I’m assuming you’re familiar with Rock Band….
hell, you’ve probably played it countless times before. You’ve loved
the new experience of pounding on the drums, made a fool of yourself
with the mic and rocked out with the guitar. Course it could be that
you’ve never played the game before, but in that case what the hell’s
the matter with you and your friends?

Well, maybe you’re waiting for Rock Band 2.
You’d actually have been smart to. The drums and guitar are much
improved from the last iteration, although there are thankfully no new
features on them that would require early adopters to upgrade. They’re
just sleeker and feel better…. and the newly metal foot pedal won’t
ever break on you. Think of them as refined after months of gameplay.

what’s the point of a sequel to a game that could be continued
indefinitely with downloadable content, some people have asked? Why
don’t they just keep cranking out great songs for us to download and
just be happy, instead of making us buy a new disc?

for one thing, dummy, you know how much cheaper it is to pay 60 bucks
for a game with 84 (master track) songs than buying them individually?
(Don’t give me that “I don’t want all the songs” line either, have you
seen the set list?) But the main reason is that the game has been completely overhauled.

Last night Russ and I headed over to MTV’s room at the LA
Convention Center to check out the new game. He introduced me to a few
Harmonix employees, and it’s great to see how normal they are…
they’re obviously just as in love with the game as we are. Very cool
folks, all of them.

sat down in a little room they had set up with a mini-stage and
flashing lights and listened to a very cool fella (Edit: Finally figured out that it was Sean Baptiste!) talk about the features of the game. it was hard not to get
more and more excited as he went on…

one thing, all of the downloadable content will work in either game, so
if you’re adamant about sticking to the first game you’ll still be able
to keep playing for years and years. People who buy Rock Band 2 will be able to play original Rock Band tracks
via a patch that’s on the way that will enable you to download the
songs from your disc and put them on the hard drive. That way you won’t
have to swap the discs every time you want to play a song from the
first game, and can take advantage of the improved interface.
that they’ve completely and utterly fixed every problem people have had
with the game. The interface, the World Tour mode, hell, even the
friggin’ menus have been overhauled. There’s even some new modes that
will keep you playing…

coolest new mode by far is entitled Battle of the Bands. What the devs
are promising is a daily (let me repeat that, DAILY) update to your
system that will include a new challenge for you. That might be as
simple as “Get the highest score on this song” to nefarious like “Play
this group of 3 songs with the pause button disabled”. He hinted that
the devs can and will mess with you, doing things like disabling
overdrive to hard songs to make it a real challenge. When you first
select the Battle you’ll be competing against your friends’ bands.
During the game it will show you how you’re doing in relation to your
top friend’s band, via a meter at the top of the screen that’s similar
to the tug of war multiplayer game. Once you beat your friend’s high
score and are ranked #1 among your group you can compete against the
best the world has to offer. Incredible idea, and will definitely be a
good reason for people to keep playing the game over and over.


that there  is also a Challenge mode to complete, with trial
for everyone from beginners to the experts. Downloaded songs will come
with certain challenges as well, giving you an opportunity to do
something with them in the main game (and not just play them with
World Tour mode has also changed for the better, because Harmonix
realized how much we all hated having to play the same damn songs over
and over to unlock the next ones. It’s much easier this time. Bands
will also not have a leader anymore, and any character can play any
instrument- no longer will you have to create a character for each or
be stuck with a drummer when you really wanted to sing. Also, remember
the Manager from the first game that told you where to play? You can
buy all sorts of staff now. You start off with advice from your Mom
(hah!) and can get everything from promoters to corporate lackeys
(which will give you more cash but less fans). It’s a pretty cool
little idea.

Hell, even picking a song is better! The song selection menu is designed like the Rock Band Store
this time, and easily searchable by band, game, genre, or difficulty.
It’s good because with the amount of songs that are going to be
available for this thing (500 by the end of the year, they promise!) it
would be a bitch to get around. Every song has a chart on the bottom
right that details the level of difficulty for every instrument and for
the band as whole. So sweet.

You can even now pick a playlist. Want to play 3 songs in a row? It’s easy as selecting them. You can even choose a band or album and play everything from that group.

the presentation we were all itching for some rock, so we jumped up to
play on their little stage set-up. Russ missed out on the drum set for
the first round so he hung back… I grabbed a guitar and went for
bass. The song? Pinball Wizard.

has a really fun bass track. I hit it on expert and noticed I was doing
considerably better than when I play the game using the old Rock Band guitar. I’m not a fan of that one (usually stick to the ol’ clicky Guitar Hero 3
wireless guitar) but the feel of this is much better and softer. So
much easier to run up and down the fret and I took to it immediately.
(The new guitar’s also got a cool feature for anyone who’s ever had
trouble synching the wireless guitar to the game- it actually auto
synchs. It’s got two tiny holes on the guitar with a camera and sensor
that works to synch it perfectly when you hold it up to the tv. How
cool is that?)

there’s nothing much else to say about the actual gameplay-
everything’s much the same as the first one- you know, pretty damn
perfect. Jumped on the mic for the second song since the band needed a
singer and no one was stepped up, and we rocked Red Hot Chili Pepper’s
Give it Away. Did pretty decently on the vocals, of course helped by
the fact that it’s one of those tracks that’s spoken word (you know,
like Sabotage). Russ was on the Ion drum set (details on that here)
and was just smashing the shit out of them- dude’s a drummer in real
life, and it shows. Someone shot video of him doing it, actually.

our last song I grabbed the drums while Russ grabbed a guitar, and we
waited a bit for the singer to pick a song (“I don’t know any of
these!” How is that even possible?) till he settled on White Wedding.
Let me tell you, that Ion drum set is insane. I tried the game on hard
and thankfully it was a very easy song, enabling me to mess around with
the cymbals for a bit. It’s definitely going to take some getting used
to for the non-drummers among us, but it feels real fun to run around
the kit during the fills.
a side note, the game will come with a Drum Trainer that will show you
some real drumming techniques. These guys really ‘t be happy till
they’ve made musicians out of all of you. Also, for those of you
without $300 burning a hole in your pocket, the new standard drum set
is much improved as well. There’s the aforementioned metal pedal that
“will never break” (although I’m pretty sure there are people out there
who are up to the challenge), the better, softer pads that register how
hard you hit them, and the expansion ports on the back that look like
RCA inputs. That’s for the upcoming cymbal pack we told you about, but
there’s something else that might be in the works…. can you say
double bass pedal? I think you can.

that’s all we learned! Didn’t think it was possible to get me more
excited for this game, but I went away wanting to own it NOW. (That,
and to be able to afford that Ion kit. And play the game some more.)

Rock Band fans, it’s as simple as this- you’d be stupid not to get this.