Yesterday I was among a group of games press-related folk sitting in on a presentation of Rock Band 2, the next iteration of the smash hit band simulator from MTV, Harmonix, and EA. After being presented with the game's new features and spending some lungs-on time with the title, one thing became perfectly clear - Rock Band 2 isn't about innovation. Rock Band 2 is about tweaking existing concepts and adding a few new ones to try and provide the most complete experience possible. Rock Band 2 is about perfecting the game. From what I've seen so far, they're well on their way.
You saw the complete track list that Leigh posted for the game on Monday? A truly impressive set of songs. Now add the Rock Band 1 music and the DLC, and you've got one hell of an iPod setlist. It looks very impressive plastered across the back wall of the tiny conference room the presentation takes place in, but the main draw is the tiny stage up front, where the plastic instruments await.
John from Harmonix takes us through the new features of the game. First up is the song listing. With over 200 songs available for the game including DLC and RB1 music, you can imagine scrolling through the entire list of songs to find one can be a real pain in the arse. To this end they've added several new sorting types. You can select songs from source, decade, artist, and album - and clicking the headers launches you into a playlist including everything in that category. Say you want to play all the songs you've downloaded from a particular The Who album. Just highlight the album title and you're off. A tiny tweak that not only adds to convenience, but adds to gameplay variety as well.
Next up are the instruments. No big changes for my weapon of choice, the microphone, but the guitar and drums have both undergone several tweaks. The guitar itself now features a woodgrain-looking neck to help maintain the illusion of actually rocking, while a new auto-calibration feature flashes a light in time with your TV screen to measure the delay and adjust accordingly.
The drums at first look pretty much the same, but when you start adding on expansions they shin. The cymbals in the Rock Band 2 drum set are add-ons that can be taken off or added as you please. What's more, you can unplug the controller from the drum heads and plug in an add-on that turns your RB2 drums into a fully working electronic drum kit. Other tweaks to the drums include a better feeling bass pedal and a drum tutor for the game that will help you get into the rhythm of things.
Probably one of the most exciting features of Rock Band 2 is the Battle of the Bands mode. Rather than just having two bands facing off against each other, the Battle of the Bands features bands from all over the world competing at once through a variety of daily challenges. Challenges appear in the game each day, such as playing through a certain set, performing songs from a certain artists, etc. You can check your band's performance against your friends list or the world to see where your band ranks once a challenge is complete. While you might not be the best overall band in the world, you can still be a challenge champion, something that gives everyone a chance to shine whether they start playing from day one or pick the game up months down the line.
Other tweaks include hireable staff that make a difference to how much money you make or how many fans you bring in, adding an element of strategy to the career mode, new venues to play in, a No Fail mode so your kids can play without feeling like that are losing, because that's somehow bad, and a jukebox mode, where you pick the band and set list and just watch them perform, perfect for parties!
As the presentation runs down I prepare to take the stage, grabbing the microphone while fellow members of the press take up the drums, guitar, and bass. The artist is The Foo Fighters. The rest is musical history.