Rock Band 2 PS3, Xbox 360
Revolution does not come cheap. $200 million and 20 months work saw Harmonix and Electronic Arts release Rock Band, the game EA will hope does for downloadable content what the iPod did for MP3 players. Historically, music games such as Guitar Hero were limited to one instrument and a maximum of two players, whereas Rock Band allows up to three friends to play music across a range of instruments at the same time. Players around the world quickly donned their spandex, ran a comb through their power mullets and were ready, axes in hand, waiting to rock.
Less than a year has passed since Rock Band was released and Rock Band 2 is more evolution than revolution. The gameplay follows the dynamic created by its forbearer; players can sing, drum and play bass or guitar either on their own or with up to three friends. Instruments from the first Rock Band work, as well as previous and current Guitar Hero controllers, so for players with any instruments only the disc is needed.
The first noteworthy addition to Rock Band 2 is its drum trainer. Comprising of what is essentially a set of drumming challenges, the trainer eases players into the role of drummer. It is a nice addition that allows beginners to get a feel for the instrument, whilst providing a medium for experts to prepare for the newly added drum solo sections.
Key to a great music game are the songs, and Rock Band 2 does not disappoint. 84 master recordings are included on the game disc with the promise of an additional 20 exclusive downloadable tracks. Rock Band 2 has a diverse and varied set list featuring some of the best artistes of the last 40 years. There are big names here: Bob Dylan, The Who, Metallica, Pearl Jam and from Guns and Roses’ Chinese Democracy, “Shacklers Revenge”. While not every track will be to everyone’s taste, there is a lot of quality music here.
If 104 tracks are not reason enough, Harmonix has introduced a bonus for buyers of the first game. Early adopters have been given the opportunity download the original set of 55 tracks (bar 3) from Rock Band for a meagre fee. These are added to your Rock Band 2 downloadable content; no longer are the songs discarded with the old game. This conceivably means the first time a player boots up Rock Band 2, they could be faced with a track list of over 150 songs.
Rock Band 2 ditches the rules of progression that have been intrinsic in music games since Frequency. Gone is the need to complete every song in difficulty order, and this creates a much more organic experience. World Tour mode, which used to be reserved as cooperative play mode from Rock Band, has been revamped and is now the chosen tool of progression for your rock star. Best of all, this mode can be played online.
World Tour is where players will be spending the most time, and although taken straight from Rock Band, it has been enhanced. Hiring a staff can help the band in different ways, from gaining additional fans to earning more cash. Other touches include set lists that can be changed by way of ad-hoc challenges, or by a music video shoot request.
One very welcome enhancement to World Tour is the way your character can be used. In Rock Band, players were bound to their instruments. If you felt like doing some drumming, but were a singer, a second tour had to be started. Characters in Rock Band 2 can be brought in and out of a band, both on and offline, and are not tied to any instrument. Only one avatar is required, and it helps the player develop a kinship with their pixelated doppelganger.
Rock Band was a great game, but was not without its complaints. The level of challenge offered for guitarists and bass players was not high enough. For experienced players that mastered the most challenging songs of Guitar Hero (such as “Fire and Flames” and “Six”), Rock Band’s challenge appeared somewhat lacking. Taking this into account, Harmonix has upped the challenge, and then some. Expert level difficulty is certainly worthy of its name, with an almost sadistic difficulty provided in some tracks, such as “Visions” and “Panic Attack”. That is not to say that Rock Band 2 is less accessible, thanks to the inclusion of a “no fail” mode; now the most tone deaf, three thumbed players can join in and enjoy the game without feeling the guilt or embarrassment of failing the band.
Online, Rock Band 2 allows access to World Tour and the usual modes of player face-off and tug-of-war. Harmonix treats players to a variety of improvements, from being able to allow any player to pick a song whilst in band mode, to the inspired inclusion of the new Battle of the Bands. This mode is a series of challenges that are regularly added by Harmonix for players to complete certain tasks, such as play an album by Nirvana, to most drum hits without a miss. It is a very cool feature that is mutually beneficial to both Harmonix and players – players have a new challenge regularly, and Harmonix profits from downloadable content via the Rockband Music Store.
With such a huge catalogue of music to choose from and an expanding library from which to purchase new tracks, it’s very pleasing to see that the song selection menu from Rock Band has been vastly overhauled. The tracks were listed by difficulty and with potentially 500+ tracks to choose from, the result was a very long list to scroll through. Songs can now be selected by location and are categorised by type such as Rock Band 2 tracks, DLC, difficulty, and artist, with intelligent quick keys to get to the content faster.
This is a worthy sequel with a look and feel that are more polished than last year’s effort. There’s a lot more songs to add to your collection, solid Drum Trainer and new Battle of the Bands. Rock Band 2 is well worth your time and money, just don’t expect it to be the revolution the original was.