Rock Band 2 (Bundle) - Review

Rock Band 2 (Bundle)
Ages: Teen

As Promised - an update to our review by a real rocker


At its heart, Rock Band 2 is a simple rhythm game. Colored note indicators "slide down" the screen toward the player in time with the music. Each instrument (guitar, bass, drums, and voice) has its own indicator track. When the notes reach a certain point, the player triggers his or her controller (pressing a button and "strumming" for guitar and bass, hitting a drum pad for drums, or singing a part for vocals). If the player triggers the correct color at the correct time, he or she scores points. The player is awarded multipliers to his or her note scores for triggering consecutive notes without making any mistakes. If the player misses too many notes in a row, he or she "fails out" and the song sputters to a stop.

This somewhat dry description belies the full multi-media experience that is Rock Band 2. Behind the note indicators, there's a full animated concert going on. 3-D modeled characters representing each of the players "perform" the song. Hand and mouth movements are remarkably well synchronized with the music. The characters also have a large stock of moves - they're perpetually in motion. Rock Band 2 has a host of venues in which these characters perform. The larger venues incorporate such effects as fire, video screens behind the band, neon, and other eye candy. In many respects, watching the game is just as engaging as playing the game.

You're not limited to pre-programmed characters, either. Part of the fun of casual play in Rock Band 2 is making your very own character or characters to represent you in the game. You can customize faces, hairstyles, skin color, height, weight, and "attitude" (the way they move onstage). While the options available for each point of customization are limited, they're put together thoughtfully. It's not very difficult to get something reasonably close to whatever you have in mind. Once you've put together a character you like, you can name it, give it a hometown, and save it for use in casual play or campaign mode. If you're so inclined, you can even build up a stock of characters to swap in and out of your band(s).


The core of the Rock Band 2 experience is the campaign (or "Tour") mode. Any number of players up to the game's maximum of four can play in this mode. The players put together a band consisting of any mix of custom characters and system generated characters. In the event that there are fewer than four players, the players may designate game characters as "stand-ins" for the instruments that are not being played. This band then goes "on tour" from one city in the world to another.

Each "tour stop" contains several virtual venues, ranging from lowly dives to huge stadiums. A band always starts out in the dives, which tend to have shorter "set lists" containing easier songs than the larger venues. As the band racks up points, more set lists and venues become available. This allows access to more difficult songs and greater numbers of fans. The band also accumulates "fans" and "money", which unlock new venues and allow character customization.

There is plenty of flexibility in the way bands can handle their tours. Your band might choose to hop from town to town, playing the introductory sets and unlocking new venues, or you might choose to stay in one city and unlock as much as possible in that city before moving on. Casual players may choose to complete songs regardless of score and then move on to new material, while more competitive players may choose to work on the same song or set until they have "five-starred" everything. This free-form approach to playing the game is one of its greatest strengths. When Nina and I play together, we play casually: we jump around from city to city, and we don't worry too much about our scores. When I play solo, I work through the venues and songs methodically and master all the material before moving on.

The game does make a couple of concessions to standard video game practice. It requires quite a bit of campaign play before casual play is viable. A small subset of the songs is all that's available when the player initially loads the game. The full song list only becomes available by mastering songs and unlocking venues in campaign play. In practice, this is okay, but it means that you have to spend some time with the game before you can have people over for a Rock Band 2 party.

Rock Band 2 also forces you to take on higher difficulty levels later in the campaign. At some point, you will need to go to the next higher difficulty level in order to get enough fans to unlock the largest venues. While Rock Band 2 offers an excellent training mode and allows plenty of time to play before the difficulty ceiling is hit, it would be nice for the casual player to be able to complete the game on his or her own terms.


The Rock Band 2 developers (Harmonix) release several new songs each week as downloadable content via Xbox Live. Most of these songs cost $2 apiece, although some songs by new or "underground" bands may cost less. Once you've bought a DLC track, Rock Band 2 introduces it into your library of songs. You can add it to set lists and play it in casual (or "Quickplay") mode. It will also appear in "mystery" setlists, where the game selects songs randomly for you to play.

The range of DLC song styles is huge. Nina and I have purchased tracks from Jethro Tull (classic rock), Paramore (modern pop-punk), Siouxsie & the Banshees (80's goth rock), Black Sabbath (70's heavy metal), the Psychadelic Furs (new wave), the Foo Fighters (modern "alt-rock"), and more. It's a relatively inexpensive way to add volume and variety to your Rock Band 2 song catalog, and we enjoy being able to rock out to songs we know and love.


Once you've unlocked and/or downloaded a bunch of songs, you're ready for casual play. The transition from campaign play to casual play is seamless. In fact, once your songs are unlocked, you could feasibly never play campaign mode again.

Rock Band 2's flexibility is just as apparent in casual play as it is in campaign play. It supports any number of players up to the maximum; single-song play or set lists of any length; and any mix of custom-main characters and the game's preset characters. This flexibility makes Rock Band 2 a fantastic party game. Groups of players can form their own "bands" and play whole set lists, or change instruments often and play one song at a time. Themed sets like "classic rock" or "heavy metal", rotating instruments where the singer picks the song, "rock-offs" where players' bands play custom sets and compete for a high score - these are just a few of the possible play styles enabled by the game.


