As the series' second stab at a band-themed game, Harmonix is hoping for just as successful an outing with one of the most popular acts in recent memory. Following up on the Fab Five definitely won't be easy. Can these pop punkers pull through?
If the Beatles Rock Band experience could be described as a documentary, Green Day Rock Band is the equivalent of a concert DVD with a few extra bonuses on the side. Green Day's stint on the stage is far less involved than the fantastical visual narratives featured in the Beatles' memorable story mode. Instead, a career option similar to the ones in the first two games fills in as a comparatively underwhelming replacement.
Within career mode, Green Day: Rock Band's soundtrack is broken up among three iconic venue sets. They're a fair bit more conservative than the psychedelic dreamscapes of Abbey Road, but do a fair job of representing the various eras of the band's career. The band's earlier album Dookie is played and unlocked in a fictional mock-up of its time spent in the Berkeley music scene. From there, bigger venues like the National Bowl open up with tracks from American Idiot, while the Fox Theatre in Oakland rounds out the catalog with selects from the band's latest studio album, 21st Century Breakdown.
Wisely, the song selection pulls from the band's biggest hits. Dookie and American Idiot are represented in full, while less successful albums like Insomniac and Nimrod throw their most notable singles into the mix. Green Day fans are likely to be satisfied with the tracks that have ended up on the 47-track list, though there are likely to be a few grumbling dissenters. Shipping at full price, you'd definitely have to be a fan to stomach the investment.
Tackling each track successfully awards a set amount of cred, which goes toward unlocking the game's swathe of sets, challenges, and unlockables. Rare photos and behind-the-scenes tour footage provide a tangible incentive for plowing through it all, though for a game meant to pay tribute to a band, the way that you're pushed into earning cred feels a bit too much like work when compared to the effortless presentation that Beatles built into its experience.
All other aspects of the game, from online co-op to local versus play, hew close to the Rock Band formula. Ranked leaderboards provide seasoned shredders with ample ground for solo and group competition, while a slightly upgraded tutorial set offers newer players a chance to get up to snuff with enhanced vocal practice and a drum trainer modeled after Tre Song's signature beats. The returning no-fail mode keeps things friendly in casual settings, and, as with most other band-themed music games, all tracks are available from the get-go through quickplay.
Based solely as a tribute to a band, Green Day: Rock Band hits a few sour notes. The overarching experience is far less imaginative than the one bestowed upon the Beatles, and there's merely half of what you'd expect from a normal Rock Band title in terms of raw content. One thing that Green Day has over the Beatles, however, is the option to export all of the songs to standard Rock Band games, including even the upcoming third installment due later this year. It definitely saves players tired of playing disc jockey between games a few precious moments of downtime, but with an extra export cost of $10, it's also a few bucks more to consider on top of everything else.
Green Day: Rock Band's spin on the series sticks to convention: as a steady downpour of notes scroll through the note highways on the screen, it's up to you to strum, slap, or hit the appropriate color right to the beat. Learning to work the audience meter, overdrive, and score modifiers to maximize points is just as important as ever.
Green Day's repertoire isn't exactly known for its broad musical range, readily reflected in the simplistic tablatures for each song. Power chords are expectedly laid on thick. The vocal harmonies featured in Beatles Rock Band return here as a standard feature, though it's hard to think of instances in the game that truly take advantage of them--let alone songs with actual multi-part vocal harmonies. The few that do have some pretty trifling results.
As with other band-specific games, personal preference plays a huge role here. Green Day is a band with enough popular appeal and hits to sustain some lively living room jams, we suppose. But if based purely on the merit of the music, would-be rockers looking for diversity and challenge may come away disappointed.
While comparatively less impressive than the creative visuals behind Beatles Rock Band, Green Day's take shows off the cartoony style of the series well with a vibrant punk rock twist. A brief intro video made by the same studio behind the Beatles' own graphics package provides a brief glimpse of what could have been, though the visuals aren't entirely devoid of thoughtful touches. Character models of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool evolve based on the time period of their music. Each song, meanwhile, features individually choreographed animations more akin to an actual stage performance.
The songs themselves hold to the expected Rock Band standard of crystal clear master tracks: a standard that unfortunately prevented the inclusion of Green Day material pre-Dookie. A few censored words pop up over the course of some of the band's lewder songs, but at least you can take comfort in knowing that you won't be singing over some bad covers.
Lacking some of the magic that made Beatles Rock Band great, Green Day: Rock Band by comparison feels like a pedestrian effort. Those willing to get past the hefty cost may not be as quick to forgive the game's struggle to get a meaningful tribute off the ground. If playing through a comprehensive catalog of Green Day hits is enough, though, then this gig is sure to satisfy. Trite as it is to say, this one is truly just for the fans.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.