No one would accuse Green Day of exploring new musical frontiers. The NorCal trio are would-be rebels with a knack for constructing speedy, catchy melodies over a bedrock of three-chord pop-punk. Harmonix’s Green Day: Rock Band takes the same tack, tossing 47 tracks mostly culled from Dookie, American Idiot, and 21st Century Breakdown onto the sturdy Rock Band armature with little of the audacity or attention to detail that made The Beatles: Rock Band such a landmark game.
Unlike that entry, where the early years were front-loaded with some of George Harrison’s least forgiving solos, Green Day’s difficulty is fairly constant throughout. Bashing out the riffs to “When I Come Around” is more a matter of keeping up with the beat and staying focused in the face of punishing repetition than forcing fingers to match intricate patterns. Scaling down the pre-song difficulty indicators to match Green Day’s catalog was obviously necessary, but it’s still a little jarring to see that a track like Dookie’s “Chump” netted maximum difficulty for most instruments, by virtue of its galloping finale. No one is expecting the challenge of “Through The Fire And Flames,” though, and even though Billie Joe Armstrong’s less-than-virtuosic abilities stunt the gameplay somewhat, these songs are undeniably fun to perform.
Fun to watch is another matter, however, as the three venues on offer—a generic warehouse, Milton Keynes, and Oakland’s Fox Theater—are lackluster, providing little additional zip to the songs performed in them, apart from some energizing back-and-forth with the crowds. Green Day spends long moments before and after a set strutting around the stage, grandstanding, and giving the camera hi-fives. The band’s mobility is an upgrade from the largely stock-still Fab Four, but as in almost every aspect of the game, the visuals feel like a tradedown.
The late-career renaissance of American Idiot’s punk-rock operas opens up the gameplay a bit, as intense riffage gives way to greater complexity and song structures that are more rewarding, whatever the instrument. Also welcome is the option to perform vocal harmonies. And unlockable pictures and videos of Armstrong, Tré Cool, and Mike Dirnt supply some depth to a game that can feel superficial at times. In an apparent cash-grab move, the tentpole albums Dookie and American Idiot are available in their entireties, but 21st Century Breakdown is missing tracks that were released previously as downloadable content, and only a smattering of songs from Nimrod, Insomniac, and Warning fill in the cracks. Still, what’s there is a good mix of muscular, pulverizing numbers and moodier pieces—including the a cappella “Song Of The Century”—that should satisfy unabashed fans and venom-spewing detractors alike.