E3 2008: Rock Band 2 Hands On

July 21, 2008

When Rock Band was released last November, I passed on it. I had played Guitar Hero and I sucked at it. I had fun, but I was terrible. I figured Rock Band would be more of the same and instead it would prove to embarrass me in more ways than just my lackluster guitar skills. I’ve fought off Rock Band fever despite the claims of many that it’s one of the greatest gaming experiences out there.

This year at E3, I got a first hand look at what makes Rock Band great and I’m proud to say that I’m hooked. The fine folks at Harmonix and EA invited us to a private demo of the upcoming sequel to the best music game out there, Rock Band 2.

Harmonix was very clear about the fact that Rock Band’s original release was about innovation and this sequel is about perfection. Harmonix is committed to bringing the most true to life music experience to gamers everywhere and it was evident in the product that we saw. Harmionix was also very clear in citing the gamers as the source of much of their feedback and they used that feedback to improve Rock Band in just about every way imaginable.

One of the key bullet points about Rock Band 2 is the track listing. At launch, there will be over 200 tracks available and a total of 500 available by this holiday season. One added feature is the ability to sort your track list and create playlists. Playlists allow you to organize and play your songs without the annoying delay of selecting a new song each time. This is an absolute necessity with a tracklisting that will no doubt close in on the 1000 mark in the next year or so.

Rock band 2 supports full backwards compatability with the instruments you already own. With the new instruments coming out, you’ll definitely want to upgrade. The stock drums have been made much quieter and the new guitars are very slick. One other feature for the truly hardcore is the Alesis Ion Drum Rocker premium kit, which is available for preorder today for $299.99. The Drum Rocker is a real life electronic drum kit that is capable of plugging into the Rock Band controller or a real Alesis drum brain which enables you to make the jump from video game rock star to real life rock star just by moving a cable. These are the drums we used in the demo and once you use them, the stock kit becomes drastically inferior and unusable.

One new feature that I really like is Jukebox mode. Jukebox mode allows you to keep the music going without playing the instruments. The tracks that you have available to you will simply play through unattended. This allows you to break for a drink or to grab a quick bite before getting back into the game.

For those of you that were bitten by the bug of the other music game and re-buying your old tracks, fear not. Harmonix thinks you shouldn’t have to buy your music twice so you don’t. Any DLC you have from Rock Band will be available to you in Rock Band 2. Most of the tracks from the original release will be exportable for a fee that is still being negotiated, but is expected to be less than $5 total.

One other addition to the game is the online challenge mode. Harmonix realized that the leaderboard model was kind of busted if you were a late adopter so they’ve implemented time based challenges and leaderboards. These challenges may run from a few days to a few weeks and then they will close and the results will be preserved online. These challenges will be updated daily and will keep the game fresh for as long as Harmonix thinks of awesome ways to challenge the skills of even the best gamers.

For those of you with younger kids that might not be skilled at guitar or drums, there is a game modifier called No Fail Mode that allows you to keep playing long after you normally would have failed out of a track. This is going to widen the age range that Rock Band appeals to and really allow it to become a family affair. There will be a whole host of game modifiers available, but we were not allowed to see those just yet.

As someone that is new to Rock Band, I haven’t been able to appreciate all the new features that are finding their way into the game, but I am definitely jazzed and I’ll have the Wii version of the game to hold me over until this game ships later this year.

Here is a full track list for Rock Band 2:

1. AC/DC “Let There Be Rock” 1970s
2. AFI “Girl’s Gone Grey” 2000’s
3. Alanis Morissette “You Oughta Know” 1990’s
4. Alice in Chains “Man in the Box” 1990’s
5. Allman Brothers “Ramblin’ Man” 1970’s
6. Avenged Sevenfold “Almost Easy” 2000’s
7. Bad Company “Shooting Star” 1970’s
8. Beastie Boys “So Whatcha Want” 1990’s
9. Beck “E-Pro” 2000’s
10. Bikini Kill “Rebel Girl” 1990’s
11. Billy Idol “White Wedding Pt. I” 1980’s
12. Blondie “One Way or Another” 1970’s
13. Bob Dylan “Tangled Up in Blue” 1970’s
14. Bon Jovi “Livin’ on a Prayer” 1980’s
15. Cheap Trick “Hello There” 1970’s
16. Devo “Uncontrollable Urge” 1980’s
17. Dinosaur Jr. “Feel the Pain” 1990’s
18. Disturbed “Down with the Sickness” 2000’s
19. Dream Theater “Panic Attack” 2000’s
20. Duran Duran “Hungry Like the Wolf” 1980’s
21. Elvis Costello “Pump It Up” 1970’s
22. Fleetwood Mac “Go Your Own Way” 1970’s
23. Foo Fighters “Everlong” 1990’s
24. Guns N’ Roses “Shackler’s Revenge” 2000’s
25. Interpol “PDA” 2000’s
26. Jane’s Addiction “Mountain Song” 1980’s
27. Jethro Tull “Aqualung” 1970’s
28. Jimmy Eat World “The Middle” 2000’s
29. Joan Jett “Bad Reputation” 1980’s
30. Journey “Anyway You Want It” 1970’s
31. Judas Priest “Painkiller” 1990’s
32. Kansas “Carry On Wayward Son” 1970’s
33. L7 “Pretend We’re Dead” 1990’s
34. Lacuna Coil “Our Truth” 2000’s
35. Linkin Park “One Step Closer” 2000’s
36. Lit “My Own Worst Enemy” 1990’s
37. Lush “De-Luxe” 1990’s
38. Mastodon “Colony of Birchmen” 2000’s
39. Megadeth “Peace Sells” 1980’s
40. Metallica “Battery” 1980’s
41. Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Where’d You Go” 1990’s
42. Modest Mouse “Float On” 2000’s
43. Motorhead “Ace of Spades” 1980’s
44. Nirvana “Drain You” 1990’s
45. Norman Greenbaum “Spirit in the Sky” 1960’s
46. Panic at the Disco “Nine in the Afternoon” 2000’s
47. Paramore “That’s What You Get” 2000’s
48. Pearl Jam “Alive” 1990’s
49. Presidents of the USA “Lump” 1990’s
50. Rage Against the Machine “Testify” 1990’s
51. Ratt “Round & Round” 1980’s
52. Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give it Away” 1990’s
53. Rise Against “Give it All” 2000’s
54. Rush “The Trees” 1970’s
55. Silversun Pickups “Lazy Eye” 2000’s
56. Smashing Pumpkins “Today” 1990’s
57. Social Distortion “I Was Wrong” 1990’s
58. Sonic Youth “Teenage Riot” 1980’s
59. Soundgarden “Spoonman” 1990’s
60. Squeeze “Cool for Cats” 1970’s
61. Steely Dan “Bodhitsattva” 1970’s
62. Steve Miller Band “Rock’n Me” 1970’s
63. Survivor “Eye of the Tiger” 1980’s
64. System of a Down “Chop Suey” 2000’s
65. Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” 1970’s
66. Tenacious D “Master Exploder” 2000’s
67. Testament “Souls of Black” 1990’s
68. The Donnas “New Kid in School” 2000’s
69. The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat” 1980’s
70. The Grateful Dead “Alabama Getaway” 1980’s
71. The Guess Who “American Woman” 1970’s
72. The Muffs “Kids in America” 1990’s
73. The Offspring “Come Out & Play (Keep A