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Critical Reception: MTV/Harmonix's  Rock Band 2

Critical Reception: MTV/Harmonix's Rock Band 2 Exclusive

September 17, 2008 | By Danny Cowan

September 17, 2008 | By Danny Cowan
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More: Console/PC, Columns, Exclusive



This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Harmonix's band simulation sequel Rock Band 2, which reviews describe as "an exhilarating, fan-friendly, closely derivative encore."

Rock Band represented a significant leap for the rhythm gaming genre upon its release late last year. Featuring drum and vocal simulation in addition to guitar and bass gameplay, the title earned widespread critical acclaim and inspired its rival series (the formerly Harmonix-developed Guitar Hero) to adopt multiple instruments for its upcoming sequel Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Rock Band 2 releases on the Xbox 360 this week in North America to a Metacritic-averaged score of 94 out of 100.

Alan Kim at Games Radar scores Rock Band 2 at 10 out of 10, explaining that the title improves upon the original in many respects. "If the first Rock Band was the opening leg of a full-blown concert tour, with four players living the rock and roll dream via color-coded buttons and plastic guitars, drums, and microphone, Rock Band 2 is like the final show of that same tour," he begins. "It’s not radically different from its already brilliant predecessor (at least not yet), but everything is tighter and runs more smoothly, and there’s an explosive, extended encore."

"Gameplay, for example, is almost the exact same massively fun shredfest you remember," Kim continues. "Yes, we said 'almost' - there are several very welcome tweaks, like the ability to switch instruments and even entire band members mid-career, a 'no-fail' mode, and custom setlists. Bassists can have a full career now, and there’s an online-enabled battle of the bands that should prove marvelously addictive."

Kim finds that Rock Band 2's new instrument peripherals see an improvement as well. "The new drums are wireless now and have a dozen barely perceptible improvements ranging from a slightly quieter sound to a kick pedal that stays put when you lift the kit," he says. "The same goes for the new guitar, which is prettier, has marginally clickier buttons, a screwdriver-free battery compartment and a fantastic auto-calibrate sensor, but feels essentially the same."

In all, Kim describes Rock Band 2 as a superlative effort, even in spite of similarities to its predecessor. "We’re thrilled that Harmonix didn’t try to fix things that weren’t broken and add in silly things just to add bullet points on the box – the original Rock Band was nearly perfect already," he writes. "We love living the lives of a bunch of rock stars."

Gamer 2.0's Filippo Dinolfo describes Rock Band 2 as the result of fulfilled fan expectations and wish lists in his review, scored at 9.3 out of 10. "Since [Rock Band]'s release," he begins, "many fans have been giving feedback on what could have made the game even better. We're roughly a year from the release of the original, and most of these requests have been taken to heart in Rock Band 2."

"One of the most requested features from fans of the original game was the ability to play the game’s Band World Tour mode online," Dinolfo continues. "This is now possible with Rock Band 2 and it works very well. Another request along the same lines was the ability to play the World Tour mode in Single Player mode. Harmonix has listened to the fans and now the Tour mode is now the main Career mode for both Solo and Multiplayer."

Dinolfo feels that Rock Band 2's Challenge mode is another worthwhile addition. "This is similar to the game's old Career mode where you play several songs and then move onto the next set," he explains. "This time though, there are multiple events in each Challenge Tier and some of them require a full band to play. It doesn’t matter what instrument you play or how many people you have around there will always be something to do in the Tour mode."

Dinolfo praises the tracklist as well. "Rock Band 2 comes with 84 tracks ranging in genre from Classic Rock to Black Metal. Each track is a master recording; there are no covers this time around," he writes.

"Rock Band 2 is a solid sequel," Dinolfo notes in summary. "Harmonix smoothed out most of the rough edges and added enough new stuff to warrant the full priced upgrade."

Dan Amrich at OXM Online awards Rock Band 2 a rating of 9 out of 10, but notes disappointment with the sequel's similarity to last year's effort.

"Good news: Your favorite band is coming back on tour!" he begins. "They mixed up the setlist, and the act looks a little more polished, but...it's essentially the same show. You'd be disappointed if they didn’t deliver the big hits the way you like. That’s Rock Band 2: an exhilarating, fan-friendly, closely derivative encore."

Rock Band 2 features little new in the way of venues and clothing options, according to Amrich. "All the core elements look virtually unchanged," he remarks. "There are a handful of new venues (Dublin! Istanbul! Tijuana!), but the old ones look pretty much the same as before — no new decor? The new thrift shop doesn't offer as many new oufits as we’d expected, and characters show the same four animation-set 'attitudes.'"

As far as gameplay is concerned, though, Amrich notes Rock Band 2 delivers a series of helpful improvements and additions. "When your bandmates aren’t around, you can choose their substitutes, so you’re always looking at 'your' band — nice," he says. "You'll also hire band managers, who influence how much cash or fans you get, or how often you get special opportunities like video shoots and endorsement offers. It's a great hassle-free way to tweak your career path."

This reworked gameplay ultimately makes Rock Band 2 a worthy purchase, according to Amrich. "At its worst, Rock Band 2 feels like a massive expansion pack that fills in the gaps from the original game," he concludes. "At its best, it's a rewarding and refined excuse to pick up your fake career where you left off — laughing and rocking with friends near and far for a group thrill that few other games can deliver. It's still a great show for the money."

Tweaked gameplay aside, many reviewers mention disappointment with Rock Band 2's lack of new content elsewhere. Some critics describe the experience as a reskinned or expanded version of last year's game, and warn that such similarity may be an initial turnoff. Overall, however, reviews describe Rock Band 2's music simulation aspect as more convincing and efficient than before, and note that its additions will make an appealing package for fans of the rhythm genre.


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