Rock Band 2

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Rock Band 2

Developer(s) Harmonix (Xbox 360/PS3)
Pi Studios (PS2/Wii)
Publisher(s) MTV Games
Distributor(s) EA Distribution
Designer(s) Dan Teasdale[1]
Sylvain Dubrofsky[1]
Casey Malone[1]
Platform(s) Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2
Release date(s) Xbox 360
NA September 14, 2008[2]
EU November 21, 2008[3]
PlayStation 3
NA October 19, 2008[4]
EU March 27, 2009[5]
PlayStation 2
NA December 18, 2008[6]
EU March 27, 2009[5]
NA December 18, 2008[6]
EU April 24, 2009[5]
Genre(s) Music, Simulation[7]
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Rating(s) ESRB: T
PEGI: 12+
Media DVD (Xbox 360, PS2), Blu-Ray (PS3) Wii Optical Disc (Wii)
Input methods Guitar controller (game packaged with Fender Stratocaster controller), drum controller, USB microphone, gamepad

Rock Band 2 is a music video game developed by Harmonix Music Systems, as the sequel to Rock Band. It is the second title in the Rock Band series. The game software was released in North America for the Xbox 360 on September 14, 2008, along with individual instrument peripherals. The software/hardware bundle for the Xbox 360 was made available on October 19, 2008,[8] the same date that the PlayStation 3 versions of the software, hardware, and bundle of the two were released. Versions of the game for the Wii and PlayStation 2 platforms were released on December 18, 2008.[6]

The game allows players to perform in virtual bands by providing up to four players with the ability to play three different peripherals modeled after music instruments (a guitar peripheral for lead guitar and bass guitar gameplay, a drum peripheral, and a microphone). These peripherals are used to simulate the playing of rock music by hitting scrolling notes on-screen. In addition to the 84 songs included on the game disc and 20 free downloadable songs, hundreds of additional downloadable songs are being released for the Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 versions; all of these songs, existing and future, are compatible with all Rock Band titles. Rock Band 2 features improved drum and guitar controllers, while supporting older controllers, as well. New features include a "Drum Trainer" mode, a "Battle of the Bands" mode, online capabilities for "World Tour" mode, and merchandising opportunities for the players' virtual bands.

Upon release, Rock Band 2 received very positive reviews from critics, selling 1.7 million copies through the end of 2008.[9]


[edit] Gameplay

Each instrument is represented by a different interface: lead guitar (left), drums (middle), bass guitar (right), vocals (top). The Band Meter (green meter on left) measures the performance of each band member, while the Energy Meter (gold meter beneath each interface) tracks each player's Overdrive.

The core gameplay in Rock Band 2 is mostly unchanged from the original Rock Band. Players use peripherals modeled after musical instruments to simulate the performance of rock music. Players must play these instruments in time with musical "notes" as they scroll towards them on the screen. Rock Band 2 offers single-player and multiplayer gameplay for lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, and vocals, allowing for any combination of parts to play as a band.

During song performances, the game displays up to three tracks of vertically scrolling colored music notes, one section each for lead guitar, drums, and bass. The colored notes on-screen correspond to buttons on the guitar and drum peripherals. Along the top of the screen is the vocals display, which scrolls horizontally. The lyrics display beneath green bars, which represent the pitch of the individual vocal elements. The remainder of the screen is used to display the band's virtual characters as they perform in concert.

During cooperative play as a band, all players earn points towards a common score, though score multipliers and "Overdrive" are tracked separately for each player. Overdrive is individually collected by players during select portions of a song by successfully playing all white notes (or yellow notes for vocals) within that section (or by using the guitar controller's whammy bar during white sustained notes). Once a player's Energy Meter is filled halfway, they can deploy their Overdrive, resulting in the "Band Meter" (which tracks how well each player is doing) changing more dramatically. This allows players to strategically use Overdrive to raise the Band Meter and pass portions of a song they otherwise might have failed. Overdrive can be used to activate score multipliers, which vary based on a player's note streak. Players can deploy Overdrive independently of each other, as well as collect additional Overdrive while it is deployed and draining.

