Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rock Band 2 Review

By now, I'm sure many of you know that the original Guitar Hero was developed by Harmonix and published by Red Octane. Upon realizing that Guitar Hero was something of a cash cow, Activision bought Red Octane, and the rights to Guitar Hero. Since then, Guitar Hero was handed to Tony Hawk developer Neversoft, who will have dutifully churned out three Guitar Hero games by the end of the year (Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Guitar Hero World Tour, and the one for the DS), with vague promises to triple that output. Meanwhile, Harmonix quietly left, teaming up with MTV and EA to bring us Rock Band.

By now, I think it's brutally obvious which franchise is better. Neversoft understands the mechanics behind Guitar Hero, but they don't get music the way Harmonix does. Guitar Hero III, the first developed by Neversoft, wasn't as fun as the original, and it was uglier to boot. And now they're playing catch up, adding the band mechanics that Rock Band did a year ago. As if to make up for it, Activision is whoring the heck of the franchise, and trying to sign exclusive artists. In fact, Metallica's entire new album, Death Magnetic, is available for Guitar Hero III.

So how is Rock Band 2 able to compete? There's not a lot of changes from RB1 to RB2. The most noticeable change is that playing a tour by yourself plays more like the multiplayer tour mode from the first game. You create a band, make a logo, and create a character. The character is tied to a gamertag (or, I'd assume, a profile on the PS3 or a Mii on the Wii), not an instrument, so you don't need to create extra characters or start a new career if you want to go from guitar to vocals or drums. What's more, instead of a separate career for multiplayer, the tour mode is drop-in, drop out. You band is tied to your gamertag, just like your character, so if your friends come over, they can make a character and play in your band. They go home, you can play in your band by yourself.

Everything else, menus, interface, character models, etc is largely unchanged. While some people might suggest that it makes Rock Band 2 a little stale, I think it's perfect. The first one had the band mechanics down pat, and by using pretty much the same assets, Harmonix has crafted a game that can use all the downloadable content and 99% of the songs from the first game. So unlike previous music games that phase out the old games when a sequel hits, Rock Band actually rewards you for your loyalty, especially if you bought a lot of songs for the first game. And there's a lot of songs there... between the songs on the disc, the 20 songs being promised as free DLC, the paid DLC, and the songs from the first RB, Harmonix is promising 500 songs by the end of 2008. So far, it's ranged from popular hits from the 70's right up through the present (Fall Out Boy's new single, "I Don't Care," was just released for Rock Band this week, and the CD itself doesn't hit until December), but also obscure stuff with a lot of geek cred like Steve Coulton's "Skullcrusher Mountain" and "Still Alive" (aka the Portal Song). It's moves like that that show that Harmonix is passionate about both the music and their fans, and it gives the game a lot of heart that Guitar Hero has been sorely lacking.

Basically, Rock Band 2 does very little to innovate from the first Rock Band, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. And they way they handle their DLC makes Rock Band 2 the most consumer-friendly music game on the market today.

Final Score: A+

No comments: