Green Day: Rock Band Review

Martin Gaston

Make no mistake, the multicoloured bricks are the undisputed stars of the Rock Band series. This latest venture might have stroppy trio, Green Day, prancing around in the background and making a lot of noise, but they’re just there to support the main act: the scrolling bricks. Love thy coloured brick, but just like the time they opened for Blink 182 on tour, Green Day provides some excellent support. This might come as a bit of a surprise. If you happen to be anything like me, then you were hardly bowled over by the announcement of Green Day: Rock Band, wholly convinced the Californian punk trio would never have the musical breadth or diversity to carry an entire game on their shoulders. You, like me, would have been wrong.

Not as visually stunning as The Beatles, but still fun to play.

Instead of a sundry exploration of the band’s history – like the preceding The Beatles: Rock Band – the game instead focuses on their three most successful pieces of work: 1994’s Dookie, 2004’s American Idiot and 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, with each album paired with an accompanying gig. The former two albums are provided in full, with 21st Century Breakdown requiring you to buy (or already own) the six tracks already available as DLC to complete the album. 47 songs are included on the disc, though the band’s other major albums – Insomniac, Nimrod and Warning – have been relegated to just 7 tracks amongst the lot. Yes, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) is one of them.

Dookie is probably the standout choice for someone my age (read: old). The album set the tone for the rise of pop-punk in the 90s, and is filled with fast three-chord riffs mixed with high-powered lyrics about adolescence, masturbation and the failures of Mum and Dad – although the family-friendly age rating means Billy Joe’s most colourful language has been censored. The quick fire rhythm of standout tracks such as She and Longview makes for an entertaining Rock Band session too, albeit one where endurance is more vital than dexterity.

Flash forward a decade to 2004’s mega-hit American Idiot and you’re dealing with the same pop-punk spirit, but slower, more methodical and in the shape of a gigantic rock-opera concept album with massive 9 minute rollercoaster tracks such as Homecoming and Jesus of Suburbia. The band’s all grown up, its members presumably now living in homes of their own, but their angst has been widened to include the whole of America.

While the three-piece’s output might sometimes lack in musical thrills, their straightforward instruments and ranged musical spread is a perfect fit for the quintessential Rock Band formula. Green Day might not have the ambition or vision of The Beatles, but their songs are far more suitable for plastic band parties.

Ooohhh, how rebellious... Blue... Hmmm...

The music is the highlight. Across the track selection there’s a surprising mix of tempo, theme and style for all four instruments, and even the vocalist (always guaranteed to be the hardest member to source) will be happy to find Billy Joe’s vocals are both interesting and not in the habit of bobbing up and down to the extreme.

A standard set of features compliment the proceedings. Three-part vocal harmonies make their return from The Beatles: Rock Band, and the game comes with an export code so you can access the Green Day tracks in the main Rock Band titles. Having Basket Case on tap is never a bad thing.

It’s a bit of a shame, then, that the rest of the game feels like a strict regulation effort. Perhaps the current Rock Band mould has become too comfortable for Harmonix, as Green Day: Rock Band often feels like it could have been computed entirely by mathematical formula.

The biggest stumbling block comes from spreading the content across three stadiums. It simply feels bizarre jumping a decade between two albums and, by choosing to deny players a sense of the band’s progression and evolution, the game becomes a snapshot gallery of the group at their finest moments. Perhaps a historical account of a band shouldn’t be expected in a rhythm game, but it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between this effort and last year’s storied (and extensive) Beatles incarnation.

Presentation also leaves something to be desired. The trio, other than showing absolutely no signs of aging between 1994 and 2009, look fine in full motion captured glory, apart from one awkward moment where the digitised Tre Cool purses his lips to the camera and ends up looking like the freaky alien from Star Trek: The Original Series’ end credits. The clean presentation fails to capture the raw energy of a Green Day performance, though, especially with regards to virtual Billy Joe’s singing.

3 instruments, vocals; how Rock Band was meant to be played.

The opening warehouse stage, where the greatest aesthetic touch comes from the occasional overlaying of scratchy grunge textures, has been repeated across the myriad of rhythm games for so long now that it’s beyond boring. The only point of interest here is Tre’s bright green hair. Harmonix has turned the rhythm game into an art form, and it’s especially disappointing to see such humdrum locales being designed by the same hands that produced the magnificent and kaleidoscopic dreamscapes for The Beatles this time last year.

Flourishes of creativity do show in the digital representation of 2004’s Milton Keynes gig, with Harmonix leaving their comfort zone and having a (successful) stab at rendering stadium rock complete with pyrotechnics, lighting and an enormous crowd - just make sure don’t look at their hideous faces. The aesthetic success of Milton Keynes (a phrase I never thought I’d ever say) means it’s an even greater disappointment when we return to another boring locale for the third gig.

As for achievements, it’s all very standard rhythm game stuff. Get an 8x band multiplier, complete loads of songs on Expert, etc. You’ll need four players and to be able to comfortably play at Expert difficulty to get anywhere near the full 1000 too, but as a leftie, I don’t know whether I should be happy or insulted to see an achievement pop up after I finish my first song on every rhythm game in existence.

Though Green Day: Rock Band is filled with lazy environments and bland presentation values, Harmonix has got the choice of music spot on. Green Day is simply a perfect choice for Rock Band. The game, when at its best, is easily on par with the finest the music genre has to offer. Some potential buyers will be deterred by the fact it’s little more than a glorified track pack with a full-price RRP, but I find it hard to fault the quality of a game when it manages to have four grown adults strumming plastic guitars and wailing into microphones until 3 in the morning, with the whole group determined to complete the Dookie album challenge before going to bed.

Rock Band games depend on a good choice of music, and Green Day’s oeuvre makes for a perfect Rock Band setting.

The digital representations of Billy Joe, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool all look fine, but they’re plonked into too many boring environments.

The band’s catchy music ensures you’ll find the disc in the drive whenever you’re in the mood for a Rock Band session, and the energetic notes will keep you happily occupied while you play.

Stylish menus are lovely to look at, but the decision to frame the game around three gigs makes the Green Day experience feel a little fractured and incomplete. A wealth of unlockable extras will give fans of the band something to strive for, too.

Music games need to try harder with their achievements, and this is no different. Harmonix try and spice up their list with some interesting track-specific challenges, but too many of these achievements will be ones you’ve seen too many times before.

As far as Rock Band games go, Green Day doesn’t have the creativity of The Beatles and it isn’t doesn’t have the same breadth as Rock Band 2. Aspects of its sloppy presentation are a big disappointment, but when the game gets it right (and it often does) it’s as good as Rock Band has ever been. The high price tag, and the shadow of Rock Band 3 looming on the horizon, ensures it feels like too little, too late. At least you’ll be able to import the tracks down the line.

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