I scoffed the first heard that Harmonix was planning on adding country music to the Rock Band online music store. It's not that I have anything against country musicians, but the game is called "Rock" Band. Give me Ozzy, Journey, AC/DC and Nirvana, those bands rock. Even if you don't like their music, you can't deny that they have every right to be among the line-up of a game called Rock Band. Now that I've played through this country-themed track pack, I can honestly say that these songs are a perfect fit alongside Metallica and Sonic Youth. They may have more of a twang than Panic at the Disco, but I'm not going to say "no" to a little variety in my favorite music game.
If you've read my reviews of AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack
or Rock Band Track Pack: Classic Rock
, then you should already know what to expect. This is a collection of 21 individual country songs that span the last three decades. It's a standalone disc that does not require you to actually own any previous Rock Band product, though it's up to you to buy your own fake plastic guitar, drums and microphone.
But don't write this collection off just yet, because Rock Band Track Pack: Country has a secret. Unlike the recently released classic rock pack, this country mix is chockfull of songs previously unavailable to Rock Band. That's right; these are songs that you can't even download. This should give fans of both Rock Band and country music enough incentive to pay the budget price (about $1.43 per song) to get these songs a little early. There is every reason to believe that the new tracks featured on this disc will eventually find their way to the online music store, it's only a matter of time.
As for the songs themselves, the game features 21 different tracks, almost none of which I had heard before. I take that back, I knew exactly two of the songs contained on this disc. Understandably, the two in question were the oldest cuts, Kenny Roger's "Gambling Man" and "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson. I had a lot of fun playing guitar and singing along to these two country classics.
But just because I've never heard of most of these country tracks, that doesn't mean that they are obscure songs. It just proves that when it comes to the modern country scene, I'm a square. The rest of the songs include Alan Jackson ("Good Times"), Brad Paisley ("Mud On the Tires"), Brooks & Dunn ("Hillbilly Deluxe"), Cross Canadian Ragweed ("Cry Lonely"), Dierks Bentley ("Free and Easy"), Dixie Chicks ("Sin Wagon"), Drive-By Truckers ("3 Dimes Down"), Jason Aldean ("She's Country"), Keith Urban ("I Told You So"), Kenny Chesney ("She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy"), Lucinda Williams ("Can't Let Go"), Martina Williams ("This One's For the Girls"), Miranda Lambert ("Gunpowder & Lead"), Montgomery Gentry ("Gone"), Rascal Flatts ("Me & My Gang"), Sara Evans ("Suds in the Bucket"), Shania Twain ("Any Man of Mine"), Steve Earle ("Satellite Radio") andTrace Adkins ("Swing").
Now look, I'm no expert on country music. While I have heard of most of these artists, I didn't know many of the tunes. For the most part they are all worth listening to (given your taste in music) and varied enough to be a lot of fun to play on all four of the instruments. My only complaint with this otherwise fine list of songs is the fact that there aren't more examples of classic country artists, like Johnny Cash and Hank William, Sr.
Like all of the other Rock Band track packs, this country disc is designed on the Rock Band 1 engine. That is to say, certain improvements to the sequel (however slight) are absent from this release. Don't go looking for a robust single-player story mode, drumming challenges or chord hammer-ons, those Rock Band 2 improvements are nowhere to be found on this disc. You don't even have the opportunity to create your character, so I got stuck with a heavy metal dude that looks like he came straight from auditioning for GWAR.
Speaking of the way the characters look, I'm disappointed that Harmonix didn't take the opportunity to add new country-themed clothing, hairstyles and equipment to the disc. Neither Rock Band nor Rock Band 2 feature country threads, so it would be nice to download something a little more appropriate for a country concert. I just don't feel right playing a Brad Paisley song with a Mohawk and huge tattoo of Satan.
There aren't a lot of modes to talk about in Country Track Pack. You get a quick play mode, a practice mode and a band story mode. But don't get too excited about the campaign, because it's nothing more than a list of songs you have to play through. In a lot of ways this mode harkens back to the days of Guitar Hero 1 and 2, a nice throwback for people that believe Rock Band has added too many bells and whistles. But I'm not one of those people. I like having things to do, even if it's traveling to brand new country inspired locations and making my own cowboy hat-wearing rock star.
It's worth mentioning that all 21 of the songs found in Rock Band: Country Track Pack can be downloaded to Rock Band 1 and 2. Each copy of the game comes with an individual code that can be used once, much like what we saw with AC/DC Live and the classic rock pack. The truth is, for many people, the only reason to put this game in the system is to unlock the achievements (which are devilishly difficult this time around).
One thing that doesn't make sense to me is why Harmonix refuses to include the ability to download and play songs from the online music store. At first it might seem like that would just defeat the whole point, but what harm would it be? It would at least give Rock Band fans an inexpensive way to have access to the lucrative music store, which is exactly what Harmonix wants in the first place. Even if only a few people ever use the music store, it seems like all of the coding and interface has already been done. Surely it's not harder than just flipping a switch. Then again, I'm not the one making the game, I just review it.
Obviously I could pad this review with a detailed description of how to play the game, the importance of "overdrive" and how much fun it is to have all four players rocking at the same time. But if you're reading this review, then chances are you already own the game and there's no point in my boring you with details you already know. If you're new to Rock Band, then this track pack shouldn't be your first step. While it doesn't require the actual disc to run, it's recommended that you at least play some of Rock Band 1 (preferably Rock Band 2) before spending the $30 on this expansion pack.
Rock Band: Country Track Pack delivers exactly what it shoots for, a disc full of country music that is fun to play by yourself and with a band. Best of all, more than half of the content on this disc hasn't been released anywhere else, making this cheap disc a worthwhile purchase if you're a fan of the music. Obviously you still have to contend with the tracks you don't like, so how much each song is worth comes down to personal taste. I say that this pack is no better or worse than the rest, so country fans should definitely pick it up. I guess now it's time to wait for the just-announced Rock Band: Metal Track Pack scheduled for later this year. Can't wait.
Rock Band: Country Track Pack doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does offer a bunch of new songs that haven't even been released on the online music store. If you're a fan of country music and fake plastic instruments, then this collection of songs should be right up your alley. Another solid Rock Band release from Harmonix!