Games Rock Band 2 Review
posted by October 20 at 14:55 PMon
Rock Band 2
Harmonix/EA/MTV Games (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
While trying out Rock Band 2, I’ve enjoyed not having to review it. It’s the same basic concept as Rock Band 1, which was already Guitar Hero on steroids—two people on fake guitar/bass, one on a USB microphone, and one on a four-pad drum kit play along to popular rock songs from the ’60s to today. Play songs to unlock more songs, along with trinkets for your virtual egotists.
There are improvements, and I’ll get to those, but by nature, RB2 is decidedly similar. New songs, same play. So I’ve paid more attention to the way people digest it.
Perhaps you have a posse who loves the game, and your dedicated foursome racks up RB scores by memorizing complicated song passages. That’s a different review. My experience has been mostly with people who stumble upon the game—showing up at the wee hours with a buzz, seeing plastic instruments strewn about, and figuring they may as well give ‘em a shot.
For these players, it’s a rush to the drum set, which plays 1:1 with the music. You are banging along to a real beat; even if it’s on a plastic kit, it’s still the most successful portion of the “be a rocker” experience. Then somebody grabs the microphone—they’re drunk, they wanna sing along with the Go-Gos or Journey. Whatever. The mic picks up your pitch, but not your words, so you can mumble-hum your way through songs. The plastic guitars get picked last, which control the same as they did in 2005—so they still don’t control like real guitars. With five buttons, rather than a real guitar’s endless array of notes and chords, the play becomes percussive (though certainly less intimidating for a party’s sake).
In a perfect session, everybody’s taking turns and trying it all. It’s not typical. Somebody doesn’t want to sing. Sometimes, they’re insecure. Most of the time, they’ve run out of songs they’re comfortable singing—this is not a karaoke kind of selection, which means less Neil Diamond, more Sonic Youth and Grateful Dead. Casual singers have been underwhelmed after burning through the game’s obvious hits.
Meanwhile, other people hate playing the fake guitars—either the feeling of them or the whole “press a button, then strum” mechanic. Even with the new, welcome no-fail mode, and even with intoxication in the mix, some people do not budge in the face of RB’s party potential.
On the other hand, when you have a group that’s on a roll, the play turns mechanical. Not so much laughing at bad singers and people faux-strutting with their stupid guitars. Instead, everyone stares at the screen to keep up with constant note patterns. You shouldn’t pay $190 for four people to gang up and ignore each other—why not make interaction more inherent with this new iteration?
I did find the sweet spot for some of my play. With the right mix of experts and novices, we laughed it up, made fun of each other, got the hang of the fake-rock system, and found ways to interact even when the game didn’t make that inherent. The song selection is pretty broad, balancing its duds with party-perfect fare (and you can borrow someone else’s RB1 disc and, for a $5 fee, pump those songs into the new game, which doubles the game for newcomers). RB2 has enough tweaks, if not massive changes, to make this near-essential for anybody who already blew cash on the old instruments last time—slicker interface, 84 new songs, new online modes. Hell, what else are you going to do with those old instruments?
But the full instrument+game pack is $190, as is the same pack from Guitar Hero World Tour, seeing release in a week or so. People will soon nitpick over which fake band setup is better—GHWT has slightly better drums and a make-your-own-song studio, while RB2’s new wireless gear is quite solid, and its song selection is larger (though before dropping cash, hit Wikipedia to compare the games’ song lists). Flip a coin if you’re concerned about the slight differences; I’m more interested in when the virtual-rock bell curve will start dipping. With so few new features here—and nothing to compel players to interact with each other in-game—I’m guessing sooner than later.