Sunday, October 26, 2008

Scathing Rock Band 2 Review

Okay, so I'll admit right now that I've hardly played through this entire game. I haven't even unlocked a plane in World Tour Mode, so I've only gotten about 55-ish of the 85 total songs on the disc. I've done about half the drum trainer beats and again, a little over half the drum trainer fills as well. I've done, maybe, 10 challenges and I've submitted a score for a competition once as well. And, well, all I can say is that this game is a massive disappointment to me.

Rock Band 2 is a an after thought. I can't imagine that it took them a year to do this game. I'd say they started working on it not long after they announced it in July. I mean, this game's killer feature is that it is easier to navigate its menus and play as a group. That's the killer feature. That's its big improvement over Rock Band 1. The menu system. And it costs 60 dollars. It's probably worth noting that this menu system was already in existence shortly after the first game came out, considering that it's the same menu system they use for the store. So, no, they didn't even have to make this new menu system, because they already had it.

They want to say that the 84 songs on the disc are worth the 60 dollars you're throwing away for this update to the menu system. They want to say that the drum trainer is worth a little something too. They want to say the community of Rock Bands that they're creating with these competitions is worth something. And I'll admit that it's hardly valueless. But it's not worth 60 dollars, either.

The tracklist is nothing special. At all. If the entire tracklist was put online for download, I'd end up buying about 30 of them, at the most. And of those, most of them would only be bought if they were 99 cents (my standards drop pretty fast once that happens). I mean, at this point, I strongly prefer to pick and choose what I'm adding to my collection, over being handed a ton of songs, most of which I don't want to play. I haven't gotten around to exporting my Rock Band 1 songs, but I know there are going to be some eliminations. Faith No More won't be making it across, that's for sure. Neither will the Beastie Boys. Both of them are in Rock Band 2.

Then there's the drum trainer. My problem with the trainer is that it's no different from practice mode on the drums. It's literally the same thing, only less interesting. I'm not going to be any more capable of actually playing the drums after using the trainer than I am now (which, just to be clear, is not very). Its problem is that it still uses the paradigm of notes moving across the screen and timing my hits to that. As long as I can see notes moving in front of me that I should be hitting, I'm not learning anything. I've already trained myself to be good at that. That's not drumming. It should show me a pattern and then ask me to replicate it. Ask me to keep replicating it without seeing any notes coming down. It won't be easy, but that's what would teach me to drum. And it would give me the confidence to actually try to do it, too. As is, it's pretty much valueless. Unless you really like hitting notes at 200 bpm, then I guess it's kind of fun.

Now, the challenges are a decent addition. But they're really a substitution. Harmonix took away the linear play-every-track-in-the-game single player experience and replaced it with a linear play-every-single-track-in-the-game-typically-more-than-once-but-on-different-instruments, experience. Overall, that experience is just okay and a little frustrating. What I liked about the single player mode of Rock Band 1 was that I could just keep picking whichever song I wanted to play and continue to earn money for the store. Now, though, it feels as though that's been relegated to the Quickplay experience, which I don't really like.

Speaking of the store, it's just a joke. Having watched the credits, I know that Harmonix has a huge team of artists. Apparently, the artists all took the last year off. There are almost no new clothes, at all. Literally, the only things they added were new shoes (most of which are still lame, but at least there's more lame options than before) and a section whose name can be paraphrased to "Cheap Clothes You Don't Want to Buy For Your Character". Now, one might want to ask why such a section needs to exist (I mean, isn't that the punk wardrobe, already? Burn!). But, clearly, there's no point in asking. They didn't care. The only real improvement to the Rock Shop is the ability to change angles when you're trying on clothes, so you don't have to pick an outfit and then just sit and wait while the character eventually turns around so you can see how it looks.

My problem with this game is that it isn't Rock Band 2. It's Rock Band 1.2. I mean, part of the problem, of course, is that Rock Band didn't need a sequel. Rock Band isn't about sequels and getting you to keep buying new games. It's a platform. It wants to sell me tracks. And, conveniently for Rock Band, I want to buy tracks. All these improvements they made were meant to help that platform exist. Clearly, now that I've bought Rock Band 2, I will never play Rock Band 1 again, at least on my PS3. But, if Rock Band 2 had never been released, my buying and playing habits wouldn't have changed at all (read as, I would still be playing the game and buying music for it).

To me, this means that Rock Band 2 effectively failed. It's not increasing my usage of the platform.

If Rock Band 2 actually wants to be a sequel, it needs to add something great. But it doesn't. It's a simple, incremental improvement. And I appreciate its existence, because it's an incremental improvement to a platform that I love dearly. But it's not a sequel.

Last year, Harmonix managed to release the ultimate rhythm game, in near perfect form. On their first try. That's amazing. They did so many things right it's just stunning. And they combined all that into an excellent package. A year later, all they could do was release the same thing again. That worries me. The team that made Rock Band 1 is gifted and innovative and dedicated and awesome. The team that tried to pass this off as the sequel to the best and most lasting game since Super Smash Brothers is none of those things. I'm hoping that Rock Band 3 can live up to its heritage, because Guitar Hero is very, very capable of catching up, and I'm too invested in Rock Band to even contemplate making the switch, and I don't want to have to.

That is all.


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