Rock Band was an unbelievable hit and ushered in a new era for music games. To play as a full band is an awesome experience and to be able to do it online enabled those without access to all the instruments to participate in a full band as well. It was inevitable that Harmonix would produce a sequel and it didn't seem that long ago that the first game came out. Now, Rock Band 2 is upon us and let me say if you enjoyed the first game the second one should keep you busy rocking the night away as well.
Let's get away with the basics as I'm pretty sure a great deal of you know about the first game and what it entails. Rock Band 2 lets you play one of four parts in a musical Simon says type game with the more successive notes you hit, the higher you score will be. Throughout the game, you'll be able to build up Overdrive whereby activating it via tilting the guitar, yelling into the mic at a certain time, or doing the drum fill, will multiply your score even greater. Overdrive can also be used to save people that have failed their part of the song so you can keep playing. The basic gameplay hasn't changed at all so expect the same with brand new songs as well as old songs.
The ability to create your rock personality is back and there are some new options but the depth and amount of creativity given to you is still limited by today's standards. Maybe I'm just used to the amount of customization that's been available in games like Oblivion and Saint's Row 2 but the face and body options are pretty limiting. On the opposite spectrum, the logo and tattoo creators give you a lot of freedom and you can create some pretty intricate designs just be fiddling around with the position and layering. All told, you'll have to depend on the different types of clothing to really set your character apart so I hope that the third game will see a much more improved character creation option. Now, let's get into what's new and added to this version of the game.
In the first game, there were parts where the guitar played a solo. Doing so would show a percentage of accuracy and scoring higher gives you bonus points. The drums this time gets into the act as some songs now contain drum solos. I like the addition allowing for others to shine besides the guitar and vocals. Unfortunately, the bass player seems to have been left without any additions or changes to their part. Of course there are some songs that are more fun to play as a bassist but perhaps we'll see something for the third game for the bass player.
While the 84 songs, all master tracks, available for the second game gives you plenty to play with, Rock Band 2 also lets you import 55 songs from the first game giving you 139 songs right off the bat if you own the first game. For you Guns and Roses fan, a song from their forever upcoming album, Chinese Democracy, is featured in the game as well so this will be your first chance to hear some brand new GnR material in a long time. The rest of the new songs encompass a wide range taste so there's something for everyone. For Rock Band 1 songs, you do have to pay $5 to transfer the songs over and while it's a little disheartening to have to pay to transfer the songs, the option available is a great feature and really is a first for a game of this kind on the console. I remember when I was talking with Chuck about what they should do for the second game and having the ability to transfer some songs over akin to the old days of Links and transferring courses to the newer version was one of my suggested features. Add to the fact that any song you have purchased via DLC is also playable in Rock Band 2 and you have a potential of over 300 songs at your fingertips making Rock Band 2 easily the current rhythm game with the biggest playlist available. When you purchase the game, there's also a code to let you get 20 songs that will be in a future update. No word on what songs will be available but this is a nice gesture and a nice incentive on purchasing a new version rather than a used version of the game.
Playing through the new songs, you'll get the same difficulty curve as you do in the first game with the first few songs being really easy even on expert level. The game does ramp up faster than the first one so you'll find yourself being challenged a lot sooner than before which is a great for more experienced players. Naturally, there's going to be some songs that are going to be fun on a certain instrument over another and I did find a few songs that were pretty uninspiring to play on each instrument. Nevertheless, when you get a group playing even the most mundane song can be fun to play as the experience of being in a group makes up for a lackluster note line. Something really neat is on some of the 80s songs, the visual of the band changes with a 80s-ish overlay of wild colors. It was great for a laugh the first time I saw it.
Finally, World Tour is available for both off and online players. One of my gripes about the first game was you couldn't participate in the World Tour mode with friends online. I can't say how nice it is to keep progressing through this mode using friends or online players and not be limited to finishing it with people in your own household. There are some little changes to World Tour though to try and spice things up. First off, you aren't tied to a particular character and instrument anymore. You can float between the various roles and continue where you left off so that makes it nice. There's also an option to create your own set list so if you feel like mixing it up with your own music of choice to grab some fans and some money, you can do that as well. I did run into what seems to be a bug a few times. My band mates and I would do a three song set list and after the first two songs are played the third song was one we didn't choose at all. It threw us off a few times and we kept wondering if we chose the wrong song but it happened enough that we paid attention later on and saw the game did change out our last song. I'll be interested to see if anyone else experiences this problem. Speaking of songs, I did experience a few repeats of songs during World Tour mode more often than not. I would've liked to have seen the game cut down on playing the same songs later on down the road as there were a few times we let out a groan having to play Modest Mouse for the third time. You'll also have the option of hiring staff and certain staff members will offer some different benefits. You can only have one staff member at a time so you'll only be able to take advantage of one benefit. Overall though, World Tour remains pretty much the same and if you liked it in the first one you'll enjoy it in the second game. Those looking for more drastic improvements will be disappointed.
