Name: Rock Band 2
Genre: Music, Rhythm
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
When Rock Band first started appearing on “Coming Soon” lists in early 2007, I scoffed. No way was this new game going to come in and usurp the Guitar Hero series, which, at the time, seemed invincible. I thought that people would be out of their minds to pay almost $200 for a game with three instruments, especially those plastic drums, which just appeared ridiculous when I first saw pictures of them. As the release date drew nearer, though, I started to come around, and when the game came out last November, I was instantly hooked. Nearly a year later, Rock Band is still a constantly-played game among my friends, family, and myself. I’ve seen it bring people together like no other game ever has, and right out of the gate, the Rock Band franchise was damn near perfect. So how is Rock Band 2 supposed to deliver after an opening act like that? Well, a few things were tweaked, but for the most part, Harmonix followed the age-old credo: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If Rock Band 2 appears to be similar to Rock Band when you first load it up, that’s because it is. The menu screen, the character customization, and the World Tour have remained largely unchanged. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a complete clone of the first game. There are some more options as far as character creation goes, both cosmetically and wardrobe-wise. Different faces and an entirely new category of clothing have been added to the game, as well as some new threads in the other departments. I would have liked to see a new stance—rock, punk, metal, and goth animations are getting a little old—but honestly, that’s a very minor complaint that has almost no bearing on the actual gameplay.
Rock Band 2 comes with over 80 new songs, and a promise from Harmonix for 20 more free downloadable songs in the near future. For those asking why this game couldn’t just be DLC, consider the fact that 100 songs would cost about $200 to download, so $60 doesn’t seem so bad. As far as claims that it’s just an “expansion pack”, with only Guitar Hero’s subpar Rocks the 80s and Aerosmith for comparison, Rock Band 2 has more than twice the songs of either of those games—and that’s not even counting all of the previously released DLC and songs from the first Rock Band.
All of the songs you have previously downloaded automatically work in Rock Band 2, and if you’ve gotten as much extra content for Rock Band as I have, that is a huge relief. As for songs from the first game, you do have to pay a $5 charge to have them transferred into the second game, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, even though I don’t really understand the technicalities of licensing fees, I don’t really think it’s fair that I should have to pay for songs that I already bought on the first Rock Band disc. On the other hand, it is a small price to pay to not have to switch discs ever again and make Rock Band 2 even more of a party game experience than the first game was, with a seemingly endless supply of songs to choose from.
The heart of Rock Band 2, like the first Rock Band, is the World Tour mode, and while this remains almost entirely unchanged, Harmonix has made a few tweaks to improve it over the last one. First of all, you can now do a World Tour online, something that was sorely lacking in the last game. As long as you have some friends available, you can take your band on the road, and the fact that you don’t need to have the same band mates all the time is something of a relief. Also, as far as local tours go, there is no longer a “band leader” tied to an instrument that must be used at all times for that particular band, which was a pain in the first Rock Band. For example, if you previously made a drummer the main player, but couldn’t use the drums to play at certain times because it pissed off your neighbors, you could not advance in that tour. Having the freedom to use any of your created characters on any instrument at any time just makes the experience even smoother.
The game’s former single-player mode, the Solo Tour, has been done away with completely, which I had mixed feelings about at first. However, you can now do the entire World Tour while playing alone, something that couldn’t be done in the first game, and in the end, I think this is actually a better choice. It lengthens the single-player experience and gives you more options, instead of just playing a straightforward list of songs, one at a time. Now you can create set lists, play random or lengthy set lists, and do anything available in the World Tour mode, even if you don’t have any friends around to play with.
In addition to the World Tour, there are all new challenges, aptly called “Battle of the Bands”, that you can play with people from all over the world for a shot at the top score on the leaderboard. These appear randomly and change frequently, and usually consist of a short set list with some kind of common theme. There’s also a new drum trainer, a “No Fail” mode that is sure to come in handy during heated Rock Band party sessions, the ability to build your own set list in Quick Play mode (another group favorite), and training exercises that make more songs available. All of these are small additions, but they complete the package and make Rock Band 2 an incredibly well-rounded game.
You need to know that if you buy Rock Band 2, you are essentially getting Rock Band 1.5, or maybe Rock Band Plus. However, to be completely honest, I really find nothing wrong with that in this case. Rock Band seemed like the definitive music game experience when it came out, and Rock Band 2 has taken it even further, fixing the few things that were wrong with the first and adding a little bit extra to boot. The game is fully worth the $60 price tag. I prefer small improvements on an already-fantastic game over a revamping that could have just ruined everything. Rock Band proved to be one of the most replayable games in history, and I’m guessing that Rock Band 2 is going to take its place as a constant invader of my Xbox 360. Harmonix should be commended for once again delivering in a big way.