Harmonix developed Guitar Hero, but corporate mergers last year ended the company's relationship with its insanely popular offspring. Still, Guitar Hero informs practically every aspect of Rock Band, from the (wired, unfortunately) guitar controllers to the gameplay. With the controller, mini drum kit, and USB mic, the game looks ambitious—almost intimidating—but Rock Band simply synthesizes the guitar attack of Guitar Hero and the vocal dynamics of the Karaoke Revolution series. Harmonix's boldest move was the drum kit—four electronic pads and a kick pedal—which requires some coordination, even at the game's easiest level. That can be frustrating, but drumming eventually becomes the game's best part.
Scratch that: Actually, it's playing with other people—up to three at once, with a second guitar. Going solo offers fewer giddy thrills, and Rock Star's online play feels underdeveloped right now. (The game requires an Xbox Live account for bands, but they can't compete against each other online.) But with 45 songs (and others for download), several competition options, and a pretty grueling tour schedule, Rock Band compensates for its shortcomings well.
Beyond the game: Rock Band mostly uses actual master tracks for songs, unlike previous incarnations of Guitar Hero, which relied on sound-alike studio musicians. Currently, the game's online store sells a limited number of additional tracks and entire albums for download, but that number will only grow. Metallica even plans to debut its new single next year as a playable download.
Worth playing for: The thrill of nailing a song with several other people. It's like being in a real band, but with instant gratification.
Frustration sets in when: The game-character-creation menus ensnare you. One has a particularly counterintuitive interface where the person who chooses first is the only one who can advance to the gameplay. This leads to a lot of confused button-pushing, trapping people in a maddening loop of character creation.
Final judgment: Give up everything else. This is your life now.