Rock Band launched at the end of 2007 to great hype and anticipation, quickly becoming the holiday gift for those who could afford the hefty price tag ($169.99). Garnering an average of 93% at Metacritic and moving over three million units, it would seem that MTV Games' gamble has paid off. Coming this September is the inevitable sequel, Rock Band 2, and the devs have taken fan feedback into account to figure out how to optimize the hardware and software experience.
First thing's first — the goal is to have over 500 songs available for the series by this fall, including "Shackler's Revenge," the first song by Guns 'n' Roses in 14 years and the first Bob Dylan tune that's been licensed for a video game.
Additionally, Rock Band 2 will be backward compatible, so any tunes that may have been purchased for Rock Band will work for RB2. There will also be a disc export function, which will let you send over all of your RB1 songs to RB2 so that you won't have to keep swapping out discs.
Given the plethora of available songs, it can be quite the chore to scroll through the long list of tunes à la the original Rock Band, so the devs decided to redesign the solo quickplay selection screen to more closely resemble the "Rock Shop," the game's online music store. As a result, songs are broken down by a variety of criteria, including artist, album, location and decade.
You can now make a setlist in quickplay mode, and headers are selectable, so at the press of a button, you can create a setlist for everything in that category, whether that means all songs by a certain artist or all songs on a particular album. You can add quite a large number of songs to the setlist in quickplay mode; our presenter, John from Harmonix, indicated that you wouldn't be able to play that many songs in a row without having to take a bathroom break. (Is that a challenge I hear?)
Rock Band 2 will also track your high score in solo quickplay mode, so if you're in a sudden groove but not playing in career mode, your score will be recorded for posterity. If you aren’t logged into Xbox Live at the time, then your score will get posted to the leaderboards the next time you sign on.
From a hardware perspective, the new Fender Stratocaster guitar has softer, quieter buttons and has a paint job that resembles a wood finish so that the plastic replica looks as much like a real guitar as possible. The strum bar is more tactile, resilient, and to borrow the presenter's precise terminology, less "mushy." The guitar also contains an extra light and camera sensor, and the combination serves as an auto-calibration tool so that people with less common home stereo setups won't have to manually calibrate the instrument.
The guitar wasn't the only peripheral that received an upgrade in Rock Band 2. After much complaint about the bundles of cables all over the floor, the drum set is now wireless. Many Rock Band drum pedals went to the great recycling bin in the sky after some overzealous foot stomping, so it has been reinforced with metal this time around. The drum set also contains expansion ports for the cymbals expansion pack, and it even supports a second drum pedal, if that's your cup of tea. Additionally, Ion is offering a Drum Rocker set for $299, which has a completely configurable design and includes three cymbal pads. With an Alesis drum module supplement, the Ion Drum Rocker set can be converted into a full-on electronic drum set.
The World Tour mode is now online so that you can create a band with your online friends and play through a persistent campaign. You can also play through the World Tour as a solo project, should you be feeling particularly antisocial. The devs kept all of the cities and venues from the original RB and added some new offerings, such as Shanghai, China.
The Battle of the Bands mode lets bands square off over daily challenges, such as playing a set of songs from a specified genre, period, or artist. Once your band has completed the daily challenge, you can check your score against your friends list and the challenge's leaderboard. While your band may not have a chance of ruling Rock Band 2 's overall leaderboard, you could be good enough to reign supreme on one of the daily challenges; it helps to keep the game fresh and challenging, whether you pick it up on the first day or a few months down the line.
The Tour Challenge replaces the Solo Tour and Band World Tour modes from the original Rock Band. It groups songs according to their strengths — emphasis on guitar, emphasis on vocals, emphasis on drums, or songs that require an all-around good band — so you can follow a nonlinear path to move up the ranks and unlock new challenge groupings along the way. DLC will automatically populate in this area, with songs appearing above the appropriate icon. This mode is playable solo and with up to three bandmates, whether on- or offline.
Rock Band 2 also lets you hire staff that have a direct effect on your score and earnings, such as fans, an intern, and a marketing executive. Hiring fans to spread the word about you will increase your popularity but keep your band earnings low, whereas a marketing executive will increase your earnings but sacrifice your fan popularity, you sellout!
For those who've found that they have innate drumming skills despite not having any formal training, Rock Band 2 includes a Drum Beat Trainer mode, which teaches you the building blocks of drumming. You'll learn basic beats and drum fills, so that your rhythmic skills aren't just a result of memorization.
The title will also feature a Jukebox mode so that the rock doesn't have to stop just because you aren't performing. You can build a setlist, sit back, and watch the game rock out. It's a good option for those who just want to have some party music or want to take a break after the last marathon jam session.
A few more aspects of Rock Band 2 improve the user experience. A No-Fail cheat will be available, and when it's enabled, your band can rock out without having to worry about bailing out a newbie. You won't have to worry about the band lead issue that plagued the original Rock Band — the only way to change your band lead was to create another band and start all over again — you can now change that band member at any time. Feel like stepping out from the shadows of the bass guitar to wail on some lead vocals for a while? Go for it.
Harmonix President Alex Rigopulos was quoted as saying, "First you innovate, then you perfect." They've done just that with Rock Band 2. Unlike Guitar Hero: World Tour, you won't be able to import your own tracks, but with over 500 songs on tap, chances are that the songs that you want to play are already available. Get ready to rock out again this September.
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