After three solid days spent playing Rock Band 2, I'm reluctant to even refer to it as a videogame anymore. It's practically its own unique medium of entertainment, not unlike "television" or "movies" or "books". Sure, it does require the owning of a videogame console in order to use it, but to label it a game is almost insulting. Rock Band 2 is virtual reality, only with plastic instruments instead of goofy-looking goggles and space suits.
I fully expect home-stages to begin replacing home-theatres as the next must-have accoutrement for lifestyle living. Imagine: a small raised stage with some colored floodlights, and four flat-panel monitors set up down low so as to not block the band's view of the crowd. Throw in a bar in the back corner, a small dance area near the stage, some surround sound speakers, and voila! The ultimate set-up for hosting Rock Band Parties.
The thing about Rock Band 2 isn't just the ability to "play" so many great songs (with new ones released weekly) but that there are so many different ways to go about playing the game. You can form a band and do an offline Tour individually, you can have local friends join you, you can hop online and invite complete strangers to join you. Or you can join others bands. There are daily Battles of the Bands in different disciplines (drums, guitar, bass, vocals) keeping things fresh at all times, not to mention a slew of challenges that allow you to progress through an increasingly difficult array of songs. Best of all, as you buy new songs they automatically get added to the mix for each of the modes. And there are the various practice and trainer modes that help to actually teach you how to play the drums.
Having skipped the release of the original Rock Band, I must say that it's great to be back with a Harmonix-made music game. I was trying to play a lot of Guitar Hero 3 and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith to get ready for RB2's release and the note charts and chaotic fluctuations in difficulty really got me down. I never felt like I was getting better at the game, but rather some songs I could play really well and others I couldn't play at all. Not so with RB2. I've yet to encounter a single note chart that I would consider "obnoxious" and the gradual increase in difficulty from song to song and difficulty mode to difficulty mode is not only perfectly balanced, but it's actually helping me become a better player. In just three short days, I've increased my skill to the point of being able to 5-star a good number of easier songs on the Hard setting on guitar, and even some of the intermediate songs if I'm playing bass.
Another thing they got right with RB2 is the price for the downloadable content. There are complete albums for sale, there are various sizes of song packs, and best of all, every song can be purchased individually for the equivalent of $2 each. Considering the level of care that goes into creating the four separate tracks for each song for each of four difficulty settings, I have no problem shelling out the 160 MS points per song.
My sister and her fiance picked up RB2 on Tuesday night and after they got it all set up, we jumped online together. I was on bass, my sister on guitar, and her fiance on drums. What a great time. My sister and I each had a headset on and could talk while we were playing and had Kristin not have had such a crazy day at work, she would have picked up the mic to take over for vocals. But even with just the three of us mucking around on Quick Play mode, it was a blast. Sure, online gaming has been around for a decade or so now, but not like this. To be able to hold a jam session with family members three thousand miles away is just too great for words. Naysayers continue to call gaming an isolationist pursuit and some continue to point and laugh at the fake musicians playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero, but I can think of no other form of entertainment that brings people together quite like these games do. Going to the movies? Watching television? No thanks. I'm in the band now.