Rock Band 2 Review
Written : Saturday, October 11, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Rock Band 2 is obviously the followup to the highly popular, successful and innovative Rock Band released less than one year ago. There have been musical games in the past that allowed you to act (some might say "feel," but I don't think that term is really appropriate) as if you were actually playing an instrument, Rock Band was the first to throw it all together and have a full four-piece band playing at the same time. Guitar Hero is obviously the most mainstream of its competitors and has since adopted Rock Band's approach and broadened to a full-band ensemble with their upcoming Guitar Hero: World Tour; a somewhat ironic title as the main gameplay feature of Rock Band is called Band World Tour mode.
One thing that really sets Rock Band apart from Guitar Hero is the amount of upgrades Harmonix has made with this sequel. Each new iteration of Guitar Hero simply feels like a new disc of songs rather than an actual game sequel. Rock Band took everything that worked from the original and built upon it, meeting fans' requests and expectations. The biggest change is the ability to now go online with Band World Tour mode and play a full tour with your friends anywhere in the world. While getting people together and rocking out in your basement might be more fun, it just isn't feasible for everyone, especially those with families or friends that have moved out of state.
Another great upgrade is the ability to freely switch what instrument your created player can play. Previously if you started off a band as a drummer with a bad-ass tattooed guy, you'd be stuck as that guy and stuck as a drummer and stuck with that band. Now you can have a "roster" for a created band and you and your friends can pick up and go in any position or band that you want. Now that same guy you originally made as a drummer can start belting out Bon Jovi, then the next track switching out to shred with Avenged Sevenfold. You can also set it so that if you only have two actual player available, the other two on-screen characters will be your friends' created players, making it so the random fill-ins that dress like GWAR don't show up when your actual band has more of a Twisted Sister feel.
People actually dress like this?
The actual gameplay remains much unchanged, though the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" could apply well here. The difficulty seems to have been taken down a notch in the beginning of the tour, perhaps to relate to more casual gamers that have been taken in by the plastic-band craze. Personally I noticed a difference, being able to bump myself up to hard guitar and expert bass for most songs where it would have seemed impossible in the original. Maybe I've just gotten better (doubtful) or the songs are more familiar (very likely) but it certainly feels good to be rockin' on expert. However, toward the end of the tour there seems to be a shift and more metal/hard rock comes into the mix, giving every part of the band a nice workout.
The only actual new feature in the World Tour mode is the ability to hire managers. You start off with "Your Mom" as your manager, but as you progress you'll be able to hire more experienced managers that can focus on getting fans or money, your choice. Other perks might be more benefit shows (no money, double fans), music videos or challenges for specific band members that can have huge rewards, but also big losses if you don't meet the goals, so choosing the manager that suits your goals is important. The character creation for World Tour is largely unchanged which is my biggest disappointment. Every person still comes from one of about six cities you can choose from and everyone in the world has the same six or so facial types. I don't think they needed Tiger Woods level depth for this, but custom birthplaces and a little facial reconstruction really would have gone a long way to making these characters really represent the players.
Longest. Fingers. Ever.
Speaking of the songs being familiar, the core disc has what I feel to be a much fresher selection. Included are more "indie" bands like Interpol and Modest Mouse which I really enjoyed, as well as classics like Survivor (Eye of the Tiger) that don't feel forced. There are still odd selections like Squeeze's "Cool for Cats" which just might be the worst song I've ever heard. I'm also not sure I want to hear my wife sing Give it Away by the Red Hot Chili Peppers ever again, despite it being a pretty good song. "What I've got you've got to give it to your mama," eh? No thanks, babe.
Another big difference is the removal of the Solo Tour to be replaced by instrument specific "challenges" that get scored and compared via a leaderboard over Xbox Live. These range from total score to best streak and are a great way to see just how good you are. There are also full-band challenges and specific "Battle of the Bands" weekly challenges that task bands from over the world to compete in a specific setlist to see who is the best band for that week. The really nice thing about no Solo tour is that if you don't have anyone at all to play with, you can still do Band World Tour by yourself and progress your band. I suppose that kind of defeats the purpose of the game, but even playing with two guitarists isn't a full band and you could argue that shouldn't progress the tour either.
The graphics and audio are another "ain't broke" situation, though they did make small improvements, most notably during the band intros. The graphics are much clearer and the animations are more exciting. The core disc is comprised of all "master" tracks, meaning actual band performances rather than covers which are always a good thing. I remember getting excited about a Coheed and Cambria song being released through DLC earlier this year, only to have it end up being a cover and sounding like crap. I suppose that isn't a fault of the game itself, but more of Harmonix who let it happen. I was especially confused seeing as Coheed has a master track on the core disc, but if you choose your DLC wisely you won't have to run into that problem.
Another excellent feature is the ability to export and use any content from the first game as well as any DLC songs you may have purchased. You can send over as much or as little as you want, weeding out the songs you weren't fond of from the first game. RB2 comes with a special code that can be put into RB1 while RB1 received a title update allowing for export. You do need to pay a small amount (five bucks), but having basically double the songs will give a better variety to your random setlists. This is yet another feature that the Guitar Hero franchise is severely lacking.
The achievements this year are much improved and highly more accessible. Rather than getting a few achievements early on then basically waiting until the end of the tour to reap any rewards, there are achievements that will come up slowly as you progress through the tour. However, most of the achievements still focus on skill-level and getting the full 1000 will be nigh on impossible for most. I know I won't be passing the harder drum challenges in this lifetime, but these games have never been as much about the achievements like others. The big daddy if you will this year is the endless setlist. Over six hours of straight playing without the ability of pausing or stopping in any way without negating the achievement. Steel Bladder, indeed.
It's a music game and it does itself proud. We gave RB1 a score of 100 for sound and I feel the music choices in this game were even better. I'd take this to 11(0) if I could.
Not the best looking graphics on the system, but the right looking graphics for the game. Overall a bit smoother than its predecessor, and some flashier player intros really hit the spot.
Aside from my guitar being a bit worn out from RB1 which caused some missed notes, I had no issues with the calibration which is much better than the original. The game is so simple even my parents could play. However, they must have made a mistake with the vocal recognition during "talking/rapping" parts because you can Gold Star a song by the Beastie Boys while reading the Declaration of Independence or even just putting the microphone up to your TV speakers. It might be nice to get the good score and some easy achievements out of it, but that really kills the challenge.
The added online feature for the Band World Tour mode surely makes this the best music game on the market right now. The band logos, challenges and leaderboards keep everything connected and get you to always strive to compete. However, considering this is the second installation, we have seen the entire premise before. Obviously not an innovation in itself, but a vast improvement upon a solid foundation.
Much the same as last year but much more manageable for the casual player. The challenge achievements allow for X number on Expert or X number on Hard, giving players of all skills the ability to earn with a little more work if they're not that good. There are still some that require actual talent with these instruments but with enough practice they just might come your way.
Don't let the fact that we gave this a lower score than the original fool you; this game is a huge improvement upon itself. The Band World Tour online makes it a completely new game and a much more replayable game at that. The vocal follies are a bit of a disappointment to the singers out there and the fact that this obviously isn't a new premise are the only things that keep it from being in the high 90's. If you're new to the plastic-band genre, this is by far your best option. If you're a veteran, this won't let you down.