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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’s not radically different from its already brilliant predecessor (at least not yet), but everything is tighter and runs more smoothly, and there’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’s totally euphoric.
Yes, we said “almost” - there are several very welcome tweaks, like the ability to switch instruments and even entire band members mid-career, a “no-fail” mode, and custom setlists. Bassists can have a full career now, and there’s an online-enabled battle of the bands that should prove marvelously addictive. There’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’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’re functionally the same – 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 – nice bit of help for the penny-conscious.
That brings us to the songlist, which is comically mammoth right out of the box. There are more than 80 tunes right on the game disc, and the manual has a code that will enable you to download 20 more – nice way to get people to actually real the manual.
Then, for five measly bucks, you can rip 55 of the 58 tracks on the first Rock Band disc onto your hard drive for play in Rock Band 2 – this bit of familiarity is more than welcome. Plus, any of the bonus songs you’ve already downloaded in RB1 will simply appear in RB2, no token required. The grand total? You should have upward of 500 tracks at your disposal by the end of the year, with more coming every week.
The only real thing to complain about with Rock Band 2 – and it’s barely even a complaint - is that it polishes rather than reinvents. Make no mistake: We appreciate the backwards compatibility of the instruments, and the gameplay additions and tweaks that have been made seem universally designed to make the player’s experience better. But with no real revolution, this feels more like an 80-song expansion pack than an all-out sequel.
But you know what? We’re okay with that, at least for this year. We’re thrilled that Harmonix didn’t try to fix things that weren’t broken and add in silly things just to add bullet points on the box – the original Rock Band was nearly perfect already. And even if we know the setlist by heart, we still find ourselves running to Rock Band 2 every week and basking in the intoxicating clamor of the in-game crowd’s standing ovations. What can we say? We love living the lives of a bunch of rock stars.
Sep 14, 2008