So, as you may know, my wife recently got a job working at Harmonix, the company that makes Rock Band (and now, Rock Band 2.) That meant something awesome for me, a free copy of Rock Band 2. Jealous? You should be.
The problem, however, is that I couldn’t wait for her to get her free copy, and went out Friday afternoon, and bought the game, the new guitar, and the new drums. Sadly, the bundle won’t be out for another month or so, so it ended up costing me about $40 more than the bundle would have. I don’t mind, I’m not cheap.
Anyway, I let Christine know, and she was pretty psyched. Even having worked there for a few weeks now, she still hadn’t gotten to play the game, since they’re all so insanely busy with getting things ready for the launch, and the new website they’re working on.
So, Friday night, we get home, throw together a quick dinner, and shove it down our pieholes. Well, I shove mine down my piehole, and Christine eats at her usual pace. So, while she’s eating, I began feverishly ripping through boxes, and putting things together.
From the very beginning, opening the new wireless drum kit, I knew it was going to be much better than the Rock Band 1 drumkit. (To be fair, I’m pretty sure I got a bad drumkit for the first game, because the majority of the hits didn’t register. Although, according to a lot of people, they had the same problem, so maybe it was just a bad drumkit, who knows.)
I unpacked the kit, and immediately thought “hey, this isn’t a toy!”, while the first drumkit I took it out of the box and thought “wow, a toy. Great.” The new kit is much sturdier, the pads are a little bit bigger (I didn’t measure the new ones compared to the old ones, because I’d already put the old one in the closet before Christine got home from work.) They give you “real” drumsticks this time, made by Ludwig, but they were still pretty cheap, and I got a splinter after half a song. I switched back to my trusty Vic Firth sticks.
I think my favorite part about the new drum kit, is that you can pick the entire thing up, and it doesn’t fall apart, nor does the kick pedal flop off and drop to the ground, stretching the wire that connects it to the kit. It all stays together nicely, and is sturdy.
Playing the new kit, it’s obvious that the folks at Harmonix listened to everyone complain about the old drums. They’re sturdier, quieter, and more accurate. Oh, and the drum trainer on the game is awesome. I’m still amazed at how more accurately the drums are. I stare at the screen while playing, and hit a whole bunch of notes in succession, and the game registers all of them. That’s something I could never do with the old game/drums.
Aesthetically, the new guitar is much nicer. It’s got a great sunburst finish on it, which looks more classy. It put together the same way I remember putting the other guitar together, for Rock Band 1. The difference is that this new guitar is wireless.
No clickity clack of the fret keys on this new guitar, and so far, the strum bar hasn’t given out like our last one did.
Other than that, it’s pretty much the same as the previous guitar. The frets look nicer, in the woodgrain, they look more realistic, and the colors for the buttons are on the sides of the neck, similar to fret markers on a real guitar, which is cool.
Little known fact, but awesome fact: If you plug in the old drum pedal to the little port on the side of the new guitar, you can activate Overdrive by stomping on the pedal, like a stompbox!
The game is infinitely better than Rock Band 1. I was most impressed, right off the bat (and so was Christine), that the downloadable content just worked. There was no voodoo, or magic needed. They were just there, and just worked. We eventually paid the 5 bucks for a license to move the RB1 content into RB2, as well, and that was extremely simple. And, totally worth $5.00 worth of Microsoft points.
While the actual gameplay is very similar to the original Rock Band, it’s the small things that were improved, that I’m the most impressed with.
- When picking a setlist, you can now see the previous songs you’d selected in the top left corner of the screen.
- The difficulty of the song you’re considering playing is now shown onscreen, where the previous game only showed you difficulty when you drilled down into a song’s details, before downloading it (I believe.)
- The graphics that show your name/Xbox username when you start playing for the day, are much cooler.
- The challenges are new, and very cool.
- The drum trainer is awesome for those that don’t know what they’re doing. And for those that do, it’s just downright fun.
- The online tournaments (I think that’s what they’re called), are pretty cool. You get to play a short set, with various “Required instruments” (for some of them), and then compare your score, or star rating, to other bands on Xbox live (and presumably the Playstation Network, too.) You get to see your ranking, and it tells you how much better you need to do, to be in the Top 100.
- You can play any instrument you want with the same character. You don’t have to create a new person if you want to sing one day, and play the drums the next. Your band player is uber-talented, and can play anything you want.
- There’s now staff you can hire throughout the game, based on how many stars you have acquired.
- You can play benefits, film videos, and get reviewed by critics. (At one point, we got reviewed, and the reviewer said we relied too much on Overdrive. So the next time he came to review us, they challenged us to play the set without using Overdrive. We agreed, and they didn’t even give us the opportunity to use Overdrive, because there were no Overdrive notes. Brilliant!)
- Each band member maintains their own money. I don’t know how this gets figured out, and didn’t realize it, until Christine and I went to spend money in the rock store.
All the great stuff in the game vastly outweigh the negative, of which, unfortunately, there are a few.
- The solo tour is gone. While I don’t care about this, (I mean really, the game is about playing with friends) others online are a bit unhappy.
- The songs – there’s some great songs in the game, but it starts off really slowly. A lot of the beginning songs are either pretty lame, or really obscure. The “fix” for that, is to import your Rock Band tracks first, so those “random” setlists, and created setlists will at least have some songs you know, and like playing.
I’m sure there’s more good points, and more bad points, but it’s early, it’s Monday, and we haven’t gone through the entire game yet.
I’m absolutely, 100% glad I didn’t wait for the Harmonix folks to give my wife her copy, and that I went out and bought it. It’s totally worth it, and is absolutely a huge improvement, and ton of fun. I can’t wait to play again. I’m going to gather up some of the guys from work and organize a Rock Band 2 party.
My suggestions, to improve even more (which is my wish list, and shouldn’t be taken as any indication that Harmonix is, or will be working on any of this, in the near future):
- A possible 5th band member, which would be a second guitar player. I know there’s songs in the game that have two guitars in them, but if you’ve got two guitars plugged in, you can only have a guitar player and a bass player. A “lead” and “rhythm” would be awesome, and is something that Harmonix did back in the days when they made that other game.
- While we’re on it, a few tracks with two drummers would be friggen awesome. Some Allman Brothers, Adam and The Ants, Pink Floyd, Yes, ..and you will know us by the trail of dead, or The Outlaws. A dual drummer version of Green Grass and High Tides? I can see it now!
- The game shows your high score for a track, but how about a historical score keeper, so you can see how much you’ve improved at a song over time?
- While we’re on scores, it’d be awesome at the end of a track, if you beat your high score, that you got some sort of notification about it. Just a quick “You F’n rocked a new high score!” would suffice.
- More Dream Theater – while I don’t think anyone will ever beat Panic Attack on Expert on any instrument, so what. Dream Theater rules.
I think that’s it for suggestions. I love the game, and guarantee you will too. Go buy it, you’ll thank me later. I know, I know, it’s expensive. Stop being a cheapass, and spend the money. Seriously. Go. Now. Rock Band 2 rules, thank you, again, Harmonix. You’ve made a lifetime customer out of me. I’ll pretty much buy anything you put out, ever. Even when the Rock Band Hanson version comes out. (That’s a joke, there is no Hanson version. That’s not inside information, stop thinking you got the scoop.)