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Rock Band 2


VGbeat score:
9 out of 10

Positives:
  • Lots of songs & lots of variety
  • Drum solos
  • Guaranteed party hit
Negatives:
  • Repetitive career mode
  • Confusing unlock system
  • Can get very expensive
Rock Band 2 is Harmonix's latest offering to the full band rhythm game genre. In developing video games, Harmonix has held a philosophy of "innovate, then perfect". They certainly innovated with Rock Band, but how well does Rock Band 2 hold up? Let's take a closer look.

Soundtrack


Rock Band 2's 84-song on-disc soundtrack is impressive at first glance, featuring Rush, AC/DC, Megadeth, and other big-name artists. However, nine of the tracks are also available in Guitar Hero: World Tour, cutting down on Rock Band 2's uniqueness a little. But with a solid mix of genres and styles from the entire disc, it's clear that the game was designed to appeal to as many demographics as possible. And it has been largely successful in that regard; I've always been able to find something on-disc that somebody at any given party wants to play. Staples include Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer", Foo Fighters' "Everlong", and Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son".

Of course, the Rock Band series has always really shined with its downloadable content. Each new copy of the game came with a code for a free download of 20 tracks, essentially giving the game 104 on-disc songs. While the download didn't have any immediately recognizable tracks, it did have variety, with Underoath, Between the Buried and Me, X Japan, and Shaimus all included. Since Rock Band 2's release, Harmonix has put out at least three songs per week as downloadable content, keeping up the trend started with the original Rock Band. The DLC includes Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani for plastic guitar virtuosos, Whitechapel and Slayer for drummers with legs of steel, full albums from Pearl Jam, Judas Priest, and Spinal Tap (among many others), and even six songs by Spongebob Squarepants for the kids. This is to say nothing of the Rock Band Network, currently boasting over 300 songs from artists big and small with numbers increasing daily. If you want variety and you're not afraid of spending a little more money to get it, the Rock Band catalogue is definitely the right choice.

Gameplay


As a direct sequel to Rock Band, not much has changed in the interface. Guitar solos still show up with a blue background; the bass multiplier still goes up to 6x; vocals can still scroll or remain stationary and judge the singer based on a fillable gauge.

What might be the biggest addition to the engine is the drum solo. Similar to the guitar solo, the drummer's highway will turn blue and fills will be disabled for the duration of the solo. Extra points are awarded based on percentage of notes hit, and the drummer gets to feel pretty excellent for a little while.

The full-band experience remains the same, with Overdrive and performance meters both visible and easily readable and the standard "three strikes" policy for failed band members remaining in place. Nothing glaring has been changed with the gameplay, and why not? It seems silly to mess with a system that works so well.

Presentation


Perhaps realizing that playing "Say It Ain't So" and "In Bloom" in every single setlist would get boring after a while, Harmonix has almost entirely revamped the way the player progresses through this game. While the standard World Tour mode, which takes you through a series of venues with predetermined setlists, is still present, it's been modified in a couple important ways. First of all, single players can now progress through it normally, instead of requiring at least two players like in the original game. Second, bassists can now feel free to play World Tour mode to their hearts' content.

Another major addition is Challenge Mode, which serves as a new career mode. In it, players go through a series of static and dynamic setlists to progress through tiers and unlock new items for their characters to wear. The standard progression uses only the songs on disc, but new challenges featuring downloadable content appear whenever the player downloads enough (with a minimum of three songs).

The main new feature of Rock Band 2 is Battle of the Bands mode, a series of online challenges, many user-submitted, that put bands against other bands on a large scoreboard and encourage each band to become number one. Unfortunately, this feature seems to have fallen by the wayside recently; though Harmonix still provides new battles every day, several are repeats of old ones and the player base has dropped drastically.

Of course, the standard training modes are still there to get new players accustomed to the mechanics, but Rock Band 2 also introduces a drum trainer. The drum trainer provides some of the more common beats a drummer will come across and serves as a great introduction to the instrument. Already experienced drummers could even benefit from it, as it allows some control over the tempo of the beats, and without speed training, you won't get very far in some of the harder drum songs available for download and even on-disc. And if you just want to bang around to your own music, Freestyle Mode that lets you do exactly that.

Much like in the original Rock Band, it won't be long before you grow tired of hearing AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock" or Nirvana's "Drain You" every time you turn the game on or let it idle. Even Cheap Trick's 90-second "Hello There" can get grating after a while. Though it's a little easier to play the career and not run into the same songs over and over again, any World Tour expedition will invariably have the same basic setlist repeated ad infinitum. And even though having to unlock the on-disc songs for play allows a sense of accomplishment, I've heard more than a few reports of people not even knowing what they still have to unlock. Myself, I didn't notice The Libyans' "Welcome to the Neighborhood" was missing until I pored over our song list here, and then I had to figure out just which setlist to play to unlock it. That sense of accomplishment can exist, sure, but it shouldn't come with so much confusion.

Closing Comments


Rock Band 2 comes close to that ideal of perfection that Harmonix strives for, but there are a few places it could improve on. Unless you're a big fan of "So Whatcha Want", World Tour mode might get tedious. Most of your replayability is going to come from the downloadable content, which can get very expensive very fast. On its own, though, it's a very strong game and much better than the alternatives.

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