Thunderbolt logo

Rock Band 2

Harmonix’s Rock Band was the endgame of the music genre. What began with Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, Dance Dance Revolution, Frequency and Amplitude has culminated into a four-piece living room arena show minus the dodgy backstage temptations of drugs, sex and alcohol.

Rock Band 2 follows suit as the following years tour that hits all the right notes, but ultimately feels a little forced, as though rocking out could be considered an annual event.

Building on a strong base of master tracks and covers from its predecessor, Rock Band 2 takes every element from the series opener and expands content-wise but fails to modify much else save for the set list.

screenshot

For the painfully unaware, the Rock Band series places players into the rock-god roles they were (never) meant to fill. Supporting one-to-four players, Rock Band and its sequel play on the rhythm mechanics christened by Konami’s line of arcade titles and perfected by Guitar Hero at home, prompting players to strum, sing and and beat a set of synced up plastic instruments to strings of colored blocks and cartoonish avatars thrashing about a virtual stage.

Rock Band 2 adds 80+ songs to an already impressive track list from the first Rock Band, a few new tweaks to the character creator, and a more enjoyable World Tour mode. Unfortunately the list of new features is dampened by the cutting of the solo tour mode, forcing one-man-bands to work through the world tour without a song-by-song progression for each instrument.

screenshot

However, a large improvement to the World Tour segment of Rock Band 2 is the ease of adding friends to the fray. At any point in a bands World Tour players can be switched out, added or subtracted from the stage-lineup, making the overall experience far more malleable and forgiveable for those who don’t always have a bass guitarist or singer for the nights festivities.

It’s so hard to find bassists, y’know.

Unfortunately, the experience is hampered somewhat by the fact that a small majority of newer songs are more fan service than proper tracks for a party environment. While it’s nice to see groups like Dinosaur Jr., Bob Dylan and Sonic Youth get their time in on the home consoles, the tracks themselves aren’t terribly fun to play and end up being nothing more than 5-minute obstacles on the path to bigger and more rock-worthy songs.

Not to say that the massive overload of music provided by Rock Band 2 is anything but enjoyable, and the inclusion of the (near) entire library from the first game via a rip to the consoles hard drive (as well as a small fee via online services) makes the song selection above and beyond anything rhythm-enthusiasts have been given before.

screenshot

It’s worth noting that keener instruments have also hit the scene, more so adding convenience and small touches to the already working Rock Band instrument assembly rather than completely overhauling it. Peripherals from the first title all work with Rock Band 2, but the option to pick up a slightly improved drum set and guitar gives spend-centric gamers yet another reason to shell out big bucks for a real home experience.

The drum set for the latest rock-iteration is now wireless, an improvement that’s appreciated but not really necessary save for how far back one might want to sit from the television. The pads themselves have been given a proper bounce when struck and a definite muffle when wailed on, making an evenings Interpol-fueled party a little less stress on the minds of thin-walled neighbors. Slight alterations to the sensitivity give drummers a bit more control on the sound output as well, with literal bangs and crashes relayed on screen and through speakers with ear-bleeding precision.

screenshot

Unfortunately the new guitar has not made its way into my grubby, callous-strewn hands, but any lead strummer knows that the only way to go when rocking out on Mom’s loveseat and coffee table is with Guitar Hero’s wireless model, a piece that works with the Rock Band software. While the Rock Band guitar works decently and has some nice perks, such as solo buttons and an effect switch, the sheer discomfort felt from pressing the fret keys is reason enough to invest in a third party peripheral. Add the vacant noise from the strum bar and it’s a definite no-brainer.

Aside from the filler-esque songs and samey-feel to the whole Rock Band 2 experience, my only real gripe lies with the character customization. Rock Band gave players a decent set of options to tweak their polygon-padded McCartneys and Bonhams, but the sequel fails to expand enough to make the creation process feel like anything but a re-hash from the first title. Why not just allow players to import their previous avatars from the first title if there isn’t enough new content or options?

This may seem like small potatoes, but considering that up-and-coming stage-sensation Guitar Hero: World Tour supposedly touts an insanely detailed character creation tool, it only takes points away from Harmonix’s center piece.

All in all, Rock Band 2 only expands on an experience that was near perfected with the previous title, an experience that can only be improved upon with each new game in the series. While nothing terribly new has made its way onto the new disc, the amount of songs more than covers the price of admission. And you won’t even have to sit through any putrid local opening acts.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2008.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.