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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  • 7Enigma - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    A buddy sent this to me a couple weeks ago. Insane drum playing on Expert in RockBand.">

    And just to give you an idea of how difficult this really is to play (if hearing it didn't quite sink in):">
  • silversound - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Anybody have any ideas about the guitar hero world tour?
    Im planning to buy a RB2 bundle or world tour bundle since they are at the same price. Which one is better? Most of my friends got RB, any thoughts?
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    i'll try to get some quick thoughts on GH4 up after we get ahold of it.

    if your friends have RB 2 and want to play with you online ... then ... i'd prolly go with RB 2 :-)

    if you guys get together and play with eachother, it might be nice to add some variety and pick up GH4 so that you and your friends can play a little of both.
  • GhandiInstinct - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Where's the hi-hat pedal?

    Electronic drum kits have 2 pedals.
  • crimson117 - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    "In songs with 16th notes or triplets, there still isn't much that gets by without being fairly accurte." ...unlike the Anandtech spell check process :)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Okay, I may not be the most up-to-date in terms of bands and such, but the number of songs and even band names that I recognize from the RB2 list is amazingly small. Half of the bands/groups I recognize then have one of their B-sides or some other unknown song on the list. RB1 was pretty bad in that area, but RB2 takes it to a new level. Plus there's the "20 free songs" you can get - but I don't recognize a single group or song on that list! If I were to want to pretend to be a rock star, I think I'd prefer to "cover" songs that I actually know. Guitar Hero seems to do a lot better in this regard; Harmonix appears to have cut costs by choosing cheap/free songs to license.
  • Myrandex - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I felt the same way until I played it, then I realized that I recognized a lot more afterwards. also as the author mentioned, I eventually obtained a greater appreciation for certain songs or even certain aspects of songs. There are definitely songs that I didn't know that I like quite a bit after playing RB2.

    And for the 20 free songs, I am greatly looking forward to Static-X "Push It". I love that band and I could think of at least 8 songs that I'd gladly pay for to be in the game (with Push It being one of them).

    I recognized some other ones, but not too many. I don't know if the list that I saw was actually finalized or not though. The one song that I was looking forward to the most in RB2 was Linkin Park's One Step Closer. I could think of probably 15 LP songs that I'd also pay for in there.

  • jnmfox - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    +1 to the comments & +1 for more LP songs
  • headbox - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    Rock Band is genius- it gives all of the untalented people something to do other than waste money on instruments and annoy their neighbors. It's so well made that people can actually pretend they have some talent, allowing tone-deaf people who can't keep a beat to still have fun with music.
  • headbox - Friday, October 24, 2008 - link

    I'd like to add: Rock Band is to music what FPS games are to military training.

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