Rock Band 2

Put the Rock Band 2 disc into the drive, and you might be entirely within your rights to wonder if the game you just spent sixty dollars on is really worth the price of admission. This is not a title that lashes out at you with its overwhelming newness, and if you aren't immediately convinced of the righteousness of your purchase by a setlist populated with all new tunes, then you may have some initial trouble with your buying decision. It’s the same question people might have wondered not so long ago when the original smash hit Guitar Hero was followed up by Guitar Hero II, which was a nice new batch of songs with a minor facelift and not much else.

Yes, the menus are better. The format for building and maintaining a band, even if it is a one man band, is more natural and engaging. There are dozens of new songs. There are online challenges and a lot more community interaction and feedback, but sixty dollars worth?

The truth is that scrutinizing Rock Band 2 raises a number of meaningful questions, and while I will at the end of this conclude that, yes, Rock Band 2 is well worth its price tag, I also feel like the game is getting off a little easy on having to address what it is really offering. Because, the truth is, when people ask me what’s so new about the game, I have a little bit of trouble coming up with a meaningful answer.

Part of the reason for that is simply that the differences, despite being important, are actually a little hard to describe in a way that makes them sound important. The new game along with my transferred Rock Band content, which can be imported over for a nominal fee, along with a relatively stingy 30 or 40 songs purchased online, brings my total catalog to somewhere in the ballpark of 200 songs. That’s less than half of what’s available, and having a smart way of accessing that music, like a really robust and fully feature menu system, is absolutely critical.

But, it’s hard to prop up good menus as a justification for sixty bones, so let’s start instead with the core. The song list has always defined rhythm games, and it doesn't matter how much fun the game mechanic is if you only have Miley Cyrus tracks from which to choose. With each iteration companies like Harmonix can make even more compelling arguments to skeptical artists that their music needs to be included in a game featuring plastic toys, so not surprisingly each new game features music that is increasingly impressive. But, starting with Guitar Hero 3 it began to become clear that a lot of songs that may be interesting to listen to aren’t necessarily fun to play. The genius of Rock Band was that they actively pursued games that were fun to play on most of the instruments as an ensemble — there’s really only so many good bass songs out there — which created a more nuanced playlist that sometimes traded off mega-hits for fun.

However, since Rock Band’s original release, with the focus on putting out weekly downloadable content, a slight shift of emphasis has become evident that bleeds into the selection for Rock Band 2. Take The Who, for example; a band everyone seemed to lust after, but which delivered numerous songs that were perhaps exciting to play on drums but relatively dull for guitar.

That methodology carries over to Rock Band 2. For an old Guitar Hero fan such as myself, I am grateful for songs like 'Ramblin’ Man', 'Let There Be Rock', 'Aqualung', 'Carry On Wayward Son' and 'Alive' which feature great riffs and fantastic solos born straight from the heady days of 70’s guitar rock. But, one of my major complaints about Guitar Hero III was the excessive reliance on what I call “chugga-chugga” songs with long boring rhythm sections that leave me wondering why you don’t see more guitarists being treated for repetitive stress injuries. Rock Band 2 features a number of these songs that suffer from Fall Out Boy disease, songs like 'Rock’n Me', 'Chop Suey' and even 'Eye of the Tiger' that can become tedious in just a few bars. Admittedly, I give Rock Band 2 a little more latitude on this issue than Guitar Hero 3, because, like The Who songs, where Harmonix taketh away from me they usually giveth to somebody else.

Take those boring songs, switch to drums or vocals instead, and these tiresome exercises in tendonitis become centerpieces. The reality is that, like in a real band, it’s not always about you. That makes it a little easier to forgive, because it becomes an understandable decision, and the fact is that unlike many games, when you're not having fun you usually have the power to change it.

Additionally, the hit detection for the game seems slightly less forgiving, and using my Guitar Hero 3 controller, as opposed to the fancy new Rock Band 2 guitar that auto-calibrates, I had a lot of trouble manually calibrating the game to my HDTV. In fact, after 2 weeks of fiddling with the calibration section, I still feel like the game isn’t quite right, and this is most often evident in those annoying repetitive sections of songs that I’m already kind of annoyed with.

