Your friends are idiots. You've probably had your suspicions for a while, but Rock Band's going to confirm them. Getting a game going in a room full of drunk people is like trying to organise a chimp's tea party where the Darjeeling's laced with smack - everybody keeps prodding buttons and accidentally flicking through menus and quitting out, and it's all you can do not to shout at them to just STOP TOUCHING ANYTHING. Grr.
The hardest bit of Rock Band is explaining to the people who've never played games before that they need to press q to start even if they're only on the mic. Clods. It's worth persevering, though, because once you get into the game it'll bring you all together better than going on a road trip to Tijuana and finding a dead body. It's brilliant like that. There are moments - loads of them - where you honestly feel like a proper band, putting those back-to-back moments from Guitar Hero to shame.
Guitar first, then. This is a contentious one, since it's directly comparable to a game that's already out - and the comparison doesn't always work in Rock Band's favour. Basics are exactly the same - five buttons (although you only use four in Medium), a whammy bar for scoring extra when you hold notes, multipliers for playing ten notes in a row. Star Power's been renamed Overdrive, but one sweet addition is that you can carry on building it up after it's activated - keep hitting those phrases and you can keep your bonus time going for ages. The display also goes blue to show when you're in a solo and ticks off the percentage you've managed so you know how long you've got to survive in the tricky bits.
These are nice touches, but they're minor adjustments to the near-flawless system Harmonix developed for Guitar Hero - and other changes don't work quite so well. Instead of GH's friendly circles, Rock Band shows notes as little metal bars, and ever-so-slightly thinner ones to show where you can do hammer-ons. Weirdly, early screenshots showed a layout much closer to Guitar Hero's - it's like EA's lawyers panicked at the last minute and insisted on new graphics that look a bit placeholder. It doesn't really matter - the system still works fine - but it feels a little bit sterile.
Drumming's the next stop, since it's new and comes with the nicest toys. And the drum kit really is lovely - solid and chunky, the legs on the kit are like scaffolding and the foot pedal puts DrumMania's to shame. One warning - the drums are solid plastic, so unless you wrap your (wooden) sticks in something they'll drown out the TV. Drums are also by far the trickiest instrument to play - getting your foot and hands to work independently is absolutely brain-twanging at first, and you'll sometimes have to stop mid-song, take a deep breath and start tackling bits of the beat one at a time.
This is probably a good place to point out that Rock Band's difficulty is slightly different from Guitar Hero's - it'll kick you out of the game faster if you start scuffing things, but it's also quicker to get your energy bar back to full with a quick flurry of perfect notes. If you're really messing things up on drums, you can afford to just concentrate on the snare and bass pedal, which give up more energy than the others. By the higher difficulty levels, playing drums on Rock Band is probably about as hard as playing them in real life - it's a very different feeling from the lightning-fingered fun of riffing through a guitar solo, but satisfying in a different way.