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Monday, October 20, 2008

Rock Band 2 Review

posted by on October 20 at 14:55 PM


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.

RSS icon Comments


come on Sam, that came out last month. You should be covering the awesomeness that is Saints Row 2 or Dead Space.

Posted by bobcat | October 20, 2008 2:59 PM

@1: The full bundle, along w/ the PS3 and Wii editions, saw release this week. I delayed the review to correspond with that. And I should point out that the Wii RB2 is significantly better than Wii RB1, which is to say, it's no longer crippled.

I'm too buried in games to get excited about Dead Space or GTA 4.5, though. Warhammer Online has proven far more fun than I could have ever expected, and Mother 3 is everything I'd hoped for and then some. Might be up there in my Game of the Year count...

But I'll try to sample Dead Space soon; everything about it at PAX seemed boring, but people keep insisting that there's something great there. I'm wary of what looks like yet-another-sci-fi-game, of course.

Posted by Sam M. | October 20, 2008 3:19 PM

Erm, scratch that bit about the Wii edition. That's coming out way later. Therefore, they still have time to prove my "better than Wii RB1" assumption wrong.

Posted by Sam M. | October 20, 2008 3:29 PM

You could purchase a REAL guitar and amp for nine dollars more than this game, and actually learn to play music, instead of this pretending...

Posted by E | October 20, 2008 3:34 PM

I love it, but gosh darn, those drums are HARD!

Posted by Dawgson | October 20, 2008 3:42 PM

#4, ohmigosh, I've never heard that before.

I think I was most pleased with the new non-clicky pick on the guitars.

Posted by w7ngman | October 20, 2008 3:51 PM

The Wii version will have DLC, but it will be a long time before it has the selection that the other platforms have. 50 songs to start, I hear.

Posted by litlnemo | October 20, 2008 4:11 PM

waste of time. stop it, you'll hurt your throat.

Posted by john | October 20, 2008 4:21 PM

I love the idea of Rock Band but I only know, like, two songs. How long until they release Soul Band, Hip Hop Band, and Broadway Musical Band?

Posted by Dominic Holden | October 20, 2008 4:26 PM

Sam has a wonderful singing voice.

Also, if he's on drums, you're going to lose. He's jinxed!

Posted by Joh | October 20, 2008 4:29 PM

Saints Row 2 is no GTA. It is the other way around, whereas GTA had a rigid storyline with a constant ringing of needy girls to date and dudes to go to strip clubs with, Saints2 has some real fun sidequests like FUZZ (a COPS ripoff) that has you enforcing the law in your own way - it even has the 'battle of the century' you need to break up: Pirates vs. Ninjas. The septic avenger subplot where you spray shit on people is fun as hell along with the one where you set yourself on fire and blow up as much stuff as you can.

The best aspect of SR2 is that it incorporates "The Godfather" game in it where you control turf, buy shops and have to protect it from rival gang invasions. Toss in co-op play and yeah anyway it kicks ass.

Mother3 is pretty fun, the translation is damn good. Reminds me of the dejap project from 2003 where I was able to play DragonQuests (

Rock Band 2 was pretty satisfactory though - Good choices I wasn't impressed by the venue thing but if you want to get some achievements sing / bass / drum "So Whatcha Want".

Posted by bobcat | October 20, 2008 4:30 PM

Rock Band is a better game than Guitar Hero, but their guitars (at least the 1.0 ones) are much, much worse. The fret buttons are much harder to press down in a rhythmic fashion.

Posted by Levislade | October 20, 2008 4:51 PM

I use the Guitar Hero controller with Rock Band, went thru 2 of the Rock Band ones already - fuckers break too easy.

How fun is it to sing "Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crue? "Aqualung" is another good one as well.

ok, back to Saints Row 2....

Posted by bobcat | October 20, 2008 8:25 PM

Rock Band depresses me.

Posted by alex | October 20, 2008 11:06 PM

Agreed with #12 in regards to RB1, but I think you'll be pleased with the ones that are shipping with RB2.

Posted by a | October 21, 2008 3:04 PM

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