This is not a negative review of Rock Band 2, despite the nitpicking and grousing of the previous paragraphs. It is clear that most of the added features to the game come directly from fans of the series. It’s even hard to complain too much about the game’s music since I have all of my Rock Band favorites right there blended seamlessly into the game.

The big question for me comes to this: had I been given the choice of simply buying from Rock Band 2’s track list ala carte for integration into the original game or buying Rock Band 2 in its current iteration, which would I have chosen and which would have been less expensive. In the long run, I think Rock Band 2 saves me considerable money, and offers up features I am already taking for granted as fundamental cores of the game, such as being able to create setlists in free play, a no-fail mode for my son, a drum trainer, switching instruments in career mode on the fly, recording scores outside of tour mode, better online integration, battle of the bands mode and so on.

Like I said, the more I play the game, the more I find to like about it. While I do feel like there are legitimate concerns to bring up with the game, in the long run I also feel like it does a good job addressing most of those concerns. Now, if only I could get the calibration to feel right without shelling out another $80 on a controller.

Oh, who am I kidding?

Comments

Dude, all of those little improvements you mentioned are crucial to me. The new song selection interface alone is worth the price of admission as far as I'm concerned. Of course, I also have every song released (DLC whore) and so I have roughly 350 songs right now, and that's supposed to hit 500 before the end of the year. As for the calibration, I had a little difficulty with that myself, until I finally figured out exactly how the whole system works. An expert player who posts on the ScoreHero site named Tommy Gun made an absolutely fantastic video on how the system works and how to calibrate your setup properly using manual tweaking. I basically did exactly what he did, but reversed. I calibrated my audio first, then video. The video is on YouTube here and everyone should definitely check it out.

I agree, DorkmasterFlek (...), those improvements have become crucial to me as well, but I'm not sure that extends to everyone. Imagine if you primarily had Rock Band 2 as an occasional past time and only had maybe 10 or 12 DLC songs. Would this still be a justifiable upgrade.

I still say yes, but I think it's a little harder to get to that yes from that perspective.

And thanks for the video. I can't wait to try it out.

The biggest improvement barely mentioned here is the way you can make your own little group of Band avatars, and then even if you only want to play guitar by yourself offline, your "band" still follows you through the whole game.

The way they mix up the set lists in the career mode is also infinitely better than all of the previous GH and RB games.

Overall the flexibility afforded even the single player user to go through the game and mix up different set lists, instruments and so on really is worth the price of admission even if you have not downloaded 200 songs.

I don't regret buying RB2 at all. I know it's being referred to as RB 1.5, but that's fine. The $65 (since I imported all the songs) didn't bother me in the least. I even picked RB2 over Force Unleashed, which was a pretty agonizing decision at the time.

Rock on!

I am saying this everywhere I can because I am incredibly disappointed that the scoring from the old RB1 and Guitar Heroes traditional 'progress up the tier list' gameplay is missing.

See, after I progress through the game's main mode (The old tier challenges, BWT, whatever) I am then left with a big ole pile of songs (I'm around 300 with RB1, 2, and DLC) to go back and play. When I'm playing single player, I very often want to approach a play session by looking at and then taking on songs where I can see I can use improvement. I'd love to be able to scan down a list somewhere (could be in the 'Quickplay' session, wherever) where I can easily see how many stars I earned by difficulty level by instrument on any given song. I'd then set up a single song or set list and go to it.

I can't do this in RB2 right now. This structure is nowhere to be found.

Yes, you can see score, but that really tells you relatively little, since every individual song has its own max score. The numbers displayed on a menu together are pretty useless because you can't compare them objectively with one another....a 90,000 on one song might be great, while decidedly mediocre on another.

I enjoy the new soundtrack, 1p BWT is great, I like the online challenges, and multiplayer is wonderful...but the way I've enjoyed playing RB1 for long after I 'beat' the tier track is lost to me, and I really, really hope that they can patch star-difficulty level-instrument scoring into the game somewhere-- in a song selection menu.

Else, I'm probably going to be spending more 1p time on RB1 with DLC than I do with RB2, once the main BWT mode is clear.

psu_13 wrote:

The biggest improvement barely mentioned here is the way you can make your own little group of Band avatars, and then even if you only want to play guitar by yourself offline, your "band" still follows you through the whole game.

