Arriving less than a year after its predecessor with a mountain of momentum behind it, Rock Band 2 was a sure-fire hit. If you purchased the first, there was a good chance you'd grab the second, if only for that monster song list. If you gave the first a pass, now was your chance to join the music rhythm phenomenon via the folks behind pushing the genre to extreme levels. At least that's one take on things. The other is that Rock Band 2 doesn't exist in a vacuum. The game has a growing list of competitors, and while Rock Band certainly seemed to have won the first round, round two is still up for grabs.
Should you stay or should you go? Does Harmonix still corner the market on video game rocking out? We'll see.
Still a Blast: If nothing else Rock Band 2 is still Rock Band. It's still an addictive, easy to pick-up-and-play rhythm game with surprising depth. And this time around the Harmonix folks have made it even easier for the musically challenged to get their groove on with "No Fail Mode" and expanded training modes.
Bringing It On(line): One of the biggest additions to Rock Band 2 is the inclusion of full-on, online tour multiplayer. The ability to create a band, have friends and strangers hop on with you and jam out is a huge plus for the game.
Music Selection: Bob Dylan. I really don't need to say anything else. The addition of folk rock legend Dylan is just one of many delightful selections awaiting you among the more than 80 songs on the game, including The Who, Metallica and AC/DC.
Backward Compatibility: If that 80-plus song list wasn't enough for you, Rock Band 2 has you covered. Not only do all of the songs purchased online for the original Rock Band play in the new game, but for $5 you can have 55 of the 58 songs found on the original Rock Band disc ripped to your hard drive to play in Rock Band 2.
Smooth Instruments: Quieter guitars, with a more realistic veneer and (at least for me) a better feel, are a huge plus for a game that relies so heavily on its peripherals. The drums are also upgraded, with a bit more padding to quiet them down and more stable legs to keep them from wiggling as much. Even the drumsticks have changed ever so slightly. Oh and there's that whole wireless thing. Sure it may not be as realistic for the guitars, but in this case I'm willing to sacrifice realism for going wire free.
Disorienting Solo Tour: In general I'm OK with the campaign-esque tour mode. I love that it no longer distinguishes between single player and multiplayer. But what I don't love is how free-formed it is. I want to have a cohesive journey, one that forces me to play from one gig to the next, earning respect and better opportunities. Sure some of that is in Rock Band 2's tour, but the fact that I can jump around from city to city willy-nilly can be disorienting, especially when I'm trying to figure out how best to proceed. And these set lists created at the different venues, they can be quite aggravating, forcing me to replay the same song more than once, or not crediting me on the song, for completing it. It's a minor point, but for fans of solo play, is worth noting.
Trainer With Few Lessons: I was quite excited to learn that Rock Band 2 was going to feature a Drum Trainer mode. QUITE. But when I finally got my hands on it, it was a bit disappointing. I was hoping that the trainer would have a bit more depth, maybe a better way of tracking progress or some sort of lesson plans. Instead I got a bunch of rhythms and tempos and very little guidance.
Quiet, but Maybe Not Quiet Enough: The drums are most certainly quieter than those hard jobbies from the original game, but over time they seem to be getting louder and louder. Nowadays when I play I have to crank up the music to hear the television drums over my own pounding.
Where's the New: Here's the thing. Rock Band was amazing, a genuine leap forward for both Harmonix and the genre of rhythm gaming. Rock Band 2? Not so much. In fact it almost feels like a really deep expansion pack. It has tons of tweaks, lots of great new music, but no fundamental shift, nothing that would reinvigorate my flagging interest in the genre, if it were flagging.
Rock Band 2 is essentially a much better, more polished Rock Band with an amazing new set list and better instruments. The songs alone would probably be worth the price of entry and if you're up for new instruments, this is a great way to do that as well. But with the exception of one important online gameplay addition, don't really expect a different experience.
I'm still loving Rock Band 2. I play it daily, my son plays it daily, even my wife has expressed interest in checking it out. I just hope that Rock Band and the creative folks at Harmonix aren't headed down the path of Madden.
Rock Band 2, developed by Harmonix and published by Electronic Arts was released on Sept. 14 for the Xbox 360. Retails for $60 for just the game, $190 for the special edition with instruments. Focused on tour mode both solo and with others, tested Xbox Live online play.
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