Rock Band 2 (360) – Review

Harmonix’s and MTV Games’ Rock Band was a stunning success last year, beating the Guitar Hero to the punch at incorporating several more instruments besides just guitar into the music game set.  Now, less than a year later, we’ve got Rock Band 2 (at least, those of us on Xbox 360s), and while it’s denoted as a sequel, it’s better to think of it as a version upgrade; there’s no major changes to gameplay (unless you never had the opportunity to play in Band World Tour mode before), and the set list is full of 84 new songs, so it may seem like simply a quick way to chug out a new title.  But Rock Band 2 is very very polished, and a few new features and some tweaks to gameplay really make up for all the small failings that were in Rock Band.  But more importantly, add in the fact that while there may only be 84 songs on disk, you have your DLC library as well as most of the original game’s songs available to play, making this title one that will continue to expand week after week.


Gameplay: A+

I will note that I am still using my old instruments instead of purchasing the new ones (which I have read are generally better), so I don’t consider issues with these as part of the game experience; the only notable aspect here is that while the new guitar does have auto-calibration, the game still allows for this adjustment but does lack default settings that otherwise can be found in the manual.

The smartest thing about Rock Band 2 is that the core gameplay hasn’t changed.  In some sequels, having the same exact gameplay as the previous title is a quick way to make the series old, but that’s not the case here, as it’s what is wrapped around the core game that makes Rock Band 2 stand out from its prequel.  Maybe the hammer-on and pull-off times are a bit looser (I know I was making more than I thought I would from the first game), and maybe other timings are a bit stricter, and there’s a full pull-off chords now, but outside of these tiny tiny changes, you know exactly what you have to do when you see those notes scrolling at you.

What makes Rock Band 2 superior to it’s predecessor, and likely to continue to improve upon in any follow-up game, is that how that core gameplay is wrapped.  Gone is Career mode, which, to some extent, is a bit of a loss if only to make it easy to run through and unlock all of the 84 songs on disk as well as for tracking your own personal performance against the song list (such as which songs you’ve yet beaten on Expert Guitar).  However, by replacing this with the any-number-of-players World Tour mode (either online or off), the game is just tons more fun.  I unforuntately did not have a regular group of close friends off-line to play Band World Tour though I dabbled at the combo of guitar and vocals to see what the fuss was about for Rock Band.  But to have that off the bat here makes for a phenomenially deep experience.  Sure, I’ve about unlocked all venues and most of the songs, but I feel I’ve yet to really get deep into the experience of the Tour on my own.  As with Band World Tour mode before, you start locally, working various songs or setlists to build up cash and fans.  Soon you’ll be offered the chance for a van to get you to more local areas, and eventually to a bus and a plane to achieve worldwide stardom.  Once in a while you will be offered the opportunity to risk earnings (in money or fans) from the upcoming performance by meeting specific requests.  New to this version (as I understand) is that you can hire a crew member (only one at a time) that may help you access certain cities, unlock certain arenas, earn you more money or fans, or even bring about more of the risk offerings.  There’s also a few times that you’ll be asked to do a video shoot (for specific songs), with additional rewards from that.  Most arenas have both random and constructed setlist challenges in addition to pre-determined setlists as well as single songs.  Earn enough stars and you can unlock the daunting “Endless Challenge 2” playing all 84 songs in a single set.

Fortunately, the Tour mode expands beyond this with two other new features.  The first are a set of challenges, set for specific instruments or for a band, arranged in a number of tiers. This is probably closer to the more typical Career Mode, in that you can’t play challenges in higher tiers until you unlock certain ones in the lower tiers, and these are generally arranged by difficulty. But there are also more generic challenges, such a “70s Songs”, as well as artist challenges and the like.  These integrate with your DLC and Rock Back 1 tracks so that, despite the lack of Weezer in RB2, there is a Weezer challenge if you have downloaded all three songs.  The other new mode, Battle of the Bands, works in a similar manner, offering the same kind of challenges, but tying it with a global scoreboard.  When you play one of these, you are immediately mapped against a friend’s band (the next highest score on the challenge if you’ve ranked before), and during the set your performance is shown compared to theirs using the Tug-Of-War meter.  When you finish, you’re compared to all bands on your friends list that have completed that challlenge as well as worldwide.  These challenges, about 5 to 6 at a time, come and go, some lasting for a week, some for a few hours, but there’s always something their to play.  So far, they’ve included challenges on the more difficult songs as well as the week’s DLC.  As with Tour mode, these challenges can be played with any number of off- and on-line friends.  For the solo players, the standby options of Score Duel and Tug-Of-War are still present if you want to go directly head to head with another.

