According to AC/DC, first there was light, then there was sound, then there was drums (sic), then there was guitar… And then rock and roll was born. It skips a couple of bits of the evolutionary timeline – like when Adam took one of his spare ribs and made a Fender Precision bass out of it – but as a potted history of rock, it’s not too far off the mark. Of course it omits the latter day stuff, like when Harmonix created Rock Band and brought rock to the gaming masses.
And this sequel continues the good work. To begin with, we’d best point out that we reviewed Rock Band 2 with the original game’s instruments. An improved version of the ‘band in a box’ pack is supposed to be coming out soon, with quieter drums that register the velocity of your hits and a more solid guitar. As to the exact date when this lot will be released, we haven’t had anything confirmed through official channels.
So, to the game: what’s new? Well obviously there’s a whole new set list of 84 songs. As with the previous Rock Band, it’s a varied selection with indie music such as L7 and the Presidents of the USA accompanying the likes of AC/DC classic rock, heavier stuff like Metallica and nu-metal such as Linkin Park. Even Elvis Costello’s here, and there are some excellent tunes throughout.
On the whole, we preferred it to Guitar Hero: World Tour‘s collection of music. The note charts are also more closely tied to the songs than in Activision’s effort, although we still appreciate Guitar Hero’s more forgiving sense of timing on hammer-ons. That said, Rock Band 2′s note charts are simpler so the difficulty level kind of balances itself out. If anything, it’s Rock Band that errs on the easy side, at least on the beginner and medium skill levels.
Aside from the tunes, there aren’t many wholesale additions to the game: it’s more a case of tweaking the formula. The career mode is pretty much the same as it was in the original, with venues around the globe to gig at, fans to gain and tour buses and planes to be earned.
However, some interesting extras have been thrown in, such as a choice of staff to hire who bring different bonuses to the band, and more random events that occur. For example, you might suddenly be asked to do a video shoot or impress a music mag reviewer by completing a song without using overdrive power-ups. This all helps to lend a bit of extra depth to the band campaign.
Drummers will be pleased to hear that Harmonix has introduced a drum trainer. This lets you practice a variety of different beats at various tempos, and also boasts a drum fills section that encourages the player to develop rhythmic improvisations to set off overdrive, rather than just randomly beating the drum pads like a loon. There are some useful and instructive nuggets here.
Tour challenges are another new addition in which a band tackles a set of themed songs (for example, sixties classics). Completing the set unlocks further, more difficult tasks. Finally, an online battle of the bands has been introduced which sets up various themed challenges on a daily basis, and lets you see where you stack up against the rest of the world’s plastic guitar shredders and drum maniacs.