Each band member can choose the difficulty at which they play (spanning Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert). If a player does not play well enough and falls to the bottom of the Band Meter, they will fail out of the song and their instrument will be muted from the audio mix. However, any active player can activate their Overdrive to bring failed players back into the song, "saving" the band member. However, a band member can only be saved twice; after the third failure, they cannot be brought back for that song. Failed players continuously drag the band's Band Meter down until they are saved. If the player is not saved before the Band Meter reaches the bottom, the band fails the song. Players can earn Overdrive bonuses from "Unison Phrases" and extra points from a "Big Rock Ending."

[edit] Instrument peripherals

Four people play on the Rock Band 2 stage at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington, August 29, 2008.

All of the original Rock Band peripherals are compatible with Rock Band 2 for the same console. Similarly, the newly designed peripherals for Rock Band 2 are backwards compatible with the original Rock Band.

The game features Rock Band 2-branded guitar controllers modeled after the Fender Stratocaster. The guitar is nearly identical to the original Rock Band Stratocaster in terms of gameplay. The colored fret buttons corresponding to on-screen notes must be held while the strum bar is silento. The Stratocaster controller has five additional fret buttons of smaller size located lower on the guitar neck, allowing for notes to be played as finger tapping during solos. The guitar is equipped with a whammy bar which can be used to distort the sound made on held notes. The controller also features an effects pickup switch that can toggle between five different effects. Overdrive for guitarists can be deployed by holding the controller in a vertical position or pressing the "Select/Back" button. Improvements to the new guitar include a more reliable strum bar and Overdrive accelerometer, a self-timing calibration, and quieter fret buttons. The bass drum pedal from the drum set can also be used with the guitar to activate Overdrive mode.[10]

The bundled drum controller is also similar to the one featured in the original Rock Band. It features four rubber drum pads and a kick pedal. The pads have colored rings around the edges that correspond to the notes on-screen. The kick pedal simulates the bass drum, with on-screen notes represented as orange horizontal lines. To use the drum controller, players must strike the pads with the included authentic drum sticks and/or press the kick pedal in time with the scrolling notes on-screen. Drummers can improvise in special "freestyle drum fill" sections of songs, indicated by the columns for each note turning a solid color. Overdrive for drummers can be deployed by hitting the crash cymbal (green note for right-handed configuration) that appears directly after a freestyle drum fill. New improvements include velocity-sensitive drum pads (the force of the drum hits will dictate the in-game volume) with more rebound and less noise,[11] a metal-reinforced kick pedal,[12] expansion plugs for separately-sold cymbals manufactured by Mad Catz,[11] and wireless capabilities.[11]

Rock Band 2's USB microphone instrument is identical to the microphone from the original game. Singers are judged by pitch, or during "talking parts", their ability to enunciate spoken vocals. The phoneme detection system used for atonal vocal parts has been completely replaced with a new, more lenient engine, and songs imported from Rock Band and pre-existing downloadable content will be converted to use the new phoneme system.[13] Some sections without vocals will display circle notes, allowing for the microphone to be used as a tambourine and cowbell by tapping it or making vocal cues. Overdrive for singers can be deployed by singing in freestyle vocal sections of songs, denoted by yellow artwork in the background of the vocals interface.

