Rock Band 2: The Instruments
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii Developer: Harmonix Publisher: Electronic Arts
Box Quote: “Fuck you, downstairs neighbors!!!” -- Iroquois Pliskin, versusclucluland.blogspot.com
Full Discosure: I know the words to Electric Version by heart. I placed third in a Guitar Hero competition at the Cambridgeside Galleria Best Buy in the fall of 2006. I once brought my ex-plorer guitars cross-country for a family vacation by packing them into my backpack and carrying them on the plane. (The pilot said, “I'm more of a Gears of War man myself.”) My firstborn is going to be named Harmonix Music Systems Pliskin. My old band, Just the Tip, has real t-shirts; we completed the endless setlist on Hard, with myself and Galen alternating on drums and vocals. I could probably be described as a partisan.
Gameplay: It all comes down to the strum bar. My hand-eye coordination is pretty solid (thanks, squandered childhood!), and though I can send my fingers skittering across the fretboard with relative ease I run into issues keeping time on long passages of sixteenth notes, due to my intense whiteness and poor sense of internal timekeeping. The classic Guitar Hero controllers have this metronomic click in their strum, and a lot of people (such as my esteemed colleague, Dr. Toaster) found the clickless action on the original Rock Band Stratocaster kind of smooshy, as if you were trying to whisk a bowl of pudding with a boiled carrot. The new Strat has a tactile chock at either end of the strum, which gives some subtle feedback and helps with nailing those strummy passages. The fret keys on the new guitar have a nice substantial feeling to them, and the wirelessness is a huge plus, as it obviates the need for that chintzy, power-strip-hogging USB hub that came with the original.
Story: So, somebody called the cops on us last winter when we were playing Rock Band back in Allston last winter. We suspect the downstairs neighbors. The whole event was pretty ridiculous, and I can only imagine the police officer's interior monologue when he was taken of his usual beat, cracking the skulls of drunken BU students, in order to chastize an apartmentfull of stone-cold-sober nerds whaling away on prosthetic instruments. Since then it's been customary to 1) Shout “fuck you downstairs neighbors!!” during the vocal overdrive fills and 2) put a yoga mat under the drum kit to reduce the pounding on the thin floorboards. This latter innovation also helped allay the kit's tendency to progressively slide out of reach as you pound away at Won't Get Fooled Again. The new kit has a more texturized rubber padding the base, and it's been staying put for the most part. This is one of many incremental improvements to the original's kit: wirelessness, a metal-reinforced foot pedal (I snapped my first set's pedal in half during Go With the Flow), quieter rubberized drum pads, and the addition of some rubbery material on the kick-pedal housing which keeps the pedal horizontally locked to the base if you pick the kit up and move it about. All of these modifications are impressively thoughtful, and though none of them render the previous kit obsolete by comparison they reflect an impressive grasp of the all-important details, one which evident throughout Rock Band 2 as a product.
The Takeaway: The evolution will be televised. Though probably not indispensable to owners of the previous instruments, the new instruments offer across-the-board improvments on the originals