How do you do that? Is it just making 3 extra characters?

This is not a negative review of Rock Band 2

Right, just like you're thoughts on Vangard weren't a review at all.

Hater.

Seriously, though, you bunch of enablers are making me want to buy RB2 for my PS3 (I don't care about network play). The last plastic-guitar game I played was Guitar Hero 2 on the PS2, and I enjoyed it (though not as much as GH1, despite the control improvements). I didn't play RB1 because I heard so many bad things about hardware failures, and I flat out don't buy games that need peripherals if the peripherals don't hold up to, you know, actual use (this goes for systems too, which is why I have a PS3). They seem to have fixed this in RB2.

When I have $200 to spare (Dream On), I'll look into getting the kit with all the instruments and RB2. Maybe I'll come into money or something.

I'm still waiting, Harmonix. STILL WAITING.

*impatiently taps foot on European soil*

The interface changes sound like exactly what I want from RB2. I will most definitely not be buying any more plastic instruments though, no matter how much more 'improved' they are (well, until my current ones break, that is ;)).

Elysium wrote:

I agree, DorkmasterFlek (...)

I hope that dude sends a voice email to the podcast because just saying DORK MASTER is kinda funny.

2 things I thought I should add -
1) No one has mentioned that the graphic for HO/PO's is different now, making it much more obvious! This is a huge improvement for me.
2) I traded in RB1 the day I got RB2, after importing all my songs, and got 22$ for it, making RB2 MUCH more affordable. Silly EB price people didn't catch on to the whole "song import" thing, I'm sure - I bet they're flooded with RB1 copies now.

Dysplastic wrote:

2) I traded in RB1 the day I got RB2, after importing all my songs, and got 22$ for it, making RB2 MUCH more affordable. Silly EB price people didn't catch on to the whole "song import" thing, I'm sure - I bet they're flooded with RB1 copies now.

I think at head office they caught on. The one near my store changed the price of used copies from $39 to $54 shortly after the announcement that they would be transferable.

The fact that I can finally play Foo Fighter's "Everlong" is worth the price to me. I thought it should have been in ever since Guitar Hero on the PS2.

ApplepieChamploo wrote:

I'm still waiting, Harmonix. STILL WAITING.

*impatiently taps foot on European soil*

HA! Lucky you, still waiting for RB1 here. :'(

MrDeVil909 wrote:
ApplepieChamploo wrote:

I'm still waiting, Harmonix. STILL WAITING.

*impatiently taps foot on European soil*

HA! Lucky you, still waiting for RB1 here. :'(

Maybe the delay is another plan by the SA government to save electricity?

I think Harmonix knocked this game out of the park. You can see love and attention given to every corner of the game, everything has been rethought. I can get to my music faster, easier, and have more ways to enjoy it. Challenges are a welcome change to the tier system, I unlocked all the songs in record time, and now I have playlists that I can actually use when friends are over.

The best way to describe the music itself is "broad." The new soundtrack caters to a wider range of tastes. The game starts out light, pop, and lady friendly. The first tiers have a flavor of romance and "happy to be alive" emotions, and in the middle difficulty levels you'll start seeing the "f*ck yeah, Rock out!" stuff. The highest difficulties are speed metal and virtuoso stuff. So if you like a very specific type of music, you'll probably be dissatisfied. If you enjoy listening to new things and especially if you enjoy rocking out with other people (who have different tastes) then you'll like RB2.

The new instruments are great, btw.

I'm wondering....
Since Elysium's verdict was that it is actually cheaper to buy RB2 than it would have been to buy the songs as DLC...

I have a Wii. I don't think DLC will be workable there any time soon. Would it be worthwhile to buy RB2(I do NOT have RB1) and any "song packs" they release? How does that work, since the Wii usually complains if you take a gamedisc out while playing, and there's no HD to import them to.

I know, the Xbox is only $200 for the cheapest one right now, but what I have is a Wii and I'm unlikely to get a 360.
That would make this a .... what, $400 ***game***?

Zelos wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:
ApplepieChamploo wrote:

I'm still waiting, Harmonix. STILL WAITING.

*impatiently taps foot on European soil*

HA! Lucky you, still waiting for RB1 here. :'(

Maybe the delay is another plan by the SA government to save electricity?

Could be, when we were under load shedding conditions I didn't switch my Xbox on for 2 months, because our power was off from 6-8 every night. Owning Rock Band could have caused problems.

Quick tip on calibration if you are having problems with RB2. If you felt you had set the calibration dead on in the first Rockband, put the RB disc in and check out what numbers you had set for that. Now that you have those numbers load up RB2 and set those numbers to match or get them as close as you can. It worked wonders for me, I have had no problems since I did that.

I remembered the numbers from Rock Band 1 and set them to the same in RB2 but it was way, way, way off. Either I remembered the wrong numbers, which is quite likely, or you are a dirty liar.

I just looked in the manual and went with the numbers they suggested and it seemed to work out perfectly, but I'm going to check out that video and see if I maybe can get it even perfecter.

I don't really consider RB2 to be released until all the instruments are out. I view the disc as an expansion pack (or, perhaps more accurately, as the main game for which we've all already been playing the expansion). At the time, I thought RB1 was a pretty great thing. These days, I'm feeling more like it was an expensive appetizer.

That all said, what I'd really like to see is a deep look at the new instruments for each of the new "platforms." As we saw with RB1, though, we can't really know until we've seen how well the instruments hold up in the "stress testing" of early adoption.

I'm still chewing my way through, but on the "party game with non-gamers" front, RB2 does absolutely everything right. The subtle changes in how you navigate around, deal with set lists, deal with getting games going, the no-fail mode, etc. It all just leads to a MUCH better experience.

Plus, new songs are always good, and I think the setlist is great.

In case you're looking to play Band World Tour with other GWJ people, I've just posted a new forum topic for that: http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/41474

Sean,

What do you think of the effort by some yahoo in Kotaku to get Stan Bush's "The Touch" included as an add on track in Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero WT? I mean, one of my biggest beefs with Rock Band, despite the great selection of music, is WHO decides which tracks to add and are they responsive to fans? I mean, one of my favorite tracks in either of the band games was the Halo Mjornr mix in GH3 . . .

digg user abyronichero would like to share this story with you:
http://digg.com/gaming_news/Stan_Bus...
---
"Stan Bush Wants "The Touch" In Guitar Hero, Rock Band"
Originally appearing on the soundtrack to the Transformers animated movie in the 80's, the song made countless little boys believe that they could do absolutely anything, no matter how many Decepticons got in their way.
+51 people dugg this story

Apart from all the silliness in the above post, I am totally in favor of more Transformers: The Movie songs.

It's OK, you can dare to be stupid.

Arise!

Our home sports a Wii and neither of the HD-capable consoles, and so Rock Band 2 for us had to wait until Christmas week of 2008. SInce then, it's easily been our main game, keeping our Wii occupied nearly daily.

For the Wii, the distance from RB1 to RB2 is huge. No one would characterize it as RB1.5. And with this week's emergence of downloadable songs for the Wii, it's now mostly reached parity with its big-boy cousins.

Except, that is, for importing RB1 (and Track Pack 1 or 2) songs into RB2.

Unlike what was described above, where for a small $5 relicensing fee, one can get almost all the RB1 songs dropped into RB2, for the Wii it appears as if the only approach is to buy them one-by-one at 200 points ($2) each as they appear in the RB2 download store. At this price, it'd cost more than we originally spent on RB1+instruments+TP1+TP2 to get all these songs available in RB2. (That is, assuming that a side memory card -- 2G maximum -- can hold all of those songs.)

Does anyone know of any plans by Nintendo/Harmonix/Pi Studios (or whoever) to give Wii RB2 owners some cost-effective way to import (most of the?) songs from any of the existing Wii RB1 song collections?

Please?

I picked this up because my wife made an off-hand comment about how she'd like to do Karaoke. And I said "I'll do you one better..."

Fired it up last night and I suck at the drums. No, more than you can actually imagine. My wife loves the singing thing though.

But it does what I hate, force me to unlock material I've already paid for. ARGGHHHHHHHH. Why do they persist in doing this?

