Rock Band 2 Preview

Down by law.

As most of you can probably suspect (more like know), I pretty much only had eyes for Rock Band 2 at E3, mostly because Guitar Hero: World Tour is totally… I have no freakin’ idea. Look if I’m going to stand around the showcase pavilion for eight hours (where did they hide all the damn chairs?), I’m going to need my rhythm fix satiated. And if there’s one game to relieve me, this is all I need… though to be perfectly honest, the Rock Band 2 setup had a drum stool. (Are you listening E3 booth representatives? C-H-A-I-R-S.)

[image1]As an almost-every-night player of Rock Band, however, I have an extremely long list of gripes, and I’m glad to say that nearly all of them – at least all the major ones – have  been ceremoniously crossed off. The developers have apparently listened to all the bickering that goes on in the Rock Band forums on its official website and have perfected the interfaces and features almost to an epic degree. (And I don’t use the word “epic” unless I mean it.)

The grand-daddy of all the new features is Online World Tour, which allows you to finally gain fame, money, and fans in the game’s virtual world without having to invite people over. (You know, those things that look like you but smell bad.) Bands are no longer tied to a leader character and instead to a Xbox Live profile, so you and your friends no longer have to fiddle with the finicky “who is the leader again?” setup screen. Characters within a band can also be removed and switch instruments with ease.

Daily challenges (yes, the designers said “daily”) will ensure that you and your bandmates will have plenty to do as well. One projected challenge will test whether your band can make it through a set of the most challenging songs… without overdrive. (I, for one, think it’s just "Trasher" by Evile x5.)

Better yet, Solo Tour has been integrated into Online World Tour, so you can actually tour as a solo artist, in case your band members flake out. But as an incentive to create bands with other players, a yet-to-be-announced website will allow you to actually print out logos of your band, make t-shirts and posters with your band’s characters and logo on them, and who knows what else. (Stickers? Spot in indie documentary?) I also suspect that having a genuine four-person band will have a much higher cap on the number of fans a band can garner.

In addition to the projected 80+ track list – which is a great value considering the downloadable price scheme and that it includes everything from AC/DC to Guns N’ Roses, Devo, Billy Idol, and Pearl Jam – multiple touch-ups clean up the menus. Each song’s difficulty rating, which is already shown for downloadable songs in the in-game Rock Band music store, are finally available in the song selection screen. No more second-guessing how difficult a specific instrumental part is anymore.

[image2]Moreover, the song list is now sorted into instant-access partitions, so finding a song doesn’t take a carpel-tunning-inducing number of down presses on the directional pad. This is a welcome addition, especially if you’re like me and have every downloadable song from the original Rock Band (they are compatible, by the way) and since the game will reportedly allow you to export the standard track list from Rock Band without having to swap discs.

On the hardware end, the mad-raving over the attachment-frantic drum set is well-deserved. Though the drum set from Rock Band is compatible, the one for Rock Band 2 will sport four optional outputs: one for an additional bass pedal (you can finally hit those triple bass pedal notes!) and the other three for the optional hi-hat, crash, and ride. None of these attachments have separate notes on the fret board, so even their usage is optional as well, but hitting faux-symbols instead of a snare all the time broadens your ability to improvise. (Score one for Neil Peart drum odysseys!)

Of course, if you’ve got $300 to spare, you can score yourself an Alesis ION electric drum set, a professional starter kit with all the attachments and goodies – a drum set which you can actually use for real music-making and which is quite reasonably priced for beginner drum kits on the market.

A bevy of other minor hardware adjustments include a sunburst-colored guitar with softer frets and a sturdier but still-squishy strum bar, a shinier but mostly unchanged microphone, and a metal-reinforced bass pedal (so people who elephant the pedal won’t break it… I’m looking at you, Tyler). The standing base of the drum set has now been locked into place as well, so you can finally lift it instead of dragging it across the floor. Another enhancement worthy of mention is a keyhole camera embedded in the guitar that enables you to auto-calibrate your system by holding the guitar up to the TV screen.

[image3]Only a spare number of questions remain: Will the snappier-bar Gibson guitar for Guitar Hero III remain compatible? Will practice mode separate each instrumental part of a song so that you can practice specific solos? Will there be an indicator of how far away an expert band is to receiving gold stars? Will there be a special Rock Band mic stand? And given the choice between more Alanis Morissette or more Fall Out Boy, will we have more Rush? (Yes, feel the burn.)

Rock Band 2 is expected to retail at $179.99 for the bundle (one guitar, one drum set, and one mic) and $59.99 for the standalone game. It is projected to hit stores on September 14th; that is, if the developers don’t have a few (thousand) jam sessions in between.

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