Harmonix and MTV Games will also be providing limited edition instruments, including an authentic Fender Squier Stratocaster guitar and Precision Bass retrofitted with the game's input controls by Mad Catz.[14]. Additionally, Ion Audio is selling a "Premium Drum Kit" that not only works within Rock Band 2, but can also be expanded into an electronic drum kit through the purchase of a separately-sold drum brain. The "Premium Drum Kit" features four drum pads, two cymbal pads (with the option of a third), and a bass pedal.[11]

The Rock Band 2 peripherals and Guitar Hero: World Tour peripherals are cross-compatible with other music games on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Sony originally announced that instrument peripherals would be universally compatible on the PlayStation 3[15]; and on November 24, 2008 a patch was released to allow the Guitar Hero: World Tour drums to be properly recognized by Rock Band 2.[16] Microsoft has also stated that instruments on the Xbox 360 will be compatible between the two games, as well as Rock Revolution.[17] The Wii edition of Rock Band 2 is compatible with the Wii drums and guitar for Rock Band and Guitar Hero World Tour as well as the guitar for Guitar Hero III. Rock Band 2 drum and guitar peripherals do not work with Wii Guitar Hero games, although the microphone does.[18]

[edit] Tour mode

Unlike Rock Band, which segregated the single-player Solo Tour mode and the multiplayer Band World Tour mode, Rock Band 2 features a single "Tour" mode that makes no distinction of the number of players. Any combination of 1–4 players, both online and local, can create a band composed of the player(s)' virtual characters. A band leader is no longer necessary, allowing the characters within the band lineup to change at will, as well as swap instruments. The band must also select a name and hometown before proceeding to their "practice space". From here, the band can choose to "Start Tour", undertake "Tour Challenges", or compete with other bands in "Battle of the Bands."

If the band chooses to "Start Tour", they will enter the game's equivalent of the original Rock Band's Band World Tour mode, allowing the band to play gigs and tour a virtual representation of the world. Once setup is complete, the band can begin playing concerts in small venues in their hometown until they unlock vans, tour buses and private jets, which unlock more cities and different continents. Unlocking and completing new gigs unlocks additional songs for play across all game modes. Successful performances also earn the band fans, stars, and in-game cash. Most cities and larger venues require the band to achieve a certain number of fans and stars before they are unlocked. The band must complete unique sets of activities at each venue. Performances consist of single songs, multiple song sets, "make your own" setlists, and mystery setlists. For certain performances, bands are faced with an optional challenge that requires the band to average a certain number of stars for their gig in order to reap the rewards. Bands can also hire personnel, including band managers, roadies, and sound guys.

The second option from the band's "practice space" is "Tour Challenge", which is a set of non-linear challenges. Some of these challenges include completing certain band-specific setlists, sets of songs that are difficult on a particular instrument, or songs all with a common theme. New downloadable songs will be integrated into this mode, allowing the creation of new challenges. Players can save their progress through these setlists and complete them at a later time. Newly purchased songs that will extend the length of a Tour Challenge setlist will also need to be completed in order for the challenge to be completed.[19]

The final option from the band's "practice space" is "Battle of the Bands", only available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii versions of the game. This mode allows the band to virtually compete against other bands via online scoreboard tracking. This mode is composed of limited-time online tournaments created by Harmonix, with approximately five to ten challenges available any time. Challenges may be made up of one or more songs, and may be geared to one instrument or a full band. The songs will not be limited to those on the Rock Band 2 disc and will include ones that use songs off the Rock Band disc and downloaded content; it is expected that challenges centered around downloadable albums will also be made available. Challenges may also provide special rules, such as turning on the "no fail" mode for a difficult guitar song, or completing a song without activating "Overdrive". While playing the challenge, the band will see the score of the next highest band from the online leaderboard, as well as a "tug of war" meter to show how close they are to the score. If a band's score is surpassed, they will be notified the next time they are online. Challenges participated in and the corresponding scores will be tracked as part of the band's history, with this information also being made available through the game's website.[13][20]

Unlike the original Rock Band, players can designate custom characters as "stand-in musicians" for their band members, which will be available to place in the position of the default musicians created by Harmonix.[19]

[edit] Other modes

Also included in Rock Band 2 is a "Training" mode, which will help players learn how to play each instrument. Within this mode is the "Drum Trainer", which will help players improve on the drums through a "Beat Trainer" (with dozens of drum beats to practice), "Fill Trainer" (which will teach players how to perform better drum fills), and a "Freestyle Mode" (which will allow player to freeplay the drums, or play over MP3 songs on their Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 console). [12][21] The "Extras" menu of the game allows "modifiers" to be activated; some of these include "No Fail Mode," which will allow playing through songs without anyone being able to fail, and a "Breakneck Speed" mode, similar to the Hyperspeed mode in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock which doubles the track's scrolling speed.[22] The "Score Duel", "Tug of War", "Quickplay", and "Tutorial" modes from the original Rock Band are also retained.