Yes, I know about the unlock code, but still, if you want to limit what I can play in the tour, fine, but in Quickplay, why shouldn't I have everything. I know it's a console trope, but it's one of the reasons I limit my console game buying.

Tach wrote:

I picked this up because my wife made an off-hand comment about how she'd like to do Karaoke. And I said "I'll do you one better..."

Fired it up last night and I suck at the drums. No, more than you can actually imagine. My wife loves the singing thing though.

But it does what I hate, force me to unlock material I've already paid for. ARGGHHHHHHHH. Why do they persist in doing this?

Yes, I know about the unlock code, but still, if you want to limit what I can play in the tour, fine, but in Quickplay, why shouldn't I have everything. I know it's a console trope, but it's one of the reasons I limit my console game buying.

Is that really a console thing? How many PC games open up al levels of a game?

But I agree with you in regards to Rock Band. It is silly to force someone to work through the game just to havre songs available for when friends come over. The fact that you can unlock them with a code is just more irritating. I mean, I have to know the seceret code instead of just opening the mup through game options. That is just silly and annoying.

That said, I really do get a nice feeling everytime I unlock songs as I am playing through the tour.

Jayhawker wrote:

Is that really a console thing? How many PC games open up al levels of a game?

But I agree with you in regards to Rock Band. It is silly to force someone to work through the game just to havre songs available for when friends come over. The fact that you can unlock them with a code is just more irritating. I mean, I have to know the seceret code instead of just opening the mup through game options. That is just silly and annoying.

That said, I really do get a nice feeling everytime I unlock songs as I am playing through the tour.

I think it kind of is a console thing. I'm talking about content, rather than levels. Cars that you have to unlock in a driving game, songs in Guitar Hero/Rockband, equipment in boxing games etc.

For me, I don't really get a good feeling when I unlock the songs in tour mode, because I'm an old dude, and half the songs I've never even heard before

I want to play 'Battery', but I'm doing 'Spirit in the Sky'?

Tach wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

Is that really a console thing? How many PC games open up al levels of a game?

But I agree with you in regards to Rock Band. It is silly to force someone to work through the game just to havre songs available for when friends come over. The fact that you can unlock them with a code is just more irritating. I mean, I have to know the seceret code instead of just opening the mup through game options. That is just silly and annoying.

That said, I really do get a nice feeling everytime I unlock songs as I am playing through the tour.

I think it kind of is a console thing. I'm talking about content, rather than levels. Cars that you have to unlock in a driving game, songs in Guitar Hero/Rockband, equipment in boxing games etc.

For me, I don't really get a good feeling when I unlock the songs in tour mode, because I'm an old dude, and half the songs I've never even heard before

I want to play 'Battery', but I'm doing 'Spirit in the Sky'? :)

Well, it was definitely the case in racing games. All of the original NFS games forced you to earn cars.

We're disappointed in RB2.

Why?

1) Content is locked up.

2) Too many obscure songs.

3) Medium difficulty for guitar is too easy and thus boring. And hard difficulty is too difficult and frustrating. This goes for all the roughly 20 songs that you start with at least.

My 8 yr old has been sticking with the 3rd complaint for the 2 weeks since he received RB2 and a Logitech mic for his b-day. He keeps saying GH3 is faster on medium and much more fun. And last night at Best Buy, on GH:WT, he showed me. And he's right. I, being the DAD, and great internet gaming skimmer, had been downplaying his complaints for the past 2 weeks. According to my internet skimming RB2 is god compared to GH3 and GH:WT.

The 2nd complaint of obscure music isn't as much a problem for him because, well, it's all obscure to him. But it does make Mom & Dad less enthusiastic about joining him which tends to lessen the enjoyment for him as well.

Content lock-up is a problem for him when the guitar parts he likes to play are just too boring on medium and too hard for him at the next highest level. So much so his enthusiasm to unlock more content isn't there as it was with GH3.

One last observation is not all great songs make for great Rock Band songs. I love The Who. And so, of course, I downloaded the whole first Who song I saw which turned out to be Baba O'Riley. But there's too little to do in that song to make it a great RB2 experience.

Anyway I'm on the lookout for a GH:WT sale.