Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: Rock Band 2 - The New Definition of 'Fun for the Whole Family'

Title: Rock Band 2
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: October 19, 2008
Publisher: MTV Games (Viacom)
My Rating: 9.5 - Super

   These days, it is very rare that a video game will keep me up until sunrise. Downloadable content? Not for me. Online duels? Again, simply not for me. More than one way to play? Sorry, I do not have the time. However, Rock Band 2 is that rare jewel that will keep you playing in all modes. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a report on why it is I will not be purchasing Rock Band 3, so it is only appropriate to give Rock Band 2 the review treatment.
   I would love to say that the gameplay in these plastic-instrument music games needs no explanation at this point. However, as a late comer to the genre myself, I fully understand that you really do not know what you are getting into until you start playing. Simply put, you play the game with plastic instruments. The PlayStation 3 version of Rock Band 2 comes with about 100 tracks, including the extras you get a voucher for on PlayStation Network. When you begin playing, you see that the buttons on the instrument are mapped to the "highways" on the screen. You try to hit the buttons in sync with the notes as they pass the cursor at the bottom of the highway. Hit successive notes to gain score multipliers. Play well and make it to the end of the track or do poorly and fail. The more difficult the level of play, the more close to playing the actual music you are.
   There are several modes in Rock Band 2 including Quick Play, Tour, and Practice. You must play on the tour mode in order to unlock all of the tracks. You also get to create an avatar and customize it using cash you earn in the gigs to purchase new clothing, accessories, and instruments. Quick Play is my favorite for practicing, because you do not need to worry about losing fans if you fail. One thing about Rock Band 2, while playing in Tour Mode, you feel as if you are constantly progressing. You are unlocking tracks, moving to different locales, earning fans and cash, and, if you are challenging yourself, moving up in the difficulty levels. For those that need a little extra practice, there is a practice mode to help you get started. For the drums in particular, the practice mode is great. However, for the guitar and the vocals, the best way to get better is just to play.
   I have already alluded to the different controls in Rock Band 2. You have my favorite, the Stratocaster Guitar. Also, there are drums and a microphone. Of the three instruments, the drums make you feel the most like you are playing an instrument. You can literally hear the beat coming out on the plastic drum set as you are playing. I cannot keep a beat, so I generally stay away from the drums. The microphone probably allows for the sloppiest play; however, in the harder difficulties, you either have to be able to sing well or be a female. Serious, every female I know can play vocals on hard and do well. The guitar offers a lot of challenge, but is admittedly the furthest from being an actual instrument. Do not get it wrong, your fingers will fly on the harder difficulties and tracks, but the five button setup simply is not playing a real guitar. What I really like is that with two guitars, you have a four player game. I often complain about the fact that I have four controllers but most games still seem to only support two-player play. Four people in my family plus four playable instruments equals fun for the whole family.

   Whether or not you like the audio in the game really depends on your tastes in music. I would like to think there is something for everybody in Rock Band 2; however, as the name suggests, the music is very rock-centric. PlayStation Network has many downloadable tracks, but be careful, because much of the new music is not supported on Rock Band 2. While playing, your ears will eventually start to pick up when you miss a note. It sounds as if you play a bad chord. I love it, but I can see where you might not like it if you do not like the majority of the music.
   The visuals in Rock Band 2 are downright hypnotizing. There really is nothing extraordinary about the scenery. However, most of the backgrounds are either psychedelic or have a strobe light type effect going on. While focusing on the highway, playing the track, the background is constantly going with vibrant colors and patterns. Often times, at the end of a track, I feel dizzy. Some people might not like this feeling, but I love it. When a game can do that with its visuals and keep you playing, it has certainly hit the jackpot.
   Without a doubt, Rock Band 2 is the new-age definition of "fun for the whole family". I honestly can see a not-too distant future where games such as Rock Band take the place of karaoke machines in bars. While it will take more steps in the right direction, perhaps better publishers with less restrictive control over their music, I truly hope to see the Rock Band series regain a foothold in our living rooms.

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