I wanna rock!

There are men and women the world over destined to be musical gods, people fated by the stars to rock crowds of thousands each time they light up a stage with their mind-blowing songs and electrifying performances. You are probably not one of those people.

There are men and women the world over destined to be musical gods, people fated by the stars to rock crowds of thousands each time they light up a stage with their mind-blowing songs and electrifying performances.

You are probably not one of those people.

To counter this sad fact, musical videogames were created wherein a player’s ability to time their actions according to on-screen instructions is judged for points. Leading this genre in sales and overall popularity is far and away the Guitar Hero franchise. The developer and designer of the patented GH guitar controller, Harmonix, was lured away from publisher Activision in 2007, when EA Games brought their deep pockets and distribution prowess to the Harmonix doorstep. Harmonix then paired with MTV Games to spawn Rock Band, currently at loggerheads with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the throne of the rock-god-wannabe genre.

And who deserves that throne, you ask? Is it more fun to focus on a single instrument and use a tried-and-true gaming formula? Or is a comprehensive musical experience with guitars, bass, drums and vocals the way to go? Rock Band benefits from the experience Harmonix brings to the table for guitar controls, and the bass is pretty much the same song and dance. The two new controls–drums and vocals–are new territory for the former GH crew, however.

Rock Band‘s drum controls, incorporating four toms and a bass pedal, are really exciting at first. The visceral feel of the drum console and the use of real drumsticks make a player feel like a true-blue percussionist. Upon playing, however, it becomes clear that whoever developed the drum controls is the most anal perfectionist ever. You’ll start pounding the toms less to earn points, and more in rage at how finicky the score meter is when judging your timing. Granted, music requires pristine rhythm, but this is supposed to be fun, not demanding. There should be at least a little room for error.

The microphone controls are fun also, though it’s the least enjoyable of the set. Singing in time doesn’t feel quite as engaging as the rest of the controls, and no matter how good you get in the game, if your voice isn’t already decent, you’ll forever annoy your band-mates in real life each time you belt out a lyric.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock does a much better job of catering to an audience of casual musicians or, indeed, gamers who have never played anything but a kazoo. It’s much easier to pick up and play GH3 for a quick song or head-to-head duel than with Rock Band. The latter title takes much more setup before getting to the meat of the game play, which leads to lots of grumbling and buyer’s remorse before that first moment of musical gaming bliss.

Pricing is the next big issue. For GH3 with a guitar controller, the price tag is $100. For Rock Band, with the whole set of peripherals (which you’ll want), you’ll drop a cool $179. Though they cost twice, even thrice the cheddar of other new titles, you’re getting a lot more game for your buck. Still, Rock Band‘s steep cost and the slog of its setup make GH3 seem an obvious victor.

Once you get going, however, Rock Band‘s online and multiplayer features become less of a game and more a way of life (or at least a way to get fired). The World Tour mode, wherein your ragtag troupe of music makers play through a storyline spanning 17 cities, sets the standard for future musical games. The tour mode isn’t included in online play, though it is possible to play single tracks with other musicians logged on. Overall, with three or four players, Rock Band is more fun.

The soundtracks of both games are great, though deciding between them comes down to personal taste and you’ll likely love and hate a few songs from each. The 58-track setlist for Rock Band is more contemporary, though the bonus tracks are more obscure (and often more challenging). The Legends of Rock playlist lives up to it’s title, offering 72 hit tracks from every genre of rock imaginable from the last half-century. In addition to its massive collection of tunes, GH3 offers duels against a virtual Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Slash (Guns N’ Roses).

It should be noted that Xbox 360 editions were played for this review. Other editions of Rock Band (PlayStation 2 and 3) and GH3 (PS2, PS3, Wii, PC and Mac) may sport different controls, though the graphical and sound quality is pretty even across the board. So which game is better overall? It depends on the amount of time and money you’re willing to invest. If you’re more of an occasional gamer or familiar with Guitar Hero titles of yore, Legends of Rock is your game. However, if you have some time available, as well as cash and friends, Rock Band will be more rewarding in the end. Happy jamming!

Still can’t decide which game to buy? Here’s a glimpse into the bellies of these beasts! Note that these highlighted songs are according to my tastes, though it’s not to worry: I’m always right.

Guitar Hero III’s best tracks

“The Seeker” by The Who

“One” by Metallica

“Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson

Rock Band’s best tracks

“Tom Sawyer” by Rush

“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

“Gimmie Shelter” by The Rolling Stones