It’s 2 a.m. in my basement. With the six other members of my band, I’m halfway through “No Cars Go,” Arcade Fire’s semi-hit from 2007. We’re playing a pre-release version of “Rock Band: Arcade Fire,” the newest extension of the Harmonix mega-franchise. We’re seasoned Rock Band veterans, but we’re about to face an unprecedented challenge: the band’s trademark “Hey!,” which works only when everyone onstage hits a special and fiendishly complicated combination of inputs simultaneously. Unless everyone in the band lands their combos exactly, the “Hey!” fizzles out, like a firework which, instead of shooting across the sky, deflates like a plastic bag. (We were granted access to a special preview of the game, with the understanding that some of the game’s mechanics are still under development.)
“Rock Band: Arcade Fire” is unlike every other game in the series. To begin with, it lets you use a special dongle to expand the size of your band from four players to eight. (The real-life Arcade Fire has had as many as nineteen members.) It also includes a number of special-edition instruments that deliver the true Arcade Fire experience. In addition to the usual guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, there’s a plastic violin, an accordion, and even a hurdy-gurdy. (Cheapskates, fear not: if you don’t want to throw down the $39 for the hurdy-gurdy, you can put use a regular Rock Band guitar in “hurdy gurdy mode”—the whammy bar serves as a stand-in for the medieval instrument’s crank.) Get all the instruments, and you and your friends start to look like a genuine group of Montreal theatre kids turned rock musicians.
Almost the entire Arcade Fire catalog is represented. While playing in career mode, the tracks are unlocked chronologically. As the game opens, Win and the gang are rehearsing in their tiny Montreal apartment, but soon they’re opening for U2, rehearsing with David Bowie, and playing European festivals. The costumes grow steadily more elaborate, progressing from the Canadian hipster lumberjack look of “Funeral” to the voodoo glam of “Reflektor.” The pre-release version we played didn’t include the entire “Everything Now” album, but we did get to try “Creature Comfort” and “Signs of Life”— the final portion of career mode appears to take place in the Nevada desert. If you get bored of Arcade Fire’s orchestral pile-on aesthetic, “Rock Band: Arcade Fire” includes dozens of tracks by other acts which seem to have inspired the band, from Bruce (“Born to Run”) and The Cure (“Disintegration”) to Modern English (“Melt with You”) and New Order (“Sunrise”). You can even play as Arcade Fire and U2 simultaneously, covering Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
But the real star of the show is that “Hey!”—and the similar “Millennial Whoop” (“Woah-ohhhhhhh”) which everyone in the band must also participate in simultaneously. Not everyone in my basement was an Arcade Fire fan, but even the skeptics were won over by those moments of mass participation. “Rock Band: Arcade Fire” is a fitting tribute to a band that’s slowly but surely embracing its status as a nostalgia act for millennials. It’s also tremendous fun.
“Rock Band: Arcade Fire” will be released in time for the holidays.