Rock Band 2

(MTV Games; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; Teen)

Rock Band 2 is here — and, yes, it may seem a wee bit premature for this reunion tour, seeing as the first game took the stage just 10 months ago. This explains why, at first strum, RB2 doesn’t seem much different from the original: Notes still cascade down the screen in familiar fashion. Players still play one of four parts (lead and bass guitars, drums, and vocals). The instruments still play the same (though you can purchase new wireless versions of the Fender Stratocaster and drum controllers). And the songs may sound very familiar (for an extra 5 bucks, you can import most of the songs found on the RB disc into RB2 — while all of the tracks you paid extra to download will automatically transfer over).

Play RB2 for any extended amount of time, however, and your acute sense of déjà vu starts to subside. A new streamlined menu interface makes navigation a lot easier — a vital upgrade, given the number of songs in RB2‘s library, which developer Harmonix promises will be 500 strong by the holidays. Also making significant strides is RB‘s career mode, in which you create your own band and take your act on the road. This time around, it’s more user-friendly and less restrictive. In RB, once you paired your avatar with one of the four musical parts, you were stuck with it for the entire career. Now, you and the other members of your group can go from vocals to guitar to drums as often as you want, plus guest musicians — even stringers who’ve never played with you before — can hop in and join you in a set. Continuing its legacy of irreverent hilarity, RB2 gives you the ability to hire support staff for your band, including unpaid interns, spiritual gurus — even your mom (who ”gives your band a 200 percent boost in clean laundry and worried phone calls”). The sequel also offers a ”No Fail” option (sparing newbies the shame of being booed off the stage), as well as a drum-training mode to teach you the real-life basics of beats and fills.

There’s still room for improvement, though. Getting friends to jam with you online can be an iffy process. It sometimes takes a while for remote bandmates to show up on your screen; other times, they don’t show up at all, forcing you to restart the game. And we would’ve loved to have a meter that displays the remaining time in a song (to better cue our Overdrive energy). We’re splitting guitar strings here — RB2 is clearly better than its predecessor and approaches the upper limits of how much fun you can have with a bunch of friends and some plastic instruments.

· Better flexibility in Tour Mode
· The ”No Fail” option
·Streamlined menu makes it easier to locate songs
· Hiring staff, firing the intern
· Having the option to import most of RB?s songs for use in RB2

· Issues with getting friends to jam with you online
· Not knowing how much time is left in a song
· Continuing to realize we don’t know how to play a real guitar