Rock Band 2ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: MTV Games
1-4 Players (Offline)
2-4 Player Co-op
Drum Kit Compatible
The original Rock Band did something that no one expected; it challenged the long running Guitar Hero series for supremacy in the music genre. It a fresh and new experience as it brought a whole new concept to the table, playing as a whole band rather then just a guitarist. Rock Band also was aggressive, and still is, in its attempt to put weekly DLC into the homes and onto Xboxes of those who desire it. Although the game was good there were still some areas that needed some improvement (e.g. ability to play World Tour online). So now the time has come for Rock Band 2, and after some time with the game it looks like Harmonix listened to those who cared, the fans.
Visually speaking Rock Band 2 does not look that much different from Rock Band 1. But that is not particularly a bad thing as the game has a unique look to it that really does the job. Rock Band 2 does not push the graphics envelope of the Xbox 360, but that being said, it is a party centric game with focus on gameplay, so the visuals take a back seat to sound and gameplay. In terms of what occurs on screen, I agree with fellow staffer Jamie O and his take on the visuals in the original Rock Band. He stated that “...without the ongoing animation during each performance, the game would procure some significant points in the negative bin.”
The game has a pretty good diversity of characters on screen, including your own created character. The art style is somewhat hard to describe, but I can sum it up as cartoon like as it is definitely not on the realistic side. During your performance the action plays out behind your fret bars so it is somewhat secondary you’ll be focused on the colored squares indicating when to hit your note. The characters and stage they are performing on has a grainy look to it which gives it a bit of a film like appearance. Lip syncing is pretty impressive as is the strumming and drumming of each character.
If I have one major pet peeve in the visual department it is that the game does not take into account the gender of the singer belting out the words. There were numerous times when the real life song I was playing had a female singing but on-screen was a male vocalist. This also occurred in reverse too. Although it is a minor gripe you can’t help but shake your head when you hear a sexy female singing only to see some ‘rocker-dude’ performing on screen.
Sound in a game like this is paramount, and Harmonix made sure to nail this aspect of the game. Rock Band 2 contains an 84 song set-list and all of these are master tracks. No more seeing the moniker “As made famous by...” in the title of a song. The list is quite diverse with songs from AC/DC (Let There Be Rock), Beastie Boys (So Whatcha ‘Ya Want), Cheap Trick (Hello There), Metallica (Battery), The Offspring (Come Out & Play), Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Give It Away), Rush (The Trees), The Who (Pinball Wizard) and many more. It seems that Harmonix was really trying to reach a broad range of gamers and this mix of songs seems to do the job. As an added bonus if you look on the back of the instruction manual there is a code for 20 more tracks whose artists are still unannounced as I finish this review. So once this free download goes live you’ll have 104 songs right off the bat, all for the price of the single game.
Technically speaking, this game is encoded in Dolby Digital and it sounds great. This becomes really evident in any song that you are playing and the crowd starts to sing along with you. Your speakers fill the room in such a way that it really sounds like you are on stage with a crowd of adoring fans in front cheering you on while they sing the lyrics with you. Of course there is also ample use of the subwoofer and depending on your song your sub can get a really decent work out.
For the uninitiated, Rock Band’s concept is simple. It allows you to take on the role of a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist or a singer and allows any or all of these roles to literally rock-out to the music that is included on the game disc or via downloadable content. There are varying degrees of difficulty for each song and you can also choose a specific skill level for each instrument you play. If you didn’t know what Rock Band was about you do now. So the biggest question is: what does the game change, or not change, since its release last year?
First off the core gameplay of Rock Band 2 is not any different then the first, but in the end you have to know that this is not a bad thing. The learning curve in the original Rock Band seemed very balanced and anyone who wanted to climb the skill ranks could do so at a fairly even pace. This was very noticeable by me, as I found that I could enter the medium skill setting and try to do hard on a more ‘even keel’ then when I played Rock Band’s competitor Guitar Hero. This is significant as it allows a much broader audience to play the game and enjoy it as is not as frustrating as it could be. Many of my friends who consider themselves causal gamers have voiced the same opinion as me. Regardless, Rock Band 2 plays the same way that its predecessor did specifically in the game mechanics area.
There are basically two types of crowds who will pick up and play Rock Band 2, hardcore and casual gamers. Those who fall into the hardcore group will want to play all the instruments, master each song, and get the best score as possible. Casual gamers are those who just want to jam to their favorite tunes or bring out the instruments during a social get together to enjoy some music and gaming with friends or family. Although I fall into the middle I guess I would lean more to the casual as I don’t care if I master everything, I really just want to have fun while being as successful as possible. Anyhow, Rock Band 2 seems to make an effort to satisfy both crowds in different ways.
The hardcore will see a change in the game in such that there are some pretty tough tracks and a larger amount then last time. Don’t get me wrong, the original Rock Band could be tough but I don’t think they challenged everyone. Personally I was able to make my way through quicker and somewhat easier then I thought I would and I am far from an expert. This time around Rock Band 2 offers up some doozy’s. I was able to get through them but man did I have to work at it. And this was on my first time through on medium. So those looking for a more ramped up challenge will find it here on more then one occasion.
In terms of the casual crowd, I believe that those who just want to jam now and then, or bring out the game for friends, will have a much more user friendly experience and get a lot more out of the game. First off you will find is that a band is no longer tied to a specific character and that any character can play any instrument as you are no longer chained to just one. The original Rock Band was also a pain in such that you had to sign each player in the band under a separate account, but in Rock Band 2 this is no more as anyone can just choose a ready made player, then an instrument and away they go. So as you can already see, the options for anyone who just wants to pick up and play a song or two is much more streamlined making it easier to do.
Something that is also key in Rock Band 2, and is an extreme benefit for those looking for a true casual experience (e.g. new to the game or not a huge fan of the genre), is the ability to enter the “Game Modifier” section and activate the “No Fail” option. Here you can play along with the songs and not have to worry about failing. This is a true casual play option so you cannot compete in the majority of regular modes, but regardless of this fact it is perfect for parities and whatnot where you can play any song or set-list that you create without worry. In many ways I applaud this feature as again it makes the whole Rock Band experience so much more accessible to those out there. Heck, even my four year old daughter, who loves music, can now pick up the Rock Band Guitar and wildly jam away.
The meat of Rock Band 2 is the same as the original, the World Tour mode. This is your career. Harmonix made some changes in this area to allow everyone to enjoy it. First off you can play the whole World Tour mode on your own without any one else playing with you. You will still earn the same amount of fans as you would playing with others, you still earn your stars and cash, and you still progress along at the regular pace. Should you desire the addition of others, and you have no one at your home, you can now take the World Tour online. This is a great feature as it allows you to continue your career from where you left it, but you can now add an online buddy right at that point. Trevor H and I enjoyed the fact that one day we could play in my World Tour and the next day we could play in his. This allowed both of our careers to advance while continuing the whole social aspect of the game. This is also a great way to help one another get some of the Xbox 360 achievements. I started my band in Seattle (West Coast) while Trevor H started his in Europe. When he played in my career he got some West Coast specific achievements and when I played in his career I got some of his location specific achievements.
Also new to the World Tour mode are some special events that randomly take place during your rise to fame. For example, you can now participate in the filming of a music video that will help to promote your band’s stage shows. Also new is the fact that you can hire and fire staff members who can aid in your venture to be a top band. They can range from staffers who will put posters all over town in an effort to get more crowds to your events to promoters with access to specific venues. It is little things like this that manage to make the World Tour that more enjoyable.
Harmonix made sure that they also added some new modes to the overall Rock Band experience, and a notable one is the new Battle of the Bands. In this mode you can complete against other rockers to see who has the maddest skills. It is a series of rotating challenges in which you can compete against friends or other online gamers. These challenges can range from obtaining a minimum score on a specific track to getting the highest note streak. This is a pretty neat feature and I found myself looking for specific battles that my friends did and I took up the occasional challenge of trying to beat them. When you play these battles you will see a meter at the top of your screen where your score is in comparison to the score you are trying to beat, and when you beat it you can then see how much you are beating it by. Although I didn’t play a lot of battles, having this option new to the series was pretty cool and something that shredders and drummer wannabes should enjoy for quite sometime.
A quick review of the Rock Band 2 instruction manual notes that there is a new feature for veterans of the series: Tour Challenges. Here you can strive for musical perfection by playing increasingly difficult sets of songs, either solo or with friends, locally or online. You will start with a basic three-set song test in drums, guitar, vocals or full band. As you progress you will open up some pretty interesting challenges and the game creates these challenges from all the available music that you have available. They are a nice diversion and I quite enjoyed playing them.
This leads me to my next point, and something that I found very impressive with Rock Band 2. When going through the World Tour or the Challenges the game actually pulls music from all the content that you have available. This includes the new and improved Rock Band 2 set-list and any DLC you have on your HDD. Should you have taken advantage of the ability to transfer your original Rock Band’s set-list to Rock Band 2, then it will pull songs from there too. The number of tracks that you can have from the get-go to play in your World Tour or Tour Challenges is darn right incredible. I liked the fact that I could play some music from the original game, my DLC and of course the new set-list. It was impressive to have so many tracks for the game to choose from.
My final note on what’s new and improved has to do with an area that I have never been strong at, drums. Along with the regular tutorials for newbies to learn the tricks of the trade, this latest edition of Rock Band includes a new Drum Trainer. This allows you to practice specific drum patterns from a library of samples on the disc. You can play ‘Beat Trainer’, which you learn the fundamentals, ‘Fill Trainer’ where you learn the basics for fills, and ‘Freestyle Mode’, where you can bang around at your own beat and even import music from your HDD to drum along to. This is a great way to learn the new in’s and out’s of drumming and it actually helped me improve somewhat. That being said, I am still not the most proficient at it, but this training mode really did help me.
Along with the improvements to the gameplay of Rock Band 2, there have also been some changes in the instrument department as the guitar and drums have been upgraded. Both have now been made wireless. This is a great upgrade as it cuts down on the number of cables on the floor. I enjoyed the fact that I did not have so many cables running around my demo area. The guitar has a new and improved strum bar and feels a lot less mushy. I remember my time with the original Rock Band Guitar when it first came out, I didn’t like it at all and I stuck with the Guitar Hero III one. If you didn’t like the original Rock Band guitar odds are that you probably won’t like the new wireless one as there is no significant changes to make it that different. As for the new drums, although they look the same Harmonix has made some changes to them for a better drumming experience. First off they are quieter. Second off they are now pressure sensitive, so it will know if you hit it hard or soft. Both of these are big changes and something that is welcome. Many die-hard drummers out there can now know that their ability to hit hard or soft will be registered just like when they actually play a real drum. The final change to the new drums is that the pedal is metal and should stand up to some more wear and tear then the original one.
At the time of writing this review you cannot buy a Special Edition of Rock Band 2, so each new instrument is sold separately. So are the new instruments worth the purchase? The answer depends on what you want. If you want less wires, and you are used to the Rock Band guitar, then yes to both as they would be a benefit to you. That being said, the most worthwhile instrument of the two in terms of what has been changed is the wireless drums so you may want to hold off on the guitar if you are ok with what you have already.
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