If the first Rock Band was the opening leg of a full-blown concert tour, with four players living the rock and roll dream via color-coded buttons and plastic guitars, drums, and microphone, Rock Band 2 is like the final show of that same tour. It%26rsquo;s not radically different from its already brilliant predecessor (at least not yet), but everything is tighter and runs more smoothly, and there%26rsquo;s an explosive, extended encore.
Gameplay, for example, is almost the exact same massively fun shredfest you remember: Colored gems scroll down the screen in time with the music, you click buttons in time with the gems, somebody sings, and the crowd goes batshit. It%26rsquo;s totally euphoric.
Yes, we said %26ldquo;almost%26rdquo; - there are several very welcome tweaks, like the ability to switch instruments and even entire band members mid-career, a %26ldquo;no-fail%26rdquo; mode, and custom setlists. Bassists can have a full career now, and there%26rsquo;s an online-enabled battle of the bands that should prove marvelously addictive. There%26rsquo;s also a drum trainer that will teach you the basics of actual drumming, should you wish to exchange this virtual band with a real one someday. All good stuff, though it%26rsquo;s more the perfection of a wonderful existing formula, rather than a totally new one.
The new drums are wireless now and have a dozen barely perceptible improvements ranging from a slightly quieter sound to a kick pedal that stays put when you lift the kit. But they%26rsquo;re functionally the same %26ndash; at least, until the optional, attachable cymbals (and possibly the rumored double-kick functionality) show up in early 2009.
The same goes for the new guitar, which is prettier, has marginally clickier buttons, a screwdriver-free battery compartment and a fantastic auto-calibrate sensor, but feels essentially the same. You can even use the drums and guitar from the first Rock Band and forego the new gear entirely %26ndash; nice bit of help for the penny-conscious.