Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting the Band Back Together

I haven't posted much this week. Unlike Bill I can't blame the power company. I can attribute a couple days, however, to having a 102 degree fever and, in my delirium, not being able to tell a keyboard from a couch pillow. Gotta love that.

Fortunately, the week hasn't been a total loss. On Sunday Rock Band 2 came out. It's a good thing they released it on a weekend because a release during the week would cause the sorts of work absences normally attributed for the Monday after the Super Bowl.

Hyperbole. Ain't it grand?

I haven't had a lot of time to play it yet, but I can tell you they addressed my biggest complaint with the first game. What I said back when:

The Band World Tour mode has everything. You can create a band member for every player in the band. You can design band logos and associated stuff to put it on. You can actually "tour", choosing different geographic regions, different locales (and locale sizes) and generally grow from a small, local band to a band that has a huge "fan" following and travels the world. Plus, you can take on set list challenges and create your own concert set lists. As I've said many a time before, it's liquid awesome.

So why the hell is none of that in the Solo Tour mode?

This time Harmonix did absolutely the right thing with RB2 and combined the Solo and multiplayer World Tour modes. So, as someone who only got to do the multiplayer as part of a party atmosphere (where everyone's drunk and really awful at the game), I can finally play it solo and actually progress in the World Tour, which is sooooo much better than being stuck with a single list of tracks that you have to progress through in order. Finally, my band -Green Eggs & Mayham- can truly thrive!!!

They also made it possible to be a solo player and still have your own bandmates. In RB1 you could make your musician, but your band mates were entirely random and they changed as you progressed in the song tiers (6 tracks per tier in RB1, so that's a lot of changes). Now you can create multiple musicians for your band and assign them roles in it so that you can be a single player and still have it feel like a band experience on the TV screen. Plus, you can change your own role in the band (say, from lead guitar to drums) without having to go back and create a new character/band.

These changes, given that the solo and multiplayer modes are basically the same thing now, also carry over to the actual multiplayer. The fact that band members can change their roles without having to create and select new avatars will greatly aid RB's accessibility as a social party game. (As will the new No Fail option.) I've read some complaints that the World Tour itself hasn't changed much since RB1, but since I barely got to scratch the surface of it, I really can't say I care all that much.

Also, the ability to import all but three of your Rock Band 1 tracks into RB2 is a godsend. Yeah, it costs $5, but it's totally worth it. (As I'm sure you've read, any downloaded tracks are immediately available in RB2.) What I really like, though, is that when building a set list in Tour mode, there are icons next to each track indicating if it's part of RB2, downloadable content, or something imported from RB1.

The game also now includes the ability to play in Tour mode via Xbox Live. I haven't attempted to exploit this yet, but hopefully I will at some point in the next week or so. All-in-all, this isn't a genre-changing release, but it's a fantastic evolution of the formula. Now, if only they'd get us some frigg'n Tom Petty. Seriously, there's something like 300-500 tracks available for the platform and I can't get a little Runn'n Down a Dream? Come on, guys!

Anyway, I received NHL 2k9 from Bill yesterday so RB2 will have to be set aside for a bit while I put that through its paces. I haven't played a 2k hockey game in years, so it'll be interesting to see how it's evolved.