Ready to Rock Again?
Last year’s Rock Band was unquestionably one of the biggest titles to hit the music/rhythm genre in a long time. It took the basic idea behind blockbuster hits like SingStar and Guitar Hero, added a drum kit, and gave music fans the world over a way to interact with their favorite tunes like never before. Since the original Rock Band was such a best-seller, it was understandable that hopes were high for its successor, Rock Band 2. Many speculated that Rock Band 2 would be just like an expansion pack for the original and would not take strides to improve the franchise. However, Rock Band 2 has bucked this theory and has made some noticeable upgrades and modifications to the original gameplay, while keeping the same amount of Rock N’ Roll.
One of the biggest improvements to Rock Band 2 has to be the tweaks made to the World Tour mode. This mode has not really changed in purpose, but it has definitely made a lot of changes in functionality. Last time around, the World Tour mode was very difficult to play if you didn’t have your band-specific four-person team to play with all at once. And if you were playing solo, you could just forget about playing World Tour altogether. Luckily, this time around it is a lot easier to change your band line-up to adapt to those times when you only have two or three people on hand to play with you. The mode has also been restructured to allow for different players to drop in and out of the same World Tour as they please. Rock Band 2 also doesn’t punish you for playing solo, which is great news for those who had to learn to sing and play guitar or drums at the same time to effectively play solo.
One of the coolest new features in Rock Band 2 World Tour is the Battle of the Bands feature that has been incorporated into the mode. Diverse battles will show up randomly in the different World Tour cities, and these will change every day. The different battles all have unique themes that can range from a battle where you play against GameStop employees to special nighttime and early-morning battles. Playing in these band battles not only nets you Rock Band fame and glory, but also gives you a great way to interact with Rock Band community members that you may not normally intermingle with. It is a cool concept, and you may find yourself booting up Rock Band just to see what the challenges are for the day.
The character creator in Rock Band 2 is very similar to the character creator in the original and allows you to change your character’s hair, face, and body structure. You will also be able to dress them in a limited amount of stage garb, although much more will be unlocked as you progress in World Tour. After you create your character, you will be able to give your character a tattoo. The tattoo creator is actually the deepest character customization option, and you can paste different tats by famous tattoo artists on your arms or chest and change the size and color. You can also fuse different tattoos together to create something entirely original.
One thing you’ll probably notice right away after creating your character is that the look of the World Tour menu has changed. Instead of just going through a long list of songs, individual menus will be tied to the different cities on your tour. There will be a few songs as well as specialty sets that will pop up on each localized screen and will display songs that are unlocked in the new city as well as local. You won’t have to scroll through the long song list anymore to find the songs you need, and if you want to create your own set for each location, you will be able to search through your music library and browse by artist or difficulty. This is particularly useful for download junkies with a huge library, and it makes finding that certain song all the easier.
The online functionality in Rock Band 2 is incredibly streamlined and fits well into the overall structure of the game. Basically, any mode you can play offline, you can play online by giving the yellow button a quick tap. You can find band mates for World Tour or Quickplay, or you can battle people with the Tug of War and Score Battle modes. The Tug of War mode is an accuracy duel where characters will be able to “tug” on a virtual rope every time their opponent misses a note. The Score Battle mode is fairly simplistic and only consists of a duel where the player with the highest score wins. The online modes run notably faster in Rock Band 2, and I never had to wait more than thirty seconds to find a partner or opponent.
There is also a new game mode that has a strictly casual appeal: the all-new “no-fail” setting. This can be accessed from the options menu, and will make casual or party play a lot less nerve-racking for inexperienced players. Of course, this option cannot be used online, but it is great for those just trying the game out for the first time. It will definitely make for a much more pleasurable experience when playing Rock Band with non-gamer friends, and it is an essential option as the gaming audience expands further into the casual market.
Another new mode that will probably appeal to both the casual and hardcore sect is the Drum Trainer mode. This mode is aimed at those who want to translate their in-game skills into real life ability, as it shows you the basics as far as drum beats and fills are concerned. The game has several pre-loaded beats and fills that you can practice over and over. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a trainer per se, but more like an extension of the game itself-just without the music.
However, if I had one complaint about Rock Band 2, it would have to be the system that’s used to unlock the different songs. Instead of having a mostly linear set list like in the original Rock Band, you’ll have to “discover” new songs by playing at different venues. After playing through the initial six hours of gameplay, I was dismayed to find that I had only unlocked about fifteen different songs. Some might argue that working so hard for the songs you unlock gives the game a lot of replay value because you’ll have to work hard to earn your content. However, after playing “Eye of the Tiger” a million times just to get enough stars in San Francisco to unlock new tunes, I would have to disagree. Unlocking things is too cumbersome, and you’ll never know what the next city with songs to unlock is. You’ll just have to venture out to many different cities, go through a lot of pointless menu screens, and end up more than a little annoyed.
However, after you sink 20+ hours into unlocking the game’s 84 songs, you’ll probably be quite pleased with the track selection that you’ll end up with. There is a very large variety of songs included in the game, and you’ll be able to play everything from AFI’s “Girls not Grey” to The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” You also have music from Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi, and The Allman Brother’s Band to round out the musical repertoire. And in an effort to prove that the decade-in-the-making album Chinese Democracy is real, Guns N Roses have even released a new single entitled “Shackler’s Revenge.” Of course, it’s up to you to decide whether you believe ol’ Axl or not, but the point here is that no matter what kind of rock you’re into, whether it be punk, metal, or alternative, you’ll find something to enjoy in Rock Band 2. It is also worth noting that in addition to the 84 songs on the actual disc, there will be some free DLC in the near future that will bring Rock Band 2’s track list up to 100. Although there’s no word about what this DLC will include or when it will hit, the fact that one game will have 100 songs included in its base price of $60 is very cool and definitely makes you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of the title. For $5, players will also be able to “transfer” songs from the original Rock Band to Rock Band 2.
To go with the all-new game, there are also all-new Rock Band 2-specific peripherals that have been tweaked and modified to improve upon the pre-existing peripherals. The drum set definitely wins the award for “most improved” this time around, and it addresses three of the major complaints about last year’s drum set: the sound, the foot pedal, and being tethered to the console. The most noticeable thing about last year’s drum kit was that the noise it made when you hit the pads. It was very loud and could really interfere with your enjoyment of the music in the game. It was also annoying to band mates. However, this problem has been addressed, and this year’s pads are much quieter, although they still do emit some noise. The second major improvement in the Rock Band 2 drums is the metal bass pedal. Last year’s drum kit had a plastic pedal that had a tendency to break after you used it for awhile. But now that the foot pedal is reinforced with presumably indestructible metal, that shouldn’t be a problem. Finally, the drum kit is now connected to your console wirelessly. This is actually true of all the new instruments in Rock Band 2. Players no longer have to fuss with the silly USB hub and tangled cords of the original.
There is also a more subtle upgrade in the Rock Band 2 drum kit. The drums are now pressure-sensitive, meaning that a soft pat will yield a softer drum noise, while an aggressive hit will produce a much louder sound. This is not necessarily important for gameplay per se, but it really helps you get into the mood of the song. The Rock Band 2 drum kit also has expansion ports for cymbals, although these are not available for use in the actual game yet. The Rock Band 2 drum kit is a whopping $90.00 on its own, but it’s well worth it if you are a drum aficionado (or broke your pedal last year!).
The guitar has also been altered for Rock Band 2, although these changes are a little less striking than the drum modifications. The strum bar has been reengineered to be a little bit more firm than it was last year, and, of course, the look of the guitar has been completely changed, emulating a wooden finish. However, if you still have your guitar from last year (or a compatible Guitar Hero controller for that matter), I would just stick with that one. Unless, of course, the wireless functionality is too tempting for you and you’ve got money to burn.
Rock Band 2 is definitely an upgrade over its previous entry. Although its best aspect is probably the 80+ songs that come with it, you’ll find a whole host of new and upgraded features that will keep you rocking for quite some time. Even if you have never rocked before, Rock Band’s “no-fail” mode makes this one an easy choice for casual or new players. But if you are among the hardcore sect, get ready to bust out the devil horns, turn the volume up to 11, and rock out with Rock Band 2!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Although you may not be paying attention, the band graphics and animations look very cool. The use of different filters still looks great. 4.5 Control
Instruments work very well, and control is not an issue. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
With 80 songs from the last five decades packed in and 20 more on the way, the soundtrack to this game is truly epic. 4.2 Play Value
Although the World Tour mode is a breeze, the challenge modes as well as the different multiplayer battle modes and online play will keep you rocking for quite some time! 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.