Barely a year has passed since the infiltration of plastic guitars, drums, and microphones into our living rooms under the guise of a video game, and already Electronic Arts and Harmonix are ready to release their full-blown sequel.
It's an amazing feat considering the weekly updates to the original game that are still ongoing, and even more of a feat considering that the Wii version of Rock Band was released only a few months ago.
With all this work being done on the current iteration of the game, it leads one to wonder: How much work could have possibly been done for Rock Band 2?
Rock Band 2's cosmetic changes are immediately noticeable. Flashier start screens, improved loading screens, better character animations, and video effects. Other changes are a bit subtler. The most appreciated changes come in multiplayer.
Characters are now universal across all instruments. Just because you were holding a guitar in your hand when you created your avatar does not mean they are obligated to stay rooted to that instrument. Any character you create becomes a musical savant with the ability to play any instrument placed before them.
The whole process of getting a group of people together pantomiming music has simply become easier. It has even become less intimidating to newcomers thanks to the implementation of the "no fail mode." That guy who insists on playing drums despite a sharp learning curve will no longer prevent you from succeeding.
That same guy will also notice the drums have been toned down slightly. The easy setting is now exactly that, while the harder settings provide a challenging and surprisingly realistic representation of drumming.
Harmonix has always had a knack for finding the right balance between fun and challenge and Rock Band 2 is no exception.
Clarity gained in multiplayer, though, is lost in single player. Playing songs unlocks new cities, which unlocks new venues within those cities, which unlocks new challenges, which unlocks the ability to hire a merch girl (huh?), which allows you to replay songs to earn twice the money but fewer fans — or something.
The single player serves to unlock songs to be played in multiplayer, and that is all it will ultimately be used for.
The music in Rock Band 2 is varied. Few will like all the songs, but many will find at least one song they absolutely love ("Psycho Killer" from The Talking Heads is a prime example).
Overall, Rock Band 2 does very little to evolve the genre. In fairness though, the plastic guitar rhythm game genre has evolved very little since the original Guitar Hero released in 2005 (or since Konami's GuitarFreaks in 1999, if you want to get technical).
The game feels less like Rock Band 2 and more like Rock Band 1.5, a sacrifice that had to be made by the developers in order to allow downloaded music to be playable in both Rock Band and Rock Band 2.
Considering the sheer volume of downloadable content available for the original game (three to five new songs every week over the course of a year), it's a sacrifice that any Rock Band fan will be happy to make.
If you do not have the original Rock Band already, skip to the second one and get ready to have one of the best console multiplayer experiences ever. If you do have Rock Band already, there's no reason not to invest in Rock Band 2.
What else are you going to use that plastic drum set for?