Given the huge success of Rock Band’s downloadable content system (new songs for the game go on sale weekly), many cynics would argue that, aside from a cash-in, there’s no good reason for a Rock Band 2. But the sequel to last year’s blockbuster music title is no mere expansion pack: The game itself fixes a zillion interface quirks and minor annoyances that kept Rock Band from being everything it could have, while the improved guitar and drum peripherals, wireless at last, make for a more satisfying experience all around.
Thankfully, Harmonix isn’t “forcing” fans to buy anything; the old instruments are fully compatible with the new game, and all past and future song downloads will work with both titles. RB2’s own roster of 84 songs is fairly diverse, but the selections clearly favor nostalgic Gen Xers (the Replacements, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. are all accounted for). There’s also a track from the increasingly mythical Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy.
The most significant gameplay changes are in the tour mode, which includes several new online options, among them a “Battle of the Bands” feature. Most welcome are the way band members can now change instruments—and, better still, how characters of your own creation can be inserted as ringers (in lieu of Harmonix-designed avatars) when playing without a full band. Translation: You’ll never have to play “Tangled Up in Blue” with bandmates who look like extras from The Road Warrior…unless, of course, you really want to.