It all started with rhythm games. I remember my first: PaRappa the Rapper. A quaint little PlayStation game in which you matched button pressing patterns as they moved across the screen. If the name didn't give it away, it was all about a rapper named PaRappa. It took quite a number of years to make the step to the type of music games we have now, but a standard game controller just wasn't made for the type of complex button combinations required to simulate playing a guitar (or even drums for that matter). For the guitar, you need to hold down one, two or three different buttons and then "strum" another button when the note is to be "played" for the drums, up to three buttons need to be tapped simultaneously on the beat. Playing in this style requires the use of more than just two thumbs, and making instrument-like controllers is really a rather natural way to go to make a game like this work.

Whatever else game designers may have been waiting for, Guitar Hero took quite a chance with a game that required a special (and not too cheap) controller that only worked with one title. The real precursor to Guitar Hero has to be Dance Dance Revolution, which showed that people are willing to spend a little extra money on a specialized interface to a rhythm game. And after the original music game exploded, it was inevitable that someone would build a game that included drums as well. That's what Rock Band did. Today we bring you our review of the second installment in the Rock Band series: Rock Band 2.

The tendrils in the background are really well animated. It's subtle but gives a great feeling of depth.

Unlike Guitar Hero, there is no real "quest" to complete. Rock Band 2 centers around playing music in different venues around the world to unlock more songs to play in additional venues. Aside from the ridiculous success and gigantic fan base that is easy to acquire in Rock Band 2.  In real life you would not be able to do this if you were a lame cover band that didn't write their own stuff. But it's still pretty cool.  Even with this ability to become an instant virtual Rock Star, Rock Band 2 really is, in essence, a band simulator.

For those who haven't had the opportunity to play either Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the concept can sound kind of lame. But the fun of these games really sneaks up on you. Whether you play an instrument or not, playing Rock Band with three friends to a sound track that it actually filled with a lot of good songs is really a satisfying experience. Even playing on your own is cool, but the multiplayer/party game experience is really where it's at.

Why is it fun? Well, it's a lot easier than playing a real instrument, but it still gives you that feeling that what you are doing is making music. At the same time, while there are different difficulty settings, the game can get really challenging. There are a lot of really complex songs to play (that even some decent musicians might not want to touch in real life) that are quite satisfying to master. For people who have never played a guitar or drums, it can give you a taste of what it's like. While the guitar is still really divergent from reality, the drums are quite close.

In fact, Rock Band 2 can essentially double as a real electronic drum kit. But we'll talk more about that later on. The game is very rhythm based (fitting as these are the types of games that the current music game genre emerged from) and the forms and patterns that gamers need to master range from straight forward and simple to very syncopated and fast. For gamers who like music, who like rhythm games, who like a challenge, or who want to feel like they are a rock star, this game is for you.

While Rock Band 2 is a clear upgrade from the first Rock Band, it feels more like an expanded and polished version of the original. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Rock Band was a fun game to begin with. Let's take a closer look at this latest installment in the Rock Band series from Harmonix.

The Instruments: The Guitar and Mic
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  • Myrandex - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Umm I don't think rockband implies talent.

    I have no musical talent, and nor to I desire to obtain any musical talent. I can't even read sheet music when someone was teaching me, and it didn't bother me in the slightest bit.

    The point of RB is fun. That's it. I used to think that all of these types of games were lame, until a friend brought over Guitar Hero 2. We played it until 3 am, and afterwards I realized that these games were fun (until you had to play lame songs, which is still a fault).

    And I agree that this game is to music as FPS is to Military Training; after an intense CS session I certainly am not ready to head to cs_iraq and preventing the terrorist from setting us up the bomb!
  • explovewhisper - Saturday, December 7, 2019 - link

    Rock Band was released on November 3, 2009 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii consoles, supports all existing Rock Band instruments
  • Myrandex - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Good article...

    I love RB and RB2, although I will admit with some of the songs I just think "WTF is this song doing in here" and here are SOOO many songs that I want to play on there that are not available.

    I wish that there was some way to import songs into the game and define the tracks (or even let the game automatically decide that, although that'd take a lot of programming and remove a profit area from Harmonix with DLC), because frankly even the songs that are on DLC aren't the ones that I want to play. Sure some are there, but not the ones that I crave to play. And I am sure that there are plenty of other people in the same position as myself, and I am also sure that plenty of other people would not like the songs that I want. Thats the joy in everyone having their own invidial tastes (Rammstein is the band that I'd love to see more than anyone else on there for example)...

    I remember 1 song on RB2 on expert on guitar was seriously just the green button at a certain interval that was not difficult at all (a lame rappish type song) didn't belong there at all! I fell asleep playing it on expert :-/

    I don't play the drums often, but I will admit that the pedal from RB1 does frustrate me and the lack of an adjustable chair makes playin git uncomfortable (long legs makes it hard to hit the bedal properly because my knee will be bent at a less than 90 degree angle), so I pretty much just play guitar (or base). It is still fun though and I'd recommend it to anyone.

  • webstorm1 - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I have a PS3, and there is an option to queue songs for multiple song downloads. You can select Download in the background, so you don't have to wait for any song to download before moving on. Then you just go to the game navigation menu (can't remember the exact name, but it's the one you would use to actually start a game from) and select each song after it has downloaded to install it. I'm guessing this is an Xbox 360 limitation in the online service, so it may even be fixed if anyone cares to do so.
  • Myrandex - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I couldn't quite figure out on page 1 what the author was trying to say for "You what you would if you..." slightly under the picture.

  • Gary Key - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Corrected now, had a HTML tag error there...
  • Devo2007 - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Instead of saying "The Premium Drum Kit" I think you should specifically mention that it's the ION Drum Rocker somewhere in the first half of page 5 -- it made things rather confusing when you kept saying "Premium Drum Kit" and then randomly referring to the kick pedal as the "ION Kick Pedal."

  • DerekWilson - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    thanks for the advice. i updated the page.
  • Diosjenin - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I have to thank you for the thoroughness with which you've dissected the drum kit(s) in particular. I don't actually own either 1 or 2, but I've played the first one a few times and the critiques you gave of the first set I feel are quite accurate, so I certainly trust the critiques you give of the new one(s).

    I do have to ask - is there an option to designate the hi-hat as the leftmost 'drum' rather than the one second from the left on the non-premium kit (where I presume you can just switch the pads)? If there's an option in either 1 or 2 to change this, do let me know, but I haven't ever played on a system where that's been the case, and not being able to play with my right arm crossed over my left remains my primary qualm with the drum setup as a whole - even above the horrible bass pedal feel and construction...
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    you can't reassign pads and must rely on what the programmers defined for each song.

    this is definitely the most frustrating thing for me. having the flexibility of the premium kit here is nice as you can, for whatever song, make it "right" usually by switching the plugs in the brain for the yellow and red pads.

    it still just makes me want to buy a real electronic drum kit and a kickbox though.

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