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Rock Band

Preview: Back stage with Harmonix

So you wanna be a rock superstar? Live large? Big house? Five cars? Rent charged? We all do, buddy. From stroppy emo kids who haven't so much as picked up an instrument since they were forced to learn the recorder in school to desperate wannabes still kicking a beaten-up old van all over the country just waiting for the big break, that's always two steps ahead of them, more or less everyone has at some point dreamed of making it big.

The Guitar Hero developer, Harmonix, may not be offering you the champagne lifestyle with this hugely daring and all-encompassing, next-gen follow-up, but what is on offer is a chance to experience the elation, the pride and the massive sense of accomplishment felt by musicians following a stellar performance.

Forget about touchscreens, waving remotes around and all that nonsense - this is the one new kind of gameplay that really matters and you need to be a part of it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Rock Band, where killer riffs, high fives and flamboyant performances are the tip of the iceberg.

Rock Band is the spiritual successor to the Guitar Hero legacy and if you're one of the few people who hasn't yet encountered the majesty of rock or the mystery of roll, allow us to sum it up for you. Guitar Hero II is more or less the most satisfying videogame on the PlayStation 2 and possibly of all time.

Catering for all abilities and all tastes (within the boundaries of guitar-led music, naturally), no feeling in gaming comes close to nailing a tricky solo on Expert mode (or even the long and arduous journey towards this tough-as-nails top difficulty setting) or excelling off-screen with some co-operative showboating.

There just aren't enough positive words in the English language to truly do Guitar Hero justice and all it takes is one song to draw you in and never let you go. You feel like a rock god, even though you've got what is effectively a toy guitar slung around your neck. It's a monumental achievement.

Imagine, then, a game that takes the stunning Guitar Hero formula, adds in new instruments and options and brings it all together in one perfect rock-shaped package. Right now, you're imagining Rock Band and if what's in your head looks anything like what's in ours, you're probably pretty excited. If Harmonix can deliver the goods (and they haven't failed us yet) then you've got every right to be, as well. Then again, they've never had to improve on near-perfection before. Good luck, guys.

The crucial difference between Rock Band and the Guitar Hero games is... well, the clue's in the title, really. Guitar Hero II let up to two players loose on guitar and bass. Rock Band, however, goes one louder, throwing vocals and drums into the mix as well to really test your musical mettle. Not content with doubling up on instruments, the game's key function also allows players around the world to be brought together by the power of rock, forming bands online with similarly skilled players each taking up their weapon of choice and jamming together.

Of course, the same options should also be offered to offline players, where your whole virtual band will be able to cram around the telly for a practice session before jumping into the rather scary pool of talent that your broadband connection puts you just nanoseconds away from.

Ever since peripheral-led music games started cropping up all over the place on the PSone, we've dreamed of this kind of possibility, but until now it's always been just that - a distant dream. It appears, though, that good old Harmonix have heard our prayers and turned their skilled hands to the logical progression of the genre. Genius. But the improvements over similar existing titles don't end there. Oh no.

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