Quick “Rock Band 2” Review

September 15, 2008 Off By Tommy Gun

Rock BandYesterday, I got up and played Rock Band 2 from around 8am until 10pm, with a few breaks to eat. I still have a lot to unlock. My roommates were gone, so I played the whole thing Solo — which is a great new feature. World Tour can be played alone, and since I’m pretty good, I was able to amass stars and fans very quickly, which meant new venues kept unlocking and I didn’t have to replay many songs.

There are a lot of features I have yet to try, but let me run down some of the biggest improvements (and worst removals) Harmonix has made, and suggest some more changes. I haven’t played online at all, so I can’t comment on that, nor do I have any of the new instruments. I’m calling this a “quick” review only because I’m focusing on specific things that matter to us RB-obsessed players, not reviewing every part of the game.


Solo World Tour
As previously mentioned.
Characters Not Tied to Instruments, No Band Leader
Now you can create a band, create up to 24 characters (per profile), and use any of them. I drummed for most of the day, but when I got tired, I switched to vocals, and then to guitar — something that wasn’t possible in RB1.
Character Stand-ins
This is actually a great new addition, but you might not realize it at first. If you go to your Band Profile, you can choose other characters you’ve made who will stand-in if you’re not playing as a full band (something we always wished for with RB1). I created three new characters, and when I played Solo, they were there on guitar/bass/vocals. Whenever there’s a lull in the instrument you’re playing, what does it show? Not your character obviously, since you’re not playing. It shows the guitarist (or whomever) playing their solo — and now you have your customized stand-in characters to watch!

This also made me want to customize them more, so I switched characters throughout the day to build up their money and buy new clothes. It really didn’t take much, as I only needed ~$500 to get all the stuff I wanted in most cases, but it was fun. The only remaining issue is that you assign them specific instruments (not again, HMX!) to stand-in for, so if I play drums with my stand-in for bass, then some random character joins (unless I take the time to switch the stand-ins around). They should have a few “universal” stand-ins you can select, so you’ll always have your characters playing.

Drum Trainer / Fill Trainer
I had a lot of fun with this. They give you a bunch of drum patterns, and you can change the speed on the fly. 100% a pattern and it’ll mark the speed you beat it at, so you can try for a higher speed, or see which ones you need work on. It’s like a little mini-game that also really helps you improve. The fill trainer is also great, and something I definitely need work on (remembering to do the fills while playing the main game is the big problem).
Challenges / Battle of the Bands
I actually didn’t play much of this yet, but there will be new ones often, which will really help increase the replay value of the game, and add incentive to buying full albums/packs.
No Fan Caps
In RB1, once you hit the cap, continuing to play meant you could only lose fans — stupid, right? Now, you’ll still gain fans, but at a certain point you won’t receive as many unless you switch to a higher difficulty. When I switched to vocals on Medium, I had already hit the Medium “soft cap” (since I play everything else on Expert), but was still able to keep unlocking stuff.
Some new clothes, makeup, hats, piercings, etc.
While the main “stores” contain the same clothes as RB1, there’s a new “thrift store” as well as some other additions. I don’t feel like it’s a very important part of the game, but other people may be slightly disappointed there isn’t more. I’d like to see them work the characters into the game a little more in RB3, so there’s a more of a point to this. Stand-ins is a start. Really though, it’s all about the music.
The Setlist is Great
There were definitely some surprises. Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain” was a lot of fun on drums, as well as Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” There’s always some disappointment when my favorite songs are easy (and boring) to play, but at least they’ll be fun to sing with a group. My most anticipated song, Silversun Pickups’s “Lazy Eye,” has over 100 tambourine hits in a row! But it’s awesome.
Hiring Staff Members
I’m not sure they have a huge effect, but it helps if you’re going for money, or fans, to be able to pick someone who’ll boost that for you. We didn’t care about money at all in RB1, but really needed fans, and this would have helped.
No Fail Mode / Setlists
I haven’t used this yet, but I’m so glad it’s finally here! Drunk parties are not fun when everyone fails ten seconds into the song. Some non-drunks just aren’t very good, and refuse to play if they think they’re going to fail, so this fixes that, too. RB2 can be used as a general karaoke machine now.

