The folks at Harmonix are busy. When they aren't working away to create weekly downloadable content in support of last year's Rock Band, they've been coming up with new ways to keep you rocking on your home console. Prime among those projects is the upcoming Rock Band 2, the follow-up to one of the more memorable music games of recent years. At EA's recent pre-E3 event in Los Angeles, Harmonix showed off the follow-up to this incredibly popular game and gave some hints as to what to expect from the highly anticipated sequel.
For a while there, it seemed that online world-tour play might arrive as a patch for the original Rock Band; as it turns out, that feature will be one of the biggest features in the sequel, letting you join up with bandmates all over the world to fulfill your dreams of rock stardom. Online play sounds like great fun, and the folks at Harmonix have also made the smart decision to do away with band leaders in Rock Band 2. As a result, you can change your lineup at any time without having to break up the band as a result. Better yet, any character will be able to play any instrument as you go. Combine that with new gigs, challenges (more on those in a bit), as well as new cities and venues to play in, along with the ability to hire staff, and there will be a lot to do in Rock Band 2's World Tour mode.
Still, according to Harmonix, online World Tour wasn't the number-one feature requested by Rock Band fans. That distinction goes to "backward compatibility"--ensuring that all of the DLC since the first game's release will work seamlessly once the sequel rolls in. In that sense it's mission accomplished, because the game will feature full support for all of the downloadable content, and, naturally, the more than 80 songs that will be packed in with the disc version of Rock Band 2.
We know only a handful of the songs that have been announced so far in the sequel, but it's turning out to be as varied a list as in the first game. Here are the officially released songs:
"Ace of Spades" -- Motörhead
"Everlong" -- Foo Fighters
"Pinball Wizard" -- The Who
"Panic Attack" -- Dream Theater
"Any Way You Want It" -- Journey
"Chop Suey" -- System of a Down
"Kids in America" -- The Muffs
"Give It Away" -- Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Hello There" -- Cheap Trick
"Pump It Up" -- Elvis Costello
This is just 10 of the 80+ tunes that will make up the entire song list in Rock Band 2, one that, if the previous game (and its subsequent downloadable content) is any indication, will run the gamut across rock's decades and various subgenres. With hundreds of songs available to you from the get-go, the ability to create setlists for quick-play sessions is a crucial addition in Rock Band 2. In the last game, you could pick songs only one at a time; with the sequel, you'll be able to create setlists exactly how you see fit. It's perfect for the Rock Band fan who insists that every third song be a Rush tune, or that repeating Freezepop's "Sprode" 13 times in succession isn't just a good idea, it's a great idea.
When you aren't rocking out with your all-night custom quick-play sets in Rock Band 2, you'll be spending your time with the new game modes, including Tour Challenges and Battle of the Bands. The Tour Challenge will replace the Solo Tour from the original Rock Band and follow a nonlinear path, in which you unlock new challenge groupings as you go. Tour Challenge will be playable either solo or with up to three other bandmates, with any mix of local and online players.
The challenges themselves will be built around a variety of play styles, and beating one challenge will unlock additional challenge paths for you to take. Instead of being a linear list of songs, the challenges are structured more as a progression web in which you can choose which path to take through the game. For instance, the bass path will let you focus on all of the best songs for the bass, while still giving you access to play the other songs found in Rock Band 2 as side challenges. In addition, Tour Challenge mode will also integrate DLC automatically when building challenges. You can also expect to play album-specific challenges, which should only grow as the list of full-length albums available as DLC continues to expand.
The other big challenge mode is Battle of the Bands, which will also be available for one to four players, in any mix of local and online play. Unlike the progression system of Tour Challenge, Battle of the Bands is a straight-up tournament that pits your band against groups from all over the world. Harmonix will be creating new daily battles for bands to take part in; some will even have unique entry requirements, or gameplay modifiers. When playing Battle of the Bands challenges, you'll see an onscreen score, along with a score that you need to beat (such as someone on your friends list who has also competed in this challenge).
In the ever-escalating hardware wars between Rock Band 2 and its competitors, the next instrument salvo from the Harmonix crew will introduce some cool features. On the guitar front, the Fender Stratocaster body designs are still intact, but the (nonfunctioning) model on hand at EA's pre-E3 event showed off a sunburst paint job that looked really sharp. Even better than the color scheme are some of the new guitar features: wireless out of the box, a sturdier strum bar, and an autocalibration system that will let you automatically synch your guitar to your television to minimize lag, without having to go through the tedious setup process of the original game (though you'll still be able to manually calibrate your setup if you like). Although it won't have any additional pads, the Rock Band 2 drum set will feature velocity-sensitive pads that will play "louder" in the game the harder you hit them. The pads themselves will be more muffled to cut down on the noisy clatter as you wail away, and will feature a better bounce, making them ostensibly easier to play.
We didn't get a chance to play the new instruments in a game setting or try out the new game modes at the pre-E3 event, but we did get a chance to try a few of the new songs. Journey's "Any Way You Want It" seemed to be a particularly popular choice of the people on-hand, and bodes well for future Rock Band 2 parties. With new challenge modes, online Band World Tour, complete DLC compatibility, new accessories and looks for your created rockers, a new drum trainer that will take you through the basic beats and fills every drummer should know, and new instruments on the way, Rock Band 2 appears to be in great shape to continue the momentum that began with last year's original. Expect to see much more of Rock Band 2 in the coming months, including coverage of the game during GameSpot's E3 coverage next week.