Rock Band 2 Preview (Xbox360)

There are lots of things that can be said about Rock Band 2, like the gameplay isnít changing one bit and that in terms of sequels, itís perfect. Harmonix claims to have taken all the bad elements and made it good, revamped the hardware and software and put a whole new soundtrack with accessibility to the older one and all current downloadable content. Sounds like a dream, but what is changing exactly?

First of all, the tracklist on Rock Band 2 is huge with 84 tracks on the disc (just one less than Guitar Hero 4Öshucks), but with all the songs from the original Rock Band and all the current Downloadable songs it adds up to 230 songs. At the Microsoft press conference, founder Alex Rigopulos announced that by this holiday season Harmonix plans for 500 tracks to be available for the game. Thatís more than all other music games that have come out in the last five years combined*.

With that many songs, sorting through them all can be a pain, especially without any way to sort as we saw with Rock Band. Thatís why now there are several different ways to sort, based on: song, artist, alphabetical, game (Rock Band 1, 2, and DLC), type of music and difficulty level.

Thereís also the option of creating setlists so that players donít have to go back through the song select menu every time. It works in a few ways as well, either by selecting which songs to play individually or by group. If sorting is set for artists, then selecting the artist will add all songs from that artist to the setlist. If itís alphabetical, selecting the letter will add all songs from that letter to the setlist. Make sense? And thatís all just for quickplay.

The hardware has also been slightly revamped, with the guitar being a little bigger, sturdier and the buttons being more tactile. I still found it difficult to use and would much prefer the Guitar Hero Les Paul, but that may just be personal preference. However, the new Stratocaster does feel better. The drums have also been improved with different rubber on the cans that donít make much noise at all. It also has an improved foot pedal, because Harmonix now knows ďjust how heavy the American foot is.Ē

When asked about whether changes would be made to the hardware, I was told that the changes made to the current hardware are minor, and if 3rd parties want to step in, Harmonix is all for it. Otherwise, they offer wireless drums and guitars that are slightly upgraded.

One major complaint about Rock Band was that the training sessions were fine, but they werenít enough for the drums. So there is now a drum trainer in RB2 to make sure the hard work of going through each song and practicing isnít that necessary. It may be better for beginners, but I found the drums to be very, very easy on easy mode in Rock Band, it just takes some coordination. Not with drums, but with hands. That canít be solved, but I hope to be proven wrong there.

The other major complaint was that the World Tour mode wasnít available online, and that players on the same couch couldnít conquer the world with their rockiní skills. Now they can. Adversarial multiplayer is also in RB2, with a battle of the bands mode that weíll see more of in the future. There was also a hint at challenges, but we donít know what those are just yet.

One really cool feature that RB2 has, for all the wrong reasons, is making the game work as a jukebox. If players have had enough playing but want to keep listening to the music, feel free. Thereís a mode to have songs play with a band on stage, but none of the instruments need to be used. And with all 84 tracks on the disc being master tracks, maybe we can ditch CDís and MP3ís altogether.

Thereís also a no fail mode now, for those darned kids who just have to do everything their older siblings, parents or other relatives are doing. Sure, the music will sound awkward, but who cares! At least it keeps going to make the whole song sound bad.

Rock Band 2 is set for release on the Xbox 360 in September, for the PlayStation 3 in October and for the PlayStation 2 in November. No release date has been set for the Wii, which only recently has had the original debut.