While last year's The Beatles: Rock Band wasn't the runaway success its developer, Harmonix, might have hoped for, it did succeed in setting a new benchmark for single-band editions of a music game. Rock Band: AC/DC and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith didn't offer much of lasting value, and while Guitar Hero: Metallica had stronger ties to the band and some of the most challenging gameplay in the franchise, it still didn't quite click. The Beatles did.
Not only did it introduce a new mechanic - harmony vocals - to the genre, it also felt from start to finish like a celebration of The Beatles and their unique place in rock music history. As an experience, it went beyond gameplay to make you feel closer to The Beatles and their music.
And, to a lesser extent, Green Day: Rock Band manages much the same trick. It can't quite match that feeling of embarking on a musical journey, but through three recreations of Green Day concerts - a fictional warehouse gig from the early days, a show from the American Idiot tour at the Milton Keynes bowl and a more recent showing in Oakland for 21st Century Breakdown - it offers a wide selection of tracks, including the whole of American Idiot and the majority of 21st Century Breakdown, and captures a real sense of the band's development over the last 20 years.
The basic gameplay pretty much carries on where The Beatles left off. Up to four of you, playing either online or offline, can join in on guitar, drums, vocals and bass, and on top of this the game supports three part vocal harmonies. The band's style has an impact, in that epic solos and tricky, fast-moving lead lines are short on supply, with the guitar parts more focused on choppy chordwork, chiming arpeggios and the occasional short break.
The bass lines are surprisingly involved, and you'll need a hardworking drummer, but Green Day isn't for the Dragonforce massive, and the vocal lines won't push you as much as some of the Beatles or mainstream Rock Band numbers. This doesn't however, make it any less engaging to play. Even if you're not a huge Green Day fan, simply working your way through the setlists (three per venue plus challenge tracks) is a lot of fun.
It's the atmospherics, however, that really make it all work. Where The Beatles had to recreate historical moments and produce visionary dreamscapes to match the later songs, Green Day is free to focus on delivering the most authentic Green Day concert experience possible. At its best - particularly the Milton Keynes stadium shows - it's amazing. Play well, and you'll hear the crowd start to chant along with you. Fireworks launch at the right moments, and the band's performances have a believable energy to them. Apparently, the Oakland gig uses background video footage designed for the 21st Century Breakdown tour. This is what you get when you don't just sign a band for a music game, but actively bring a band onboard.
The final piece of the puzzle for the fans will be the inclusion of a mass of rare photos and unreleased video footage to unlock by completing sets and polishing off the special challenges. It is this that gives the game whatever long-term depth it has, because - as with The Beatles - it won't take you long to get through the basic setlists. It's also good to see the game's attitude to pre-existing Rock Band content. Any Green Day tracks from Rock Band 2 or 3 or DLC can be imported into the game and slotted into the setlist, allowing you to play 21st Century Breakdown in its entirety.
Unfortunately, while Green Day: Rock Band is almost a blinding Rock Band game, there's one thing holding it back: the tracklist. Opinions will differ on this, but to my mind there's just not enough variety in Green Day's music to make this a game you'll want to keep playing for hour after hour. The band has created some fantastic songs, and playing the game makes you appreciate how the sound and the music has developed and matured over the years, but by the time my own little Rock Band had worked its way through the first two venues, we were beginning to tire of punky guitar numbers and folky anthems that get a bit louder towards the end.
Obviously, your mileage will vary depending on how much you love the band, but it makes you realise why Guitar Hero: Metallica bought in other bands. It's not just the lack of variety in the music, but also the lack of variety in the gameplay that results, and it's not something that The Beatles ever suffered from. Perhaps more venues would have helped as well.
The overall verdict, then, is a bit predictable: if you like Green Day, you'll probably like this. If you don't, you probably won't. To be honest, that's hardly a disaster: fans can buy the game with confidence, and even if you've only got one or two albums you would get enough fun out of the game to justify the purchase. All the same, this doesn't feel like a benchmark music game in the way that The Beatles did, and with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Rock Band 3 coming up in the next few months, you might want to hold on to your money for now.