Hands-On Preview: Rock Band 2

During our visit to EA3 last month, we were treated to a very special first look at Rock Band 2, including some hands-on time with the game. We could tell that Harmonix did not want to tamper with a successful formula. Helen McWilliams, lead writer on Rock Band 2, told us that they didn’t want to stray from what made the original Rock Band so successful and didn’t want to do anything crazy that could jeopardize what fans think of the game. That doesn’t mean that nothing new has gone into the game: the core foundations are the same, but there are some new modes that Harmonix thinks will set it apart from its competitors.

The first big news we learned about Rock Band 2 is the fact that any song you have already downloaded off Xbox Live or the PSN for Rock Band will be available straight off in Rock Band 2. We did ask Helen if the DLC from the first Rock Band would be available for everyone free in the sequel, to which she responded with an understandable “no.”

Rock Band 2 will bring with it 80 new tracks on disc (all masters, we should add), spanning from 40 years of rock from all different genres. Some of the artist and tracks that will be playable in Rock Band 2 include System of a Down with "Chop Suey," Foo Fighters with "Everlong," Red Hot Chili Peppers with "Give it Away," Motörhead with "Ace of Spades,” and The Who with "Pinball Wizard."

So what’s new in Rock Band 2? First thing are the enhancements they have made to the modes that were already in Rock Band. Quick Play has gotten some improvements, making it easier to get in and pick a song to play. Harmonix has added the option of creating your own set lists during Quick Play and given you the ability to organize the song list alphabetically or by genre. There are also new premade characters for you to use, but if you choose to create your own avatar, the customized character will be able to play every instrument.

McWilliams told us that they have spent the last year listening to fans on what they wanted too see in the sequel and one enhancement was right up there at the top of the list: World Tour is now online! Also, there are no more band leaders, so if you want to fire someone but keep the band going, you are now able to do so. The ability to switch up instruments throughout World Tour has been included and of course more cities, venues, and staff.

Battle of the Bands is a brand new mode that Harmonix was more than eager to show off. It’s an online mode where you compete against other bands from around the world. We didn’t get a chance to try the new mode out, but Harmonix told us they will generating different contests on a regular basis for your band to attempt. The mode will match up your score against overall competition and your online friends’ bands with up-to-date stats and feedback. They also tell us that the player will be notified of the new battles on their band profile and will also be notified of when there score has been topped by rival bands.

There are also new types of challenges in Rock Band 2 called Tour Challenges. These are focused mini-campaigns featuring the best songs by instrument, decade, genre or artist. There will be automatically generated DLC challenges and album-specific challenges for you to sink your teeth into. This definitely adds a bit more depth into the single player aspect of this game.

We were also told about a few modifications to the peripherals. There is now auto calibration on guitars: all you need to do is hold it up next to the screen and the game is perfectly calibrated. The strum bar on the guitars have been made sturdier and they’ve revamped the drum pads to make them a lot quieter with better bounce back than the original drum kits. McWilliams told us that there is also the possibility of Harmonix allowing third-party companies to make peripherals for Rock Band 2; she couldn’t confirm it, but said there is definitely a strong possibility that Harmonix would allow this to happen.

The most important thing to know about Rock band 2 is that it looks and plays similarly to the original, but what they have changed is added new modes and lots of enhancements to make Rock Band 2 really stand out from the crowd. Is this enough to beat Guitar Hero: World Tour? We don’t know, but one thing is for sure: Rock Band 2 is going to be awesome.

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