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Old 10-17-2008, 07:51 PM   #1
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Rock Band 2 Review - Please Rate This Review

This review was originally published at Strategy Informer.

As much as a phenomenon Rock Band was, it was a broken, incomplete game that was missing more than most people cared to think about. The qualms about it were moot, however, considering the innovative gameplay that gamers and non-gamers alike were introduced to. In typical Harmonix fashion, the developers of the series (and the creators of Guitar Hero) first innovated, and then perfected. Rock Band 2 isnít perfect, but itís close.

Rock Band 2 is not a new game, nor is it an expansion pack to the original. It is simply a new set of songs and an updated interface and menu system so that players arenít required to follow the poor design choices made in the original Rock Band.

Bearing this in mind, Rock Band 2 already has a great start by carrying 84 tracks, all masters, the majority of which we highly approve of, both in musical taste and for gameplay value. (For the uninitiated, playing songs that you donít like has become a staple for music games, if they are fun to play. Many are.) With a few rare exceptions, the tracklist available in Rock Band 2 is very good, perhaps only held back by the giant and growing list of downloadable tracks from their online music store.

Owners of the prior Rock Band will also be able to transfer 55 of the songs to their hard drive and play them in Rock Band 2 for a mere $4.99, an excellent value. Those who purchased Rock Band 2 will also receive 20 additional downloadable tracks by entering a code on the back of the game manual at Harmonixís Rock Band website. There is easily something for everyone in terms of music.

The gameplay hasnít changed significantly, and is just as good as before. The graphics have been updated slightly, with characters behaving more realistically and moving more fluidly. The action taken on screen can be problematic at times, with the guitarist or bassist playing notes in an incorrect fashion depending on the song, but that is a stretch. The drummer hits notes realistically and the fans wave their hands and sing to the music like a true crowd.

Additional updates to the original interface include a simpler menu system, which now has players log in easily and does not require them to play with a created character. Randomized characters are available to choose from at all times. Bands likewise donít require a band leader, and any band member can go off and play as they see fit. Band play is also online.

New game modes include Challenges, which are set lists of songs that have certain qualities for players to beat. Unlike the Tour mode, which is now more realistic and has players traveling the world, playing songs in tens of cities and many more arenas, the Challenges are meant specifically as Ďthe thing to beatí. Players interested in the World Tour will find that there are many repetitions of the same song, and it is not fun to go through and complete, mainly because it takes so long. With a long list of challenges, individuals or groups can test their musical abilities, while the Tour mode acts more as a relaxing online career mode.

The new Battle of the Bands mode doesnít allow two bands to actually battle, but pits the top scores of players worldwide against each other for specific challenges set in the Tour mode. Cities or areas specially marked indicate new challenges that Harmonix has set up for the week, and are updated weekly so no single player or band is always at the top of the leaderboard. Unless they are that good, of course.

The final new mode is the Drum Trainer, which is training regiment for the drums where players test their ability to play different drum schemes at different speeds. From a tempo of 100 to 200, it pushes players beyond the limit most songs in the game have, and it is a great way for beginners to play at the harder difficulty settings, as well as build up the endurance required for longer sessions of drumming. A freestyle mode is also available, though most players will bore of it quickly because it has little value for gaming, though those more interested in actual drumming will enjoy it.

However, as with the previous title, Rock Band 2ís most popular gametype is quickplay, where players select a song to play and play it. All song scores are automatically updated in quickplay from any other mode as well, so good scores are never lost.

Rock Band 2 has introduced a set list function so that players donít have to waste time going back and forth through the menu screen in between songs. It is an excellent feature, but itís flawed in that once a list is made, songs cannot be skipped or removed after the set list starts. For anyone interested in longer set lists (such as five or more songs in a row) and they realize that one song was wrong, they have to go back and recreate the set list completely, which tends to be problematic.

Thankfully the song selection menu has also been improved upon, now that most Rock Band 2 owners will have around 140 songs. Songs can be sequenced by title, artist, difficulty, genre and year. There is also a search function, which goes by letter, but that isnít really required unless every downloadable track is owned by players. All songs also include difficulty levels for each instrument so properly adjusting the difficulty setting isnít a guessing game.

Of the animations, female and male singers not being replaced by proper vocalists is still an issue. For whatever reason, Harmonix still applies that whichever band members play the first song stay until the set list is complete, even if a female singer starts and every song after is by a male vocalist. It may seem comical at first, but it becomes annoying fairly quickly, especially for those watching.

(While not part of the game, the new wireless drums arenít as realistic as the older model. It is too bouncy, and doesnít have enough feel behind each hit. Also, originally Rock Band 2 was supposed to have a music listening option, where players could set a set list to just listen and watch, but the option has been taken out of retail copies, which is a disappointment but will not be counted against the game.)

In general, the Tour mode seemed too long, and after nearly two weeks of going through it I still havenít completed it, even with other people playing for me. It may not seem like a fault since the Tour mode is meant to take a long time, but considering it is not the epitome of online play, elongated gameplay isnít necessary for it.

Our only real concern about the game is some of the songs selected, due to the lyrics. While many gamers wonít care, some songs that include cursing that is cut out just donít sound right. Considering that children enjoy playing Rock Band 2 and that leaving curse words out instead of replacing just makes any and all players sound like utter buffoons, why theyíre around at all must be asked. One song in particular, Disturbedís ďDown with the SicknessĒ has a section where the singer recreateís a scene where he, as a child, is beaten by his mother and vows for revenge. The lyrics themselves have so much improper language cut out that any half-intelligent child will figure out that those are bad words, and even if they donít, the meaning behind the lyrics is completely blatant, and oddly enough, disturbing. Thus, we feel that some form of censorship is required for the available tracks, depending on the age of the person playing.

Without a doubt, Rock Band 2 is setting a gold standard for music games to date. The few minor nuisances are just that, small reminders that nobody and nothing is perfect, and that someday a patch will come out to fix these errors. The experience of Rock Band 2, however, cannot be denied, and is easily a contender for Game of the Year. With an expected 500 tracks by this holiday season (from Rock Band, Rock Band 2 and downloadable tracks combined), a new set of wireless instruments and excellent gameplay, Rock Band 2 receives a standing applause.
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