[edit] Customization

In Quickplay modes, players can assemble variable-length custom setlists, allowing multiple songs to be played in sequence without returning to the song selection menu in between each song.[12] As with the original Rock Band, players can create and customize their own in-game character, complete with adjustable hair, body physique, clothing, tattoos, piercings, onstage movements, and instruments. Using cash earned within the game, the player may purchase items at the in-game "Rock Shop," with which they can customize their rock star. The game features an art maker where players can combine different clip art elements to create custom face paint, tattoos, clothing designs, instrument artwork, and band logos. The same character is usable to play any of the instruments in the game, unlike in Rock Band where a character was fixed to one specific instrument.[12] Players' characters created in the first Rock Band cannot be transferred to Rock Band 2, although all of the customization options from Rock Band are present, allowing characters to be recreated.[23] The Wii version has character customization as well,[24] an upgrade from the Wii version of Rock Band, which used pre-rendered video. The PlayStation 2 version does not have character customization.

Players are able to interact with their virtual characters and band on the game's website. Using the website's "Merch Booth", users can simulate a photo shoot by posing their characters, choosing a backdrop, and applying visual effects. Any pictures taken can be used to order custom merchandise, including t-shirts, posters, keychains, and stickers. Additionally, the Merch Booth allows users to purchase figurines modeled after their characters.[25] The six-inch-tall figurines are created by the Z Corporation using 3D printing techniques, and will cost $70.[26]

[edit] Development

A sequel to Rock Band had been reported as in development for release in late 2008 in a Wired blog by Chris Kohler. According to Kohler, Harmonix was working on improving the instrument controllers, but the current controllers would be forward compatible with Rock Band 2. Kohler's piece also stated that the game would likely include similar features as announced for Guitar Hero World Tour, also planned for release in late 2008.[27]

According to lead designer Dan Teasdale from Harmonix, the game includes many features that players have been asking for, including "first time ever" features.[28] Band World Tour mode allows the use of downloadable content, in addition to on-disc tracks, and there are several new solo play modes that "not only provide new ways for you to experience your music library, but also new ways for you to make the transition from Expert to real instruments".[28]

Eric Brosius, Harmonix's Audio Director, described the process of selecting songs for Rock Band 2 as organic, allowing the set list to grow as needed with influence from fans' reaction to the first game but without any specific vision of the final list, and knowing that tracks that failed to make the main disc content would end up as content for download.[29] The team often licensed several songs from a single group, and then selected one that would be the most satisfying for all players in the game; additional songs not used in the main set list will likely appear as downloadable content in the future, though the initial twenty songs to be made available immediately after Rock Band 2's release featured new bands.[29] The final setlist features songs with harder drum and vocal parts compared to Rock Band, in consideration that a "second generation" of players now exist who are familiar with the instruments on the first Rock Band.[29] Songs were censored where necessary to achieve the desired game ratings; however, the team did not alter songs that had suggestive themes.[29] Brosius stated that the inclusion of Guns N' Roses' "Shackler's Revenge" was due to the team knowing they wanted a Guns N' Roses song, then determining that they wanted one off the "mysterious" Chinese Democracy album; Axl Rose helped the team to select the specific song.[29]

While a "Jukebox Mode" was originally planned, which would have allowed players to simply listen to the music and watch their band perform without interacting with the game, Harmonix stated that it was removed in the final stages of development, and that there are no plans to add it back to the game.[30] However, an equivalent experience can be "activated" through the use of several in-game modifiers.

