LET THERE BE ROCK BAND 2

The seemingly flimsy, plastic guitar controller should be quite familiar to most people these days who are acquainted with the concept of television, and the formula of rocking out on your TV just gets better with Harmonix’s latest, Rock Band 2.

For those who may not be familiar with the genre in question, goodness forbid, rhythm games made a particularly big splash in today’s culture with the advent of Guitar Hero just a scant three years ago. Since then, fans and beginners have had more and more songs and ways to bring out their inner rock star, culminating in the Rock Band series, which incorporates a microphone for vocals, a drum set and a bass track in addition to the guitar controller, ending up with one of the best games you could find at a party (unless Twister or Pictionary is your thing).

To be fair though, Rock Band 2 doesn’t do much to revolutionize or change the formula its predecessor set, but adds a good bit of polish and functionality, as well as a truckload of new songs to jam to. The set list is quite impressive and varies with classics ranging from the 1960’s and 1970’s with The Who and Fleetwood Mac, up to the 1990’s and beyond with garage and grunge music from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys. A good injection of heavy metal and pop music comes next with Megadeth, Metallica, Modest Mouse and the like. As if this wasn’t enough, you can import all the songs from the first Rock Band game and any songs you downloaded from Xbox Live, bringing the grand total up past a whopping 300 songs to shuffle through.

There is plenty more for players to eagerly sink their teeth into, as not only have the tracks from Rock Band been tuned up slightly, the new tracks have plenty to offer as well. The guitar tracks range from easy-going for beginners, right up to blister-inducing for those diehards who’d complained that guitar tracks from Rock Band were too easy. There’s now a ‘Drum Trainer’ mode as well for those upcoming drummers to practice their beats and fills, and the vocals are devoid of the minute yells and shouts that could make or break a band.

While the graphics remain generally the same, filters and effects have been added to make each performance play out like a music video, and the number of venues to play at have been upped, with places like Beijing and Istanbul to tour. Avatar customization has also been tweaked nicely, allowing me to get my mohawked, Viking-esque guitarist on the stage and playing within minutes.

Speaking of worldwide locations, the long-awaited feature of allowing players to play in the ‘World Tour’ mode together through Xbox Live has been added, allowing bands to play their way across the world while unlocking rides, staff and venues, and taking steps towards international fame. Another step up from the previous title is the inclusion of “Challenge Mode” and “Battle of the Bands,” modes which allow players to truly test their skills, or simply have fun, depending on their mood.

As of this time, I have yet to play with the new instruments that were bundled with the special edition, but the improvements they’ve made are certainly worth looking into when they’re sold separately later on. While turning up the sound on your TV is bound to annoy your neighbors with your jam session (as you should do, of course), it’s equally advised to invite them in for a game or two. Even without any leaps and bounds made into the rhythm game genre, Rock Band 2 is undoubtedly on top of the game when it comes to getting the party started.