Now, the one thing that I do miss and my lamenting on the loss of career mode is an easy way to track, as a solo play, how I am faring on the various songs in terms of difficulty and stars.  I like to know that I’ve 5-starred all but a few of the songs with guitar, or that I’ve got a ways to go to bring my drumming up to expert by looking at a bunch of 4-star hard performances, something that was easily done via the Career mode song selection menu.  But now as the game is based on creating your band, with individual characters simply members of it, the game tracks all performances by the band, so if you 5-star a song with four band members playing on Easy, you can’t easily tell if you’ve previously 5-starred the song before on expert guitar in the past.  I don’t know if this needs to be Career mode again, but maybe just another practice area in the game.  It’s not a loss to be upset over, of course, as the additions outweigh it, but I hope Harmonix considers this in Rock Band 3 or as a patch.

There are still the usual practice modes, but now they’ve added some help for aspiring drummers.  A beat trainer gives you about 70-odd typical drum patterns, allowing you to practice the rhythm over and over again at various speeds until you are comfortable with this and able to pound them out without too much thought (a key to the more difficult songs).  A fill trainer working similarly though helping you to put controlled but energic fills in sections leading up to Overdrive activation.   Finally, you can just bang away on the drums with a free drumming mode.   While song creation was not included in Rock Band 2 but will be in the upcoming Guitar Hero World Tour, I can see this as a starting point for future Harmonix innovations.

Value/Replayability: A+(+)

Here is the sole reason why Rock Band will continue to be the more preferred music game over the Guitar Hero series, and that is the fact that there is a huge-ass load of songs that are out there and will keep on coming out.  All DLC is already both backward and forwards compatible, meaning that all 200-some songs already for the first game can be played in the second.  Plus, Harmonix allows you for all of $5 (to recoup licensing fees) to bring in your Rock Band songs (all but 3) to Rock Band 2.  Off the bat, you’ll likely have a huge collection of songs to start your game with.  It’s only been three weeks since release, but there have already been 3 album releases (granted, one was delayed), with 4 more promised and as I’m writing this, an AC/DC track pack and an album from Motley Crue are due for release as well; this is in addition to singles and packs that are being put out on a weekly basis as promised.  Ok, so some of the Rock Band songs are starting to age on me, but it’s amazing how big my library is growing (and how fast they are getting money from me for it).  Given how Harmonix has insisted this is a gaming platform and not so much individual games, I can this process continuing for several more years.

Graphics: A

There’s not a lot significantly new in the graphics area; a few minor interface tweaks don’t alter gameplay, but now your band has a number of more dynamic and fresh moves on stage.  The customization is still there, but this is basically the same clothing items from before plus about 50% more new items from the “thrift shop”.  It still looks great, but I would have liked to see the customization features improved.

Audio: A-

Ok, here’s where I complain about the soundtrack.  I’m not saying it’s bad: there are a number of great songs in this list.  But I find the indy songs they’ve included plus many of the songs in the “Modern” area from groups like Linkin Park to be not really great songs for a game like this.  It’s not that their tracks aren’t difficult or the like, but they just don’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the game.  However, as these soundtracks are a matter of opinion, I’m figuring that there’s somewhere out there that loves that tracks and hates the ones I love playing. That said, there are some artists that I really hope to see more of, including Journey, Billy Idol, and Kansas, all which make good songs that can be challenged on all instruments.

Overall: A

There’s no doubt that if you liked Rock Band 1, you will love Rock Band 2; true, it doesn’t change much but what is added is basically correcting all the little nits with the first game.  The game is much more accessible to play with online friends beyond simple Quickmode challenges.  While the soundtrack is a matter of taste, there’s pretty much an endless array of songs that Harmonix continues to deliver as DLC that will keep you busy for a long time to come.

One Response

  1. Nice write-up. Thanks for the info

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