Keeps getting better with age, just like most music.
The original idea behind Rock Band was one of the most ambitious in a long time. Create the ultimate music game that would become a platform in and of itself with continuous downloadable content. For the most part this promise has come true and gamers have been enjoying weekly updates that continue to keep the game fresh. When Harmonix announced a full-fledged sequel many were taken back; this was going against everything the developers had promised. We could get new songs through download, new features from title updates and if we wanted new instruments that could be arranged separately, but a whole new disc seemed unreasonable.
That is until you get your hands on the disc and realized that everything Harmonix has crammed into this package is more than worth the sixty dollars with just the track list alone. Introducing new features as well as streamlining all complaints users had about the first game make Rock Band 2 a must purchase for fans of the original. Combine that with the massive amount of new tunes (all of which are now original versions as opposed to covers) and you finally have the ultimate edition of Rock Band that should last you the duration of this console cycle.
Let’s start with what is by far the biggest addition to Rock Band 2: the new music. Never before has such a large list of well-known artists come together for a game of this type, and depending on your taste in music the only thing that could even come close is Activision’s upcoming band-focused Guitar Hero. There are a total of 84 new songs including the likes of AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters, Metallica, Megadeth, Journey and in a first the brand new Guns ’N Roses song from their yet-to-be-released album. It is also worth noting that every song in the game is a master track meaning no more awful Geddy Lee impersonators. These tracks are in fact the real deal. With this many songs there are bound to be a few that you could care less for, but the beauty of games like Rock Band is the ability to experience (and perhaps even grow to love) music that you have never heard before.
Rock Band 2 doesn’t forget that you have already invested in the series either. If you own the original game you can download almost all of the original songs (only three are omitted) to your hard drive and play them in the sequel. All of your downloaded content can also be streamlined directly into the game as well as all future purchases. There is a minimal licensing fee associated with this, but to be honest five bucks just to not have to swap discs is more than worth it. All of your legacy songs are also implemented directly into every mode within Rock Band 2 creating a play list that will remain unrivaled for quite a while to come. Early adopters of the game will also receive a code that will give them access to an additional 20 tracks available before the year’s end to bring the total possible tracks in the game to over 500 before the start of 2009. Not too bad for a year’s worth of work.
As I mentioned at the start of this review everything wrong with the first game has been addressed. The biggest gripe I had with the original is how it forced you to keep the same members during World Tour mode. Having to get the same four people together in the same room on a regular basis is a pain and not being able to pick it up online was a catastrophic faux pas. With Rock Band 2 all of these headaches have been fixed as you can drop in and out of World Tour with anyone willing to play and even take the action online if you prefer. You can also switch instruments during the World Tour; so if you decide you want to switch from playing guitar to drums, you can do it with little complications.
The social aspect of the game has also been greatly improved, which continues to enforce the idea that developers do indeed listen to feedback from gamers. Rock Band was built for parties and this time around there is much more freedom in the way you play. You can now create a set list in Quick Play allowing you to rock out to your favorite set of songs without interruption. Casual players will also enjoy a no-fail option that allows players not quite as devoted to enjoy the game without fear of failing the entire band. The visual aspect is also worth mentioning as it really does add to the overall feel of the game. The set list now includes album art for each song and a difficulty rating below each track letting players know just how hard their instrument part is. All around Harmonix has done an amazing job of making Rock Band even more accessible and continued to improve on the king of party games.
What hasn’t changed too much though is how Rock Band works from a game play perspective. It is no secret that the original game had some ridiculously easy guitar note charts when compared to everyone else in the genre. With the sequel that has changed significantly. While not quite on the preposterous level as say Guitar Hero III, they have been tweaked to challenge even the most hardcore player. Vocals on the other hand have been extremely toned down giving players a chance to earn the coveted 100% Achievement with little effort. Everything else feels fairly familiar with the exception of a few more hammer-ons and pull-offs on the tougher difficulties, but as the saying goes if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
In addition to the tweaks in World Tour mode Harmonix has also added some new challenges to help spice up the melodic pace of the core game. The biggest of these is the new Battle of the Bands mode where you can compete against online leaderboards in a variety of challenges. These can range from entire band challenges to instrument-specific and Harmonix has promised at least one new challenge per day. The best part of these challenges is their randomness; you will rarely see two of the same challenge. They can include a specific genre of music, DLC packs, specific difficulties and even band challenges that can only be performed with all four instruments jamming out. If Harmonix continues to trend of updating these daily it could really turn into a cultural phenomenon and the possibilities are endless.
With the release of Rock Band 2 comes the introduction to new instruments and luckily we had some time to try out these new plastic noise makers. First and foremost everything in Rock Band 2 (outside the microphone of course) is completely wireless on Xbox 360, so no more need for an extra USB hub. The new guitar sports a slick sunburst look, but aside from that feels entirely identical to the original, complete with squishy strum bar. Fans of the original will no doubt enjoy it being wireless, but if you still prefer the Guitar Hero controller it works just fine with Rock Band 2.
The drums on the other hand are a major improvement in many areas. First and foremost the heads have been covered in a much smoother material making them much quieter than the original set. The foot pedal is also now made much stronger thanks to a metal design. Overall the drums really are worth the investment if you are planning on spending a lot of time behind the kit. It is also worth noting that they are velocity sensitive and register how hard you hit them by making the corresponding sound in the game; very nice. Both new instruments take three AA batteries and last surprisingly long making them a nice compliment to the game.
Anyone doubting the value of releasing a sequel to Rock Band can end their concerns now. I admit that I was weary of spending sixty bucks on what is essentially new DLC, but when you factor in all of what was put into this package the price is actually a value. With 84 tracks on the disc, an additional 20 more coming before year’s end and the gigantic amount of improvements to an already stellar game Rock Band 2 is a music game lover’s dream come true.