Now Quickplay allows you to make a long setlist.

Minor Gameplay Tweaks
There are now drum solos (blue scroll, percentage counter), there are HOPO chords, and they increased the readability of HOPOs by adding dual grooves on both sides.


World Tour is Mostly the Same
I really thought it would be a lot different, with less repetition, but aside from being able to play Solo and without band leaders, it’s mostly like RB1. Of course now we all have tons of DLC, so that helps, but they need to do away with pre-made setlists entirely! Make them themed setlists! Have a randomly generated “80’s” setlist (that we can “reshuffle”), or let us create our own (forcing us to choose only 80’s songs). Make a “Southern Rock” setlist, a “Tier 6” setlist, and so on, so we can avoid songs we really hate, but still fall within the guidelines.
Some Interface Improvements, Lots Still Missing
Using the music store interface for the song selection is great. It shows the album art, and sorting is much better. You can hold a button (bass pedal on drums, Right Bumper on controller, etc.) to bring up a list of headings (genres, A-Z, decades — whatever you’re sorting it by) and skip directly to what you want. You can also just tap the button to jump to the next heading. No more holding “down” for ten minutes!

While that’s a big improvement, there are still a lot of things missing. How do I get back to the main menu? What? I still have to hit “B” fifty times? They need a “quick menu” assigned to a button that you can bring up at any time to perform various tasks. More improvements in the next item.

Needs More Profiles! For Everything!
I could write an entire book on this subject (being a web designer, usability is a big thing for me), but let me try to be brief.

Your current calibration setting should be displayed on the main screen, so you always know you’re on the correct setting. There should be customizable calibration profiles (that you can name, like “John’s house”). I know the new guitar has auto calibration, but why have to do it every time? Calibrate something once, why calibrate it again? (“…psycho killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est? fa fa fa fa fa fa fa”–sorry.) Speaking of calibration, let me play a song to test the calibration immediately! Don’t require me to back all the way out, go through quickplay, test the song, quit, back to calibration, etc. etc.!

It should save your previous band arrangement, and load it immediately. You should not have to pick your character every time, there should be a “change band members” option available for when you do want to. Give us “band profiles” for often-selected arrangements (e.g., Profile 1: Character “Amy” on bass, character “Tommy” on drums, etc.). Make a thumbnail button for each profile with a picture of the characters on their respective instruments, so we can quickly switch between them.


No Stars Shown…Pretty Much Anywhere.
People. Are. Pissed. Myself included. Ever since the original Guitar Hero, your “stars” were displayed right next to the songs. This way you could scroll down and see how you were doing, and see which songs you needed to improve on. For the hardcore players, this is essential. Rock Band 2 — they’re gone. Not in quickplay, nowhere. The only place the stars are saved is in World Tour, on single song sets. But that would require you to hunt through all the venues to find the song you want to play.

There are some issues here. Since there’s no “solo tour” list like in RB1, they would have to be displayed in (solo) Quickplay. But as it is, you select your difficulty after selecting the song, so they just need to reverse that, or copy the way DDR does it. DDR lets you double-tap up or down to switch your difficulty on the songlist, and it changes your “grades” in real time to reflect that. This NEEDS a patch.

Rock Band 2 also needs a “score sync” feature, so you can play either RB1 or 2, and it’ll update all your scores from the leaderboards. Seriously, for the hardcore players, this is the stuff that matters the most.


So that’s a healthy amount of bitching, but of course I still love the game, and there are some very necessary improvements they’ve made. Now we just need to wait for a patch for some of the other little things. Obviously everyone plays the game differently and for different reasons, so it’s impossible to please everyone — but things like removing the stars pleases no one.

For the amount of new music you get, this is an automatic purchase for a lot of people, and it should be. The value is immense even without the new features, and a few things alone, like No Fail, and the new sorting methods, are worth the price if you play this as much as we do.