A new feature that should appease the competitive folks out there is the Battle of the Bands mode. Various challenges will be put up from achieving a high score with a certain instrument to getting the longest note streak. You'll compete with those online who participate in the event. To keep it interesting, there'll be new events daily so you can check in and play whenever you want and expect something new to try your hand it. Some will only be available at certain times of the day so there's a good variety in challenge lengths. Harmonix has done a great job in making Battle of the Bands interesting by mixing up the challenges and when they are available. Given that a lot of people like to show off their skills on YouTube in Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, the Battle of Bands is another nice way to brag to everyone how good you really are.
For those that aren't too good at the game or play with little ones, there's now a no fail feature which is greatly appreciated as my little one loves to bang on the drums while I play. You won't be able to earn any achievements but it will let anyone play and not be hindered if the skill levels vary greatly within the group. Not everyone can be experts and it's also nice to be able to try another instrument if you want to and not hold back the rest of the group if you are unfamiliar with it. No fail really opens up the game to the casual players who want to have fun and I'm really happy Harmonix put this in without having to enter in a cheat code to access it. Combine this with the cheat code to unlock the songs, those that just want to jam without having to go through the World Tour and don't want to be pressured in playing well can do this with ease. Entering in the cheat code to unlock the songs for Rock Band 2, which is the same as Rock Band 1, will open up an option to enable all songs unlocked without having to enter in the code each time you start up the game. There are other extras unlocked as well via codes so it's nice to see you only have to enter the code once and select that option the next time you start the game.
Rock Band 2 will also bring forth a new guitar and a new drum kit. If you liked the Rock Band guitar, you'll like the new one as well. Physically, the shape is the same as the first one but it now has a wood finish. The strum bar seems to bounce a little better and the fret buttons are quieter with a little better feel. I've heard that the build quality is improved as well but I won't be able to tell until many hours are logged in strumming to the game. To help facilitate calibration, the new guitar has both a mic and an optical sensor so you can hold the guitar up to the game for auto calibration. Results will vary though as it seems to not work well on Chuck's TV but worked fine on mine. A nice addition is that there's a guard around the start button so you have a lesser chance of hitting it when you really want to activate star Overdrive by pressing the back button. You can still tilt the guitar to activate Overdrive and I didn't have to tilt the guitar too high to do it. For the Xbox 360, the guitar is now wireless and yes it will work with Guitar Hero World Tour when it comes out. There aren't really huge improvements over the wireless Rock Band 1 guitar that I think would warrant a new purchase if you have one already though.
The drums though get the biggest make over and are a nice improvement over the first set. It's not wireless so there's one less cord for my son or animals to trip over. For those with broken foot pedals, there's now a metal plate on top to try and strengthen the piece. I can't tell if the hinges are improved as well though but the spring is thicker. The drum pads bounce a lot better and are also quieter although with the way I hit the pads, the softer pad doesn't sound quieter at all. Also, the drums are now velocity sensitive but to be honest, I couldn't tell in the game other than seeing bigger sparks the harder I hit. It might be a feature you can tout but it's not something that really adds to the game at all. Later on, you can purchase a cymbal and a high hat to plug into the set expanding the drums. If you plan on using the kit with Guitar Hero World Tour, the game will modify the note line to fit the four pads from the five that will be available in World Tour. To help you get better with drums, Rock Band 2 has a drum trainer that lets you practice different patterns and fills. You can increase or decrease the speed at which the notes come down so you'll be able improve gradually with practice. While the guitar changes aren't too drastic, the changes to drum really do warrant a new purchase.
Even with the new instruments, you can still play the new game with the original versions so you don't have to go and spend another $190 to enjoy the second game. We play tested with both the new and old instruments and had no problems at all. Given that, it's nice to see Harmonix not forcing new instruments on you so for those that want to save a few bucks or don't feel the need to update their instruments, just go pick up the game itself and bypass the full bundle and know you'll get the same experience as everyone else.
Rock Band 2 is not a huge improvement over the first one but it's a nice addition to the series. Like Guitar Hero 2 comparisons to Guitar Hero 1, Rock Band 2 can be considered the same as being a more polished version of the first game. Harmonix has made improvements where it was needed, added some small new features, and given you a boat load of songs to play. It's the case of if it ain't broke, don't fix it and the gameplay isn't broken so no changes were needed here. The game's still a blast to play with three others and there's no denying the fact that Rock Band 2 will score big. I'll have a lot higher hopes for the third game but for now, Rock Band 2's a hit and one that all music gamers should pick up, especially if you already have the first one.