Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Review

Rock Band 2: The Instruments

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii Developer: Harmonix Publisher: Electronic Arts

Box Quote: “Fuck you, downstairs neighbors!!!” -- Iroquois Pliskin,

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


dickie said...

Are you planning on trying GHWT? Or rather, when can we see your thoughts between the two? ;)

Anonymous said...

Do you have a preference among the various Rock Band and Guitar Hero guitars? My fiancee and I keep trying to find a good review of the new Rock Band 2 guitar given the preference of the GH3 guitar (since that's the one we like - we pretty much can't stand the RB1 guitar). We keep waffling on whether to try the new guitar or just get another wireless GH3 guitar to replace our other aged plastic instruments.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

@dickie: Man, I would love to do some comparison but I don't have the kind of deep pockets for that project. (I have to be able to afford games this fall! Have you *seen* that release list!?) If and when the standalone drums for GHWT come out I'm going to give them a looksee, because I have heard many good things about them.

@sollaires: for my money the Les Paul from GH3 is still the best of the bunch-- it's got a great feel, it's kind of hard to pin down but I've found it's just super-comfortable to play. (if I were to get another guitar to round out the instruments I would get that one.) I think the RB2 is quite a bit better than the original, it's got more feedback on the strumming and I like the feel of it overall. I'm totally happy with them: they're wireless, the start key is recessed now, and I'm fond of the effects switch and solo keys. But the wireless Les Pauls are cheap and plentiful, and that counts much in their favor.

Anonymous said...

My pockets are so shallow that I've not yet been able to give Rock Band a go let alone Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero: World Tour. It's a shame too because we're just moving house and there's nothing I'd love to do more before leaving than play Rock Band at obscene decibel levels and shout "Fuck you, downstairs neighbours!" ad nauseam.

Savid Daunders said...

What?!?! No endless setlist drumming on Expert?! For shame!

Just kidding of course. The jump in difficulty is pretty substantial (playing songs that are recorded using a double bass pedal with only a single foot is more than a little tiring).

noreign said...

Don't the drums help you with your inner time-keeping? I find that I play a lot better when the drummer is playing smoothly, and I get completely thrown off when he's struggling with the rhythm. I love the effect, it's like you're playing in a real band.

Btw, I don't understand why people hated the RB1 guitar so much. It took some time getting used used to it, I admit, but it played a lot better than the previous GH ones. The buttons are closer together, making the scales and nasty chords easier to play, and the wammy bar is actually long enough to be used comfortably.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

@savid: I had a hard time enough on the higher-tier hard songs. (for some reason "next to you" on hard was almost impossible for me.) I kind of feel like the higher-tier expert songs on drums are beyond my ken but maybe that new drum trainer will straighten me out.

@noreight: It's crazy you bring that up, but yeah, I was noticing yesterday when I was playing rock band how much easier it is to tell time when the drummer is doing well. Which is really cool because that is how a real band is anyway. Also, I'm with on the first RB controller; I didn't think it was too bad myself (the points you mention are good ones on this) but I did understand why people didn't like the feel of the strum bar, which can be a deal breaker.