Rock Band 2 Turns It Up to …Ugh, You Know the Rest

This summer, the drummer from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts threw a drumstick at my face.

To be fair, that's what drummers do — even fill-in, faux-Blackhearts from Joan Jett's new live band (at a county fair near you). After defensively swiping the stick out of the air, inches from my eye, a way-too-enthusiastic girl next to me asked, "Oh, man! What are you going to do with it?" The answer was easy: stab and poke my way out of the crowd, run home and use it to play Rock Band 2. Because being known as the guy who eagerly caught a thrown souvenir from Joan Jett's session band is definitely more embarrassing than whaling on plastic drums in my front room.

Yes, I believe Rock Band 2 — the astonishing, must-have sequel to the blockbuster original — has finally crossed this threshold: Playing in a fake rock band with your friends is officially cooler than being in a real band. Making it in a real rock band is incredibly hard work, and at the end of that hard work, no one truly appreciates your skill but your mother. Then, one day, you're just some guy playing 20-year-old songs during Budweiser's local Summer Stage series. So why not fake it 'til you don't make it?

You know the Rock Band drill at this point. Up to four friends — with plastic guitar, bass, drums and microphone in hand — can slog their way through a massive set list of hits, from AC/DC (their first music game appearance) to ZZ Top. Colored buttons correspond with on-screen "notes," and missing too many gets you booed offstage. Shred, rinse, repeat. So why's it deserve an encore?

A music game's set list used to make or break the purchase, but thanks to the advent of downloadable content, it's a moot point. For the few among you who don't like Rock Band 2's 80-plus included songs (who can argue with "Eye of the Tiger" and Duran Duran?), all the original Rock Band's downloadable content is also playable. And because you can rip every track over from Rock Band 1 — making the re-sell value of the first game approximately $3 — there's no reason not to pick up the first game on the cheap and add it to your song arsenal. The series promises 500 songs by the holiday season. Whose holiday? Hopefully the people who celebrate Festivus in October.

It seems unremarkable at first, but Rock Band 2's gameplay simply fixes all the problems from the original without monkeying with what worked. However, to anyone who had to play Garbage's ear-gouging "I Think I'm Paranoid" multiple times in Rock Band to advance, the flexible build-your-own set list option during World Tour is a godsend. Also, instead of your band's lineup being locked in for the duration of the game, you can add friends, tour alone, and kick troubled members out of the band. That's great news for Scott Weiland's friends, who can finally move past the first level.

Those annoyed that their living room is piling up with expensive plastic instruments can rest easy: Rock Band 2 is compatible with your old Rock Band gear. Though after you try out the improved (read: quieter, sturdier, and more responsive) wireless guitar and drums, you'll smash your old controllers Keith Moon-style. Bonus: The new equipment will be compatible with the upcoming Guitar Hero: World Tour, thanks to a landmark company agreement that, in my mind, surpasses the fall of the Berlin Wall.

You wanted a built-in Drum Training mode? You got it. A "No Fail Mode" so your little cousins, or grandfather, can join in the fun? It's here too. More customization and online play options? Done and done. A Phil Collins and Huey Lewis marathon song set? Well . . . no. Unfortunately, they've gotta leave some awesomeness for the next game.

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Chris Ward
Contact: Chris Ward