Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
Publisher: MTV Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii
Rock Band 2 is therapy for your inner rock snob—that sneering music cynic that resides in many of us. You know the one. The jerk who shivers every time an overplayed relic pops up in classic-rock radio rotation. Or the naysayer who loves telling people that their favorite band hasn't made a great record since the '90s. See, Rock Band 2, just like its predecessor, has a way of making players come to appreciate songs outside the taste boundaries they've erected over the years.
The first game helped me gain a begrudging appreciation towards contemporary pop rockers like OK Go, Jet and Fall Out Boy. And I found that I've softened my rhetoric towards the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I've always dismissed “Dani California” as part of the band's downturn. But after singing, strumming and pounding drums to the tune while playing the original Rock Band, I've gained an appreciation for the single. Now “Give It Away,” the band's second most over-played song next to “Under the Bridge” has found a place in my heart again thanks to Rock Band 2. There's a little bit of magic in Rock Band 2, I'm not sure what it is, but for me, it's helping peel away the years and feel, again, like the teenager who just spent a big chunk of his paycheck to cop Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Rock Band 2's playlist continues the work. The 75-song set feels like a mix-tape prepared by an omnivorous music lover. The game is full of classic-rock deep cuts (Rush's “The Trees”), unexpected indie additions (“De-Luxe” by Lush), '80s pop classics (“We Got The Beat” by The Go-Gos) and contemporary tracks you didn't know you loved (Silversun Pickups' “Lazy Eye”). But the game doesn't just throw a bunch of new songs at you. It integrates all the old tracks from the original Rock Band, as well as all the downloadable songs, into one massive play list. For parties, that means a much bigger karaoke menu. For those playing through the game's revamped “world tour” that means never knowing what to expect—especially when certain gigs throw together mystery playlists for you and your band mates.
The new “world tour” is much friendlier towards solo-players—those looking to practice their chops in preparation for the next Rock Band party. Now, even loners can go on the road, earn money and play to fans. This simulated concert tour is much more fun that the game's old songs tiers, which forced players to concentrate on the same five or six songs. Now, with the game's entire library popping into play lists it never feels like you’re stuck at a dead end, stymied by a particularly challenging song. And along the road the game throws interesting decisions your way—inviting your band to play benefit concerts or shoot music videos. The best I've encountered so far revolved around a Hot Topic sponsorship. I took the gig, despite misgivings and wound up playing the fairly terrible “That's What You Get” by emo rockers Paramore. Even though I rocked the crowd, playing nearly flawlessly, I lost 60,000 fans. There are some bands—and brands—that even Rock Band 2 is incapable of making cool.