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Review – Rock Band 2

posted on September 16th, 2008 by golden jew

Rock Band 2 came out this past weekend, with an odd Sunday launch to be precise. You’d have been hard pressed to learn this from Harmonix’s site, which was oddly devoid of fanfare about the release. Fortunately, the local Gamestop was plastered with signs indicating that Rock Band 2 was in fact available, and they didn’t even give me much shit when I told them I hadn’t reserved a copy. A moderate line of 7 people made me feel like less of a loser, particularly when most of the people in the line were young, hip, and attractive. Truly times are changing when the person behind me was a cute girl in her twenties (with her boyfriend) demanding Rock Band 2.

What you weren’t able to get was the full bundle: new guitar, new drums, new mic and game. That won’t be available until October. News to me. Apparently the new guitar was pushed back as well, leaving me to just get the game and the new drum kit. Still, I had Rock Band 2 and a new drum kit, so on the trip home, I was staring at the back of the box intently. In particular, I was wondering what the twenty bonus songs were, since they hadn’t been announced yet, but the box clearly stated I would be getting them upon returning home. There was an asterisk next to the twenty bonus DL songs, but all it said was “online connection required.” Fortunately I have one of those, so I figured I’d be set.

Unfortunately, these songs weren’t ready yet. There was no official word from Harmonix (at least on site news, or their announcement forum), but a helpful forum poster (yes, I am getting my information from forum trolls… that’s a bad sign) pointed me here: http://www.rockband.com/bonustracks/. At the time of publishing, all this site said was “THANK YOU FOR PURCHASING ROCK BAND . Please check back in a few days for the opportunity to enter your Registration Code and sign up to receive the Bonus Downloadable Tracks.” Hmmmm.

Despite the fact that so far everything felt more like a beta than a live release, I was surprised to find that there actually was not an immediate title patch, like GH3 had, which means at least some QA effort was put into the game. And after playing for about five hours on Sunday, there were no show-stopping bugs. In fact, there weren’t any bugs I could see at all.

What I can deduce was that Harmonix was being held to a disc-based launch metric either by Xbox for their exclusivity or by EA for whatever reason. They scrambled to make it and figured they’d pick up the pieces after. You can do these things when you have built a successful franchise, I suppose, although it often does signify the beginning of the end of a company’s glory days. The equipment almost certainly had more issues (as equipment always does…Rock Band and GH equipment in particular) and was delayed. But hey, the box shipped. And despite what might appear as disappointment from the start of this review, I was quite pleased with Rock Band 2. The setlist is fantastic, featuring a lot of “radio music” from both growing up and today. The interface is dramatically improved, and the game caters much better to the “band” concept. So, let’s cut to the chase and talk about the good, the bad, and the undecided.

The Good

* No more funky character management issues like in RB1. No more band leader, anyone can lead. Characters can now play all instruments.

* No more solo mode. You can tour solo, or with your friends. Different people can be in your band so your roommate can tour solo, then you can push the band along or the two of you can play together.

* New drum kits are nice. They’re a bit more sensitive than the old ones, which takes some getting used to, but feel sturdier.

* Fantastic set list. Well balanced in terms of genre, and lots of songs that I didn’t think I’d like but do.

* More in-depth band stuff: you can hire promoters, interns, etc. There are more accessories to dress the band with and more challenges.

* Band vs. Band internet play. You may now shit talk against up to four people you have just ruined in an online game. Hooray!

* Drum solos!

The Bad

* Weird launch. Not a lot of details from Harmonix (that I could find on their site, anyway).

* Lack of bonus 20 songs, despite the game box saying they were available. That’s false advertising kids, and is illegal. I don’t like to nitpick that sort of stuff, but it’s not right.

* No bundle available at launch, and not a lot of explanation as to why.

* Harmonix going strangely radio silent over the launch and all of the accompanying stuff. Are they about to be bought? Are they drunk? Are they bathing in money? Tell us for fuck’s sake!

* Songs not being unlocked from the start. Big pet peeve of mine. Venues have more songs now you can play straight up, but given that RB2 is more about the casual music lover than hardcore gamer, it’s annoying to have to go through and unlock everything. I couldn’t just quick play some songs I was really itching for.

* Despite rubber add-ons to keep the drum sets in place, they still slid across my tile floor as I rocked out. I had to bring back a footstool I used to keep the thing from moving.

* Although they made characters able to play any instrument, you can only purchase new instruments for the equipment you’re logged on for. It’s a nit, but it’s common sense if you play the game and probably should be in there.

The Undecided

* A lot of internet kids were complaining about the way leaderboard information is displayed. I only play for the music or parties, so I couldn’t care less. But a lot of people seem upset. Of course, a lot of people are planning on voting republican this election too (I kid, I kid).

* Song management is better, as many of us have over a hundred (or even 200) songs, but it still isn’t perfect. Hopefully a patch will address this.

* Hard drive management. This isn’t their fault, but I’m down to 2.5 gigs on my hard drive. I had no way of knowing Rock Band was coming (nor did Microsoft), but it’s very possible I’m going to need a bigger hard drive and I’m terrified of how painful moving things may or may not be. Something worth commenting on, even if it’s not anyone’s “fault.”

The Conclusion

If you like or love Rock Band, at least get the game itself. You can export your old songs (less 3 songs) for $5, and you’re getting (eventually) a hundred more.

10 Comments

  1. SAGExSDX said on September 17, 2008:

    I didn’t completely read the review (due to lack of interest in Rock Band 2) but to clarify a “The Bad” item, Harmonix talked about details about those free DLC songs. From http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3169942

    “As a special “thanks” to everybody who bought Rock Band 2, Harmonix confirmed on the Rock Band forums that they will be making 20 free songs available for download later this fall. No word yet on the tracks, but Harmonix promised to reveal the titles closer to the final release date.”

  2. Christian said on September 17, 2008:

    Fantastic review. GJ hits up on the most interesting point about RB2 – the game is like a giant f-ing expansion pack. A few tweaks, new venues and characters, and a boatload of songs. This would have worked just fine as a download of some sort, but by being its own disc based software, it makes RB1 outdated, when it didn’t have to.

    This launch is indeed strange; Harmonix have had a music game out every year for four years now, and I don’t think they’ve got one out quite this quickly (RB1 is still not out in some regions). They’re being quiet, the 20 songs aren’t ready, and the once promised Jukebox Mode is toast. Despite what I’ve said in the past, I don’t want these guys to fail, but their output as well as some of the things they say (or don’t say) leave me scratching my head and wondering. The massive arsenal of Rock Band songs is like a giant fortress in this genre, but gimmicks or not, Neversoft looks to have put some serious thought and effort into the new Guitar Hero. I’m staying out of this round of games, but I will enjoy the eventual sparks. Competition never sounded this good.

  3. Golden Jew said on September 17, 2008:

    Yes, they posted that Sage, but it didn’t come out until after the launch, which was weird– it was a Sunday launch, but the news didn’t break until Monday PM. Most upsetting to me was that the boxed material did not indicate this at all. Just a sloppy release in my opinion.

    I do agree Christian that RB2 might have been a bit premature, but the gameplay improvements were substantial beyond what a patch would have entailed. The whole thing still did feel forced, however.

  4. christian said on September 17, 2008:

    Yeah, I guess you’re right that it’d me too much for a patch, even to download all the tracks.

    I finally figured out why I’ve been feeling funny about this game. With all the content, its clearly worth the money, from a perspective of value. But most of what was added to RB2 were things I felt should have been there in the first place. I know the original was a new deal with EA and a new concept, but still. The more I think about it, the more RB1’s release feels like a miraculous trainwreck. Oh well, time to move on.

  5. SpyderMayhem said on September 18, 2008:

    I think there is an explaination for the lack of noise.

    Rock Band is, more than any game I have ever played, an inclusive group experience. I have Disturbed songs, I have Jimmy Buffett songs, I have the Monkees and I have the Pixies. I have some of the most classic songs ever released and some that I’ve never even heard of. I have a French band that sounds like Limp Bizkit and a song from Stephen T. and the Colberts. Anyone can have a good time with my Rock Band system.

    The launch, however, is not all-inclusive. I was pretty upset when I first found out that there was an exclusive launch window for the Xbox, and I might be correct in feeling that Harmonix was, too. One of the core principles in the game is that anyone can get involved, anyone can have fun. Right now, not everyone can. And while there is a much smaller base of players playing Rock Band on the PS3 and Wii, I don’t think Harmonix wanted to leave them in the cold. It is the same philosophy that led to the release of Jimmy Buffett tracks in the first place: Everyone is important, even the niche fans.

    Those twenty bonus tracks probably won’t be released until the full release of the game. What do you do for us PS3 owners who preordered RB2 and therefore should be able to access those 20 free tracks? Microsoft’s victory in gaining an exclusivity window is somewhat bittersweet due to the fact that the full range of features won’t be available until they are available to all.

    I expect there to be a lot more fanfare when October rolls around and the big kit gets released for Xbox alongside the PS3, Wii, and PS2 versions.

  6. Tyson said on September 19, 2008:

    I know that when the Deluxe Edition does come out for the 360, I am all over that. I have been holding off on Rock Band until the sequel came out and now I am just waiting for the newer controllers to arrive. Next month is going to suck for the amount of money I am devoting to games.

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