Saturday, February 14, 2009

Harmonix hits right note with "Rock Band 2"

(Review ran on on Dec. 08)

Last go-round, Harmonix's "Rock Band" wiped the virtual floor with Red Octane's "Guitar Hero III." This holiday season, "Rock Band 2" has serious competition from "Guitar Hero World Tour" and works hard to keep its grip on the title.

Developed by Harmonix and MTV Games and published by EA, "Rock Band 2" is the sequel to the runaway video game smash, "Rock Band." Last year, Harmonix took a risk by offering gamers a virtual band complete with instruments instead of just a guitar or two. With the full set running close to $200, some critics said it was out of gamer's price range. Bad mistake on their part. Not only did "Rock Band" beat the odds, it made a heavyweight competitor, Red Octane's "Guitar Hero" series, flip the script and change its MO.

With the success of "Rock Band," it's no secret Harmonix stuck with its tried-and-true method and produced a worthy sequel in "Rock Band 2."

The first thing you notice with this game is a welcome addition - wireless instruments. The game box's signature is also smaller (making it easier to stow away) and fewer wires = fewer accidents (You don't want me to share horror stories). Back on the wireless instruments - the drums and guitar work off AA batteries (my kit came with a set of Duracells and some off-brand batteries) and sync to the 360 (you have instructions on how to do this - it's just like adding another controller to the console). The drums are lighter but sturdier than the ones in the original RB, and the foot pedal appears to be reinforced (a problem area in the original RB). The guitar is pretty much the same as the first game, but wireless. Now, we come to one of the few gripes I have with the game - the mic. Yes, the wired mic. Comeon Harmonix and Red Octane - why no wireless mics? Most real artists have been using wireless mics for years - and passing on it for wired? Not trying to complain, but it would make sense to me to have all wireless or none - not mostly wireless. The mic's wire length is the same as the original RB - and should put enough distance between you and your projector/LCD/plasma/big screen/12" portable TV.

The game itself has several new features, but the main draw, of course, is the songs. From Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Go-Go's, and my personal fave, the Beastie Boys, Harmonix earns points in "Rock Band 2" for branching out into other genres and getting a feel for how other genre track packs would be received. I hadn't talked to Harmonix about the possibility of having different track packs for techno/trance, soul, R&B and hip hop (I talked in-depth with Red Octane's Kai Huang about this during our interview here at the Chronicle) but it does appear the developers are heading in that direction. Sweet. The game also features downloadable tracks - the game comes with 80 on the disc - PLUS an additional 20 free songs you can download when you register. It's pretty fast to get the tracks - it took approximately 5 minutes to get the tracks code after registering at

There's also an AC/DC Live track pack that's exclusive to "Rock Band" and features an entire album from the iconic band.

Here's a list of some of the tracks in the game: (off the forums)

AC/DC "Let There Be Rock" 1970s
Alice in Chains "Man in the Box" 1990's
Allman Brothers "Ramblin' Man" 1970's
Beastie Boys "So Whatcha Want" 1990's
Billy Idol "White Wedding Pt. I" 1980's
Blondie "One Way or Another" 1970's
Bob Dylan "Tangled Up in Blue" 1970's
Bon Jovi "Livin' on a Prayer" 1980's
Cheap Trick "Hello There" 1970's
Duran Duran "Hungry Like the Wolf" 1980's
Fleetwood Mac "Go Your Own Way" 1970's
Foo Fighters "Everlong" 1990's
Guns N' Roses "Shackler's Revenge" 2000's
Journey "Anyway You Want It" 1970's
Judas Priest "Painkiller" 1990's
Linkin Park "One Step Closer" 2000's
Megadeth "Peace Sells" 1980's
Metallica "Battery" 1980's
Nirvana "Drain You" 1990's
Rage Against the Machine "Testify" 1990's
Ratt "Round & Round" 1980's
Red Hot Chili Peppers "Give it Away" 1990's
Steely Dan "Bodhitsattva" 1970's
Steve Miller Band "Rock'n Me" 1970's
Survivor "Eye of the Tiger" 1980's
The Go-Go's "We Got the Beat" 1980's
The Grateful Dead "Alabama Getaway" 1980's
The Who "Pinball Wizard" 1960's

