Note: I don't have the new instruments as I am only reviewing the game, so check elsewhere for thoughts of the new Stratocaster and Drum Kit.
Last year's Rock Band took the rhythm game to a whole new level. Harmonix, the originators of Guitar Hero and Frequency, managed to top themselves of making a full band experience that satisfies both hardcore and casual players with a balanced soundtrack based on difficulty while keeping it a challenge for genre veterans. Rock Band also had long legs with weekly downloadable content of varying quality, but still was a reason to keep playing for new songs. Now Harmonix is already on Rock Band 2, which is arguably how a sequel to a rhythm game should be made fixing nearly everything the first game was flawed on along with unleashing an awesome soundtrack that spreads throughout decades of music. The full band experience gets better with more recognizable songs that were hot during their day and also a challenge for returning players to tackle more difficult songs that the first one did not have a lot of.
Rock Band 1's career mode is gone in Rock Band 2 as Band World Tour can also be played solo, which is great and not as frustrating as last time trying to get people to play along with you. In addition, fans asked for Band World Tour to be online and got their wish for the sequel as you can hop online to progress through the long journey. The structure for the mode remains the same from the first game of traveling across the world playing in different venues unlocking songs, in which you have to pass them once to be playable in quickplay, and gaining money and fans. Of course, the harder the difficulty, the more money and fans the player would gain. Another improvement in this mode is the player can play any instrument instead of a specific one, so your guitarist or bassist can be a drummer if a drum kit is connected and even a vocalist if the mic is hooked up. Speaking of different players, the customization is still the same from last time with more outfits and instruments even though you can't transfer a character from the first Rock Band to Rock Band 2, but it is easy to recreate them anyway since all the customizable items from RB1 return. Mystery setlists can as varied as ever if you have a lot of DLC that works from the first game along with the songs from the first disc that can be exported for five bucks. Playing Band World Tour alone is still enjoyable and satisfying once it is beaten, but it is still more satisfying with more players.
Rock Band 2 has the same difficulty progression of songs as the first game as in being easy for the first two or three tiers and then difficult, but passable in the final tier of songs specifically playing on Expert with any instrument. The challenge is definitely beefed up for the sequel with harder songs such as "Painkiller" by Judas Priest and "Battery" by Metallica. The note charting this time around is fine as well introducing hammer chords, but that experience can be altered by turning on breakneck speed (Rock Band's version of hyperspeed) or even turning on no fail mode. Speaking of no fail mode, it is great especially for parties where people just want to go crazy and not worry about failing a song halfway in especially some of the longer songs. Of course, no fail mode does not factor in to Band World Tour and turns off leaderboards and achievements.
Fundamentally, the game still plays the same as the original with hitting notes, the five star scale (or gold stars if playing on Expert), and the overdrive system for both solo and full band play. Bass grooves, drum fills, and saving a failing person are still in and work the same way. There are improved training modes in Rock Band 2 especially for drummers learning patterns and doing better sounding fills. I mentioned earlier that I don't have the new instruments, but the older instruments that worked in Rock Band 1 still works for the sequel if you prefer playing guitar or bass with the Xpiorer or the Les Paul from Guitar Hero III. Sure, you will miss certain features when playing with the Guitar Hero guitars like solo fret buttons and altering effects when in overdrive, but the experience is still the same despite the Xpiorer having delayed Overdrive and my Les Paul is starting to lose it.
There also other modes in Rock Band 2 worth playing through other than Band World Tour. One of the new modes are specific challenges of playing varied setlists based on difficulty and other setlists based on downloadable content packs like a Weezer specific one or Oasis. Battle of the Bands is also a neat new mode of more challenges such as longest drum streak, longest bass groove, or playing the latest downloadable content pack in a row like the recently released Megadeth album Peace Sells. Online leaderboards also cater in to the songs, battle of the bands, and world tour scores. Other than cooperative multiplayer with a full band, the head-to-head modes Score Duel and Tug of War return, but they're still a distraction from what else is offered in the game.
Graphically at its core, Rock Band 2 definitely looks like the original, but it is significantly improved in nearly every aspect. It is easier to spot hammer-ons and pull-offs as they appeared a little smaller than last time. The new visual effects truly make it perhaps the best looking rhythm game around with the music video venues and other colorful effects even though it may hurt the eyes a bit if playing for more than two or three hours along with your fingers as well if playing on guitar or bass. The characters themselves also look fundamentally look the same from last time even though it could be weird at times specifically during setlists of a guy signing a female song and vice versa. Even though it may seem like a marginal improvement at first, Harmonix definitely stepped it up in a significant way.
The soundtrack has also drastically improved from the last time with an amazing count of 84 songs that spread throughout decades of music and hundreds of more songs by downloadable content out now or soon on the Rock Band Music Store. Also the genres of music represent well ranging from "One Step Closer" by Linkin Park, "Everlong" by Foo Fighters, "Livin on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi, "Chop Suey" by System of a Down, and many more from the 60s to today. As of now, Rock Band 2's soundtrack is the best one so far on a disc. All 84 songs are master tracks, which shows that the rhythm genre is mainstream at this point compared to playing covers when the Guitar Hero juggernaut first started. Sure, some covers are still playable if they're downloadable songs, but expect from this point on that you're getting the official song and not a cover that can either hit or miss.
Rock Band 2 is definitely worth owning if you loved the first game to death of being the definitive rhythm game and full band experience. It is also worth it for first-time plastic rockers who want to know what the big deal is about these games taking over the industry, but they should wait for the full bundle next month. With an slightly improved Band World Tour, a more challenging journey for veterans, and no fail mode for parties, Harmonix has created near perfection. Expect nothing but good times every time Rock Band 2 is on your system whether alone or with friends, online players, and loud parties.
Score = 9.5/10
- Band World Tour way better this time around whether playing alone, locally, or online.
- Improved full band experience with the addition of no fail mode for parties.
- A rewarding challenge for veterans and the option to play on Breakneck Speed.
- Amazing soundtrack that consists of many decades of music.
- Slightly improved graphical presentation.
- If you're expecting some sense of innovation, you're not finding it here.
- Tastes of music may also determine a purchase or not.