Rock Band 2 was officially announced by EA Games on June 30, 2008, and was presented at the 2008 E3 conference.[28] The game premiered exclusively on the Xbox 360 on September 14, 2008 as a result of a marketing agreement with Microsoft.[31] All other versions of the game, including the PlayStation 3 and Wii versions, were released later in the year. The PlayStation 3 version supports Trophies.[32] The Wii version of Rock Band 2 was promised to be a "more competitive product" compared with the Wii version of Rock Band, as stated by Wired's Chris Kohler after speaking with Harmonix at the E3 conference.[33] The Wii version supports downloadable content and the same multiplayer modes as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version.[34][35] The PlayStation 2 version does not have these features.

[edit] SKUs and pricing

Special Edition bundle
Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 PlayStation 2 Wii
Release date (US) October 19, 2008 October 19, 2008 N/A December 18, 2008
Release date (Europe) Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
Standalone software
Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 PlayStation 2 Wii
Release date (US) September 14, 2008 October 19, 2008 December 18, 2008 December 18, 2008
Release date (Europe) November 14, 2008 March 27, 2009 March 27, 2009 April 24, 2009
Standalone instruments
Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 PlayStation 2 Wii
Release date (US) September 14, 2008 October 19, 2008 October 19, 2008 December 18, 2008
Release date (Europe) Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

The release of Rock Band 2 was originally exclusive to the Xbox 360 console for a one-month period. The game software and individual instruments were made available on September 14, 2008. The "Special Edition" bundle packaging the game software and peripherals was released on October 19, 2008, when the PlayStation 3 version of the game software was released.[36]

[edit] Promotion

A special Rock Band 2 premiere event at the 2008 E3 conference was held on July 16, 2008, thanks to Tim Glose chief of staff for the E3 convention, featuring a performance by surprise special guest The Who, in conjunction with the release of the "The Best of The Who" pack as downloadable content.[37] A "Rock Band Live" concert tour toured North America in October and November 2008, and featured bands such as Panic at the Disco, Dashboard Confessional, Plain White T's and The Cab, as well as local acts selected by radio promotions, contests, and on-site at each show. All acts featured during the tour included songs available as downloadable content for the game prior to the tour.[38] Mark Burnett, along with MTV, is sponsoring an "Ultimate Rock Band Experience" in Los Angeles, California for the launch of Rock Band 2, offering the chance for any four-member set of players to participate in the competition;[39] it is speculated that this will be the basis for a new reality television show.[40] An early public showing/demo of Rock Band 2 attended by lead designer Dan Teasdale and other Harmonix Music Systems personnel took place on September 2, 2008[41], at Ground Kontrol, a video arcade in Portland, Oregon that puts on weekly "Rock Band Tuesdays" events[42].

[edit] Soundtrack

The full set list for on-disc material was announced on July 14, 2008 during E3.[43] All 84 tracks included with the Rock Band 2 game disc utilize the songs' master recordings;[28][44][45] 75 of these are featured tracks in the main setlist, while the other 9 tracks are "bonus songs" by independent or lesser-known bands, as well as bands made up of Harmonix employees. Featured songs include "Ace of Spades" by Motörhead, "Any Way You Want It" by Journey, "Everlong" by Foo Fighters, "Let There Be Rock" by AC/DC, "My Own Worst Enemy" by Lit, "Pinball Wizard" by The Who, "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads, "Spoonman" by Soundgarden, and "White Wedding" by Billy Idol. The song "Shackler's Revenge" from the long-delayed Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy is part of the soundtrack, and signalled the eventual release of the album, which occurred in November 2008.[46] The full album was later released for the Rock Band series as downloadable content.[47]