There are many tracks in Rock Band 2 that just, well, rock. Jump up and down, strike the rock star pose, windmill one's arm like Pete Townsend, belt out the chorus out of tune at the top of one's lungs kind of rock. This enthusiasm, while unavoidable, tends to have a detrimental effect upon one's ability to hit the notes on time and thereby score points. Harmonix has graciously addressed this issue by including a "No Fail Mode" - an absolute necessity for Rock Band 2 parties. Engaging No Fail Mode means that everyone in the band can rock out without fear that the song will come to a screeching halt. Bless you, Harmonix. Bless you.


If five-starring every song in every venue doesn't give you your competitive fill, Rock Band 2 offers two more competitive options. Challenge Mode presents increasingly difficult songs and lists of songs that you can work through on each instrument individually and as a full band.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of repetition in Challenge Mode. You'll probably have to play some songs three or four different times to complete all the challenges - and if you're not crazy about one or more of those songs, it seems to take forever.

On the other hand, the game dynamically provides special bonus challenges based on the DLC you own. For example, I purchased about half the songs on the Pixies' "Doolittle" album. In Challenge Mode, I can play a "Pixies Marathon" that includes all of those songs. It's a nice bonus that adds some much-needed variety to the challenges.

In addition, specific challenges are offered periodically via Xbox Live. The nature of these challenges varies widely, but the common element is competition against other individuals playing Rock Band 2. After you "beat the game", these challenges give Rock Band 2 excellent replay value for competitive players.


As the name indicates, Rock Band 2 focuses on rock songs. The developers have attempted to capture many different facets of rock music within the game, but there is still a significant emphasis on "modern" or "alternative" rock. It's worth visiting Wikipedia before you buy in order to see if the track mix is to your liking. In addition, the range of musical styles guarantees that you will have to play songs you don't like multiple times in order to advance through the game.


When you complete songs in campaign mode, your character is awarded money based on your score. You can then take this virtual currency and go to the "Rock Shop" to purchase new hairstyles, instruments, clothes, and accessories. There are scores of different options to choose from. Tops, bottoms, and shoes are all sold separately so you can mix and match outfits to your heart's content. Nina and I often take breaks from tours to change up our characters' looks. It doesn't have any affect on gameplay, but it's a fun little role-playing element that we very much enjoy.


Rock Band 2 is a musical rhythm game that addresses competitive and casual audiences with surprising grace. It's full of subtle and thoughtful little touches that combine to provide a very player-centric experience. While the game shines brightest in multiplayer, the single-player mode is robust and engaging. The rhythm elements of the game are supplemented by light RPG elements such as individual character creation and shopping. The controllers are well built and responsive. The game contains a variety of musical styles within the rock genre, and downloadable content allows the player to further customize his or her library of music by purchasing new tracks. Rock Band 2 may well be the best party game available on the Xbox 360, and one of the best games available for the console overall.

Reviewed by: Finn Kisch - 01/09

How do you take something that almost perfect and improve it? Make it perfect! So many new great things - where do I start.

The new peripherals are WIRELESS. Now you can jump down, spin around without hobbling yourself in wire. The body freedom is so important to being at one with the performance.

The guitar - a Fender Stratocaster with the upgraded wood finish, silent frets, solo buttons down by the body - great for kids and smaller hands. Everything much sturdier, there won't be the necessary "fixes" for the strum bar.

The drums - the kick pedal is well built and the drums sense impact and are more resilient, giving better feedback to the drummer - now the harder you hit - the louder the sound. There's also a drum trainer. I originally thought that the drums would be the easiest to play but after watching a couple of sets - it's obvious that the band travels on the back of the drums for good or ill, and good drumming carries the band, so a little instruction helps a lot.

Players are now interchangeable - tired of playing drums - want a go at the guitar - go for it. Experimentation is also further encouraged by the No Fail Mode. I was surprised to hear how much this option added to the experience. When not playing Rock Band - these are mostly hard core gamers guys who would sneer at this type of option, I take this as a civilizing influence. So with the No Fail and the solo buttons - when some little tyke is staring up at you with adoring eyes - you can hand her your axe and let her rip.

Online World Tour Mode seems to be the preferred mode, with so many venues and un-lockables as you work your way up. This time you can play solo on all the instruments, or go online to pickup a needed player. For more challenges there is the Battle of the Bands or for the impatient there is Band Quickplay.

The game comes with over 80 songs on the disc, plus an additional 20 that you download using the code on the back of the manual. With the backward compatibility of the songs, and the number of songs always increasing the organization of the song list is important and Harmonix and MTV Games have thought that one through. Rock Shop has become more central and filled with more ways of making yourself and your band visually outrageous. The manual is good, gives tips and provides enough information even for a beginner.

Rock Band has had a great impact in the socialization and democratization of music. Musicians are even working out the songs for the real guitar players. Imagine that combo. More later when I can get my group to stop playing long enough to write a review.

Fun Factor: You deserve it.
Female Factor: OK for a start.
Player Friendly: Lots of attention to what players want.

Reviewed by: Editor - 09/08

  • Rock Band 2 (Bundle)
  • © Electromic Arts/ Harmonix
  • Platform(s): XBox360
  • To Order: XBox360 $189.99