STAFF REVIEW of Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360)

Sunday, September 28, 2008.
by Rick Wallace

Rock Band 2 Box art Less than a year ago we were all treated to the release of Rock Band, and while the game was a smashing success it lacked some options that folks thought would have easily been available in the game such as an online Band option or even the option to switch up instruments within your own band but alas neither option was available. Well, here we are with the release of Rock band 2 and it seems that Harmonix listened to the community and included many options lacking in the previous title but have brought us many new options as well. To the relief of many you'll be happy to know that your original instruments will work with Rock Band 2 so there is no need to purchase the new peripherals unless you really want to.

For those that may have been hiding under a rock and never played the first title then here is a quick run down of what the Rock band series is all about. Rock Band allows you to form your own band with 4 major components, each having its own playable part in every song. You have the vocals, guitar, bass and drums. The object of the game is to hit the colored keys on your instrument to match the colored notes on the screen as they cross a line across the bottom of the screen. For the vocals, you'll be judged on pitch and accuracy. You'll be awarded points, and can earn extra points by activating multipliers by stringing notes together and activating overdrive when you hit special notes and fill a meter. Thats basically the general run down of the game, so lets get into what is new and improved with Rock band 2, and trust me, there is a lot of improvements and new options to be discussed.

Without a doubt, Rock band 2 puts the original title to bed immediately the moment you fire it up and interact with the menus. Songs are cached for faster loading from the initial start of the game which really does seem to help quite a bit with the way many game modes play out. You'll create your character and form your initial band. This option pretty much reflects the previous version with the exception of one major difference. Since the game allows you to play with friends over Xbox Live, you'll be able to not only assign 3 other members to your band whether they are local players or online players, but you'll also be able to assign substitute band members that can step in when regular members are unavailable. Another great new feature is that you are now not locked into one specific instrument for your character as you were in least years title. So say you are regularly playing the guitar for the band, but you decide you'd like to play the drums for a few sets then go right ahead. This change is more than welcome and was a must especially for online play since some of your friends may only own 1 instrument which would cause you to shuffle the band a little. Without this option you would have to lock in a person for vocals, guitar, bass and drums and thats all they would ever play. In my opinion, thats just not as much fun.

So as I stated, you'll notice changes immediately when you start browsing through the menus of game modes. You'll have the standard quick play and training modes, but you'll also see the Tour option which will open up a whole new world of game modes. When you select the Tour mode, you'll be prompted to choose either Local Tour or Xbox Live Tour. Lets check out the Local Tour first.

Local Tour will have you load up your band and character. You'll see the following mode options on your screen: Start Tour or Continue Tour, Play Challenge and Battle of the Bands. The Tour is somewhat as what you would expect if you have played the first game with a few additions. You'll now be able to hire a staff to help you earn money and fans and the more popularity you gain will earn you better staff options. As usual you will play from city to city accumulating fans, stars and cash to unlock new venues. Challenges will come up periodically such as playing harder songs in exchange for more fans or cash, etc. You'll also see some venues with trophies beside them and this reflects that a challenge is taking place here. More on this in a second.

Next up we have the Play Challenge option. This option is somewhat interlocked with your career mode in the fact that you will earn money and stars. As I stated previously, you'll also be able to participate in these challenges as you progress through the tour mode, but this option gives you all those challenges in one nice neat list to go through. There are challenges specific to each instrument and the band as a whole. There are seven degrees of difficulty when it comes to the challenges and obviously the tougher songs will be found in the seventh difficulty level while easier songs are in the first level.

Final there is the Battle of the Bands option. This had to be the most interesting option to me as it allows you to compete in challenges that give you an score which is ranked into an overall leaderboard and against friends. Basically as you play each battle it out with friends and other bands across the world to try and obtain the top leaderboard spot. What is even cooler is that you can check out your battle history, status, and friend rankings all with the click of a button. Each battle is a timed event and you'll be able to see how long the event has to go by viewing its details when clicking on it.

You have the usual online game modes such as tug of war and score duel along with the online Tour Mode. In score duel, you'll compete against another player and see who can finish the song with the most accumulated points. With tug of war, you'll basically go up against an opponent alternating parts of the selected song trying to outperform the other person and win over the crowd. Playing perfectly is the way to go on this one if you really want to seal victory.

But the most intersting facet online has to be the fact that you can compete in the World Tour with friends. Sure this is the way it should be but what you need to know is that at anytime a buddy can jump into your current "solo" career and give you a hand. In other words, if you started a tour by yourself, and are having some difficulties obtaining fans or gaining cash then you can invite a buddy or 2 or 3 into your band to help you out. Its just like playing with some buddies locally and the lag is pretty much non existant. When I say that, I have yet to experience any kind of lag yet, so it truly is like playing with some buddies in your own living room. This option is what folks were looking for in the first game and now its part of the second game and is a huge plus in my book.

The gameplay is spot on and has quite a few improvements. The instruments seem very responsive to the on screen notes and most will not experience any kind of lag at all. If you do experience lag issues with notes not registering that you know you nailed, then you can do a calibration which seems to solve any issue almost all the time. For those of you that have the original Rock Band, you'll be happy to know that you can use an export feature included with the last Rock Band update and bring over any song that you want to into the new version of the game. Just load up Rock Band and you'll find the feature in the Options menu. You'll be able to download song from the Store as you could with Rock Band 1.

The Rock Store allows you to shop for clothing, instruments, hair styles and tattoos as well check out your closet for all the items you currently own or have earned in the tour mode. Another new option is the ability to create your band's logo which will be visible to everyone on Xbox Live, so be sure to be creative. You'll be able to colorize your logo along with layering symbols, text, and preset graphics which are completely customizable in size and rotation.

Graphically, Rock Band 2 takes on the music video feel when it comes to visuals. You'll be treated to some wild visuals during in game performances, especially when shooting a video in your tour mode. The characters haven't changed a whole lot in appearance but there are plenty of options for you to really customize your character to a specific look/ As you progress through the tour, you'll unlock new gear and earn cash to buy new instruments and threads. Each venue is also very well detailed and add to the rock and roll feel of the game.

When it comes to sound no other game matches the quality of rock bands. All of the songs included are master tracks and come through crisp and clear especially for folks that have surround sound systems. The song list is quite extensive and ranges from 70's legends to modern day bands. There is a little bit of everything in this game for everyone to listen, play and enjoy.

In summary, Rock band 2 is well worth the purchase especially is you own the instruments from the previous version. You can purchase the new wireless guitar, or the drum set along with a cymbal attachment, and a new microphone which includes the standard controller buttons on the neck of the microphone. A stated earlier, the purchase of these new instruments is not required to play the game if you have the previous instruments. There is plenty of downloadable content on tap and you can be sure with the impending release of Guitar Hero World Tour that Harmonix probably has a few things up their sleeves. Rock band 2 is the perfect follow up act to the original Rock Band, and should be in everyone's library that is a fan of this genre. There really isn't much bas that can be said about the game other than that some of the songs are ridiculously hard even on medium difficulty. But then again, thats probably just me because I would never boast myself as a good Rock Band player.

The game is top notch and has very little room for improvement, but if I had to choose something then I would have to say to add more free downloadable content into the mix. The instruments are not cheap by any means and a break here and there would be greatly appreciated.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10



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