Additionally, 55 of the 58 songs from the original Rock Band game disc can be exported to the player's console hard drive and used within Rock Band 2.[13][48][49] The disc export feature was made available on the Xbox 360 version of the original Rock Band via a title update on September 4, 2008, with a cost of 400 MS Points ($4.99 USD) required to purchase a transfer license.[50] This feature is also available for PlayStation 3 owners,[51] however, there are presently no plans for Wii owners to do the same.[35] Four songs from Rock Band are not transferable: "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, "Run to the Hills" as made famous by Iron Maiden, and "Paranoid" as made famous by Black Sabbath are unavailable for transfer in all versions of Rock Band, and "Monsoon" by Tokio Hotel is non-transferable in the European release of Rock Band.[52] Each Rock Band song had to be relicensed for use within Rock Band 2.[53]

[edit] Downloadable songs and Track Packs

For the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii versions of the game, players can download additional songs on a track-by-track basis, with many of the tracks digitally bundled together in "song packs" or complete albums at a discounted rate. All existing and forthcoming downloadable songs are cross-compatible between both Rock Band titles.[28] Unlike Rock Band, the Wii version of Rock Band 2 supports downloadable content, and all existing downloadable content will be made available to Wii users over time.[54] Harmonix stated that 30 existing songs would be available at the game's Wii launch[54], but on Dec. 24 issued a statement that the launch of the Wii music store will be delayed until early 2009.[55] DLC finally became available for the Wii on January 13, 2009, with 50 tracks available at launch.[56] Songs can be stored to both the Wii's internal memory and to an SD card, and songs on the SD card will be streamed off the card.[57] To promote Rock Band 2, 20 free downloadable songs were released soon after the game's launch.[48]

Harmonix is also releasing a series of "Track Pack" standalone games that are sold in retail stores. Each volume contains several of the tracks available as downloadable content. More recent "Track Packs" allow their track listings to be exported to the player's console hard drive for use in either Rock Band game.

[edit] Reception

Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 92.9% (based on 20 reviews)[59]
Metacritic 93% (based on 20 reviews)[58]
Review scores
Publication Score A[60]
Game Informer 9.25/10
GameSpot 8.5/10[61]
IGN 9.0/10[62]
Nintendo Power 9.0/10[63]
Official Xbox Magazine 9.0/10[64]
X-Play 5/5 stars[65]
Wired 9/10[66]

Rock Band 2 received highly positive reviews from several publications.[59][58] likened it to a "system update" rather than an entirely new game, describing it as "a collection of interface tweaks and non-earth-shattering new features designed to make the Rock Band experience more enjoyable and less frustrating".[60] The "No Fail" mode has been recognized as a very useful feature for balancing the skill levels of players at different levels, particularly inexperienced players.[65]

The Xbox 360 version of Rock Band 2 was the third best-selling game in North America in September 2008, selling 363,000 copies.[67] and also has an average critic review score of 92% on Metacritic, tying it for the 11th highest-rated game for the Xbox 360 and the 7th highest-rated game on the Playstation 3. The Xbox 360 version continued to sell more than 119,000 copies in October 2008, while a similar number of units were sold of the PlayStation 3 version following its October debut.[68] Rock Band 2 sold 1.7 million units across all platforms in North America in 2008, about half as many as Guitar Hero World Tour.[69]

IGN praised the Wii version for including features like online play and downloadable content that were missing from the platform's edition of Rock Band, saying "the sequel more than makes up for the original's problems."[18]

[edit] Awards

  • IGN Best of 2008:
    • Best Xbox 360 Music/Rhythm Game
    • Best PS3 Music/Rhythm Game
    • Best Family Game (Xbox 360)
    • Best Local Multiplayer Game (Xbox 360)
    • Nominee for Best Wii Music/Rhythm Game
  • 2008 Spike Video Game Awards:
    • Best Music Game
    • Best Soundtrack
  • GameSpot's "Best of 2008"[70]:
    • Best Rhythm/Music Game[71]
  • Game Informer
    • Game of the Month
    • Included in "The Top 50 Games of 2008".
  • X-Play's Music/Rhythm Game of the Year 2008

[edit] References

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