The track mix is much more diverse than the original offering, including a generous helping of '70s and '80s jams that are light on the vocals, but heavy on the drums ("We Got the Beat" is a prime example). With the first "Rock Band," while the track selection was good, this version even slips in a hip-hop flavored track ("So Whatcha Want" by the Beastie Boys). I was totally caught off-guard by the track and the rapid-fire vocals. I wouldn't call myself Ludi or Lil Wayne, but I can hold my own freestyling in the real. Not so much on "Rock Band 2."

Also new to "Rock Band 2" are:

Battle of the Bands mode - a mode where virtual rockers can play against other gamers worldwide in battles on LIVE.

An expanded World Tour mode - go local or go LIVE with this mode that takes gamers and their bands to different cities and venues.

Want to make a splash on LIVE with your band? Customize your band profile with avatars (the Art Maker feature), quotes (be forewarned: This is a G-rated features - family friendly and politically correct - and no religious Scriptures will appear on your LIVE band profile) and band information on their page.

Think you are the next Ringo Starr? "Rock Band 2" offers a drum trainer to teach gamers how play the instruments and lets them practice drum beats.

The Tour Challenges mode gives gamers the chance to create setlists and play increasingly difficult song sets to unlock new challenges. You can do this over LIVE or locally.

The game also includes Rock Shop, an expanded version of the store from "Rock Band." However, this version has four styles of clothing for rockers - from Goth to thrift shop threads (check each shop for some *unique* gear).

Arguably one of the coolest features in the game is Disc Export. What is that, you ask? If you own the original "Rock Band" disc, you can rip most of those songs to your console and use them in "Rock Band 2." No need to repurchase tracks (save your Points for newer packs coming down the tube).

There are tons of features in "Rock Band 2" that make this one of the must-buy games for 2008. And for those who own "Rock Band 2," the wireless instruments allow better *air guitaring* without worrying about plugging your 360 onto the floor.

The good: Awesome track selection, wireless instruments, ability to use "Rock Band" devices and tracks with "Rock Band 2" and tons of features to make "Rock Band 2" as enjoyable as "Rock Band"

The not-so-good: No wireless mic, direct competition from "Guitar Hero World Tour" for a spot under the Christmas tree - and the gamers/parents/loved ones who will have the unfortunate choice of choosing between "Rock Band 2" and "Guitar Hero World Tour" for the holiday stocking

The verdict: 9.5 (out of 10)

EDIT: The hits just keep coming for "Rock Band." According to, Harmonix has inked No Doubt to an exclusive track deal.

Here's the skinny from

Harmonix has confirmed what the band No Doubt announced last night -- thirteen tracks from the group's The Singles 1992-2003 will be available for Rock Band next week. Which two songs didn't make the cut?

That would be "New" from the band's album Return of Saturn and "Trapped In A Box" form its self-titled debut. You'll still get thirteen solid gold hits, each for $1.99 (160 Microsoft Points) or the whole shebang for $19.99 (1600 Microsoft Points). The Xbox 360 version gets it first on December 9, with the PlayStation 3 versions landing two days later.

Read on for the full track list.

1."Just a Girl"
2."It's My Life"
3."Hey Baby"
5."Sunday Morning"
6."Hella Good"
7."Underneath It All"
8."Excuse Me Mr."
11."Simple Kind of Life"
12."Don't Speak"

All tracks are, as expected, master tracks. As for the missing numbers, we might theorize that "New"'s inclusion on the Go movie soundtrack had something to do with it and that "Trapped In A Box" -- being the only track from No Doubt's 1992 album -- was technically prohibited from inclusion. Just a guess!

No comments: