Let's get this out of the way first: Rock Band 2 isn't the innovator Rock Band 1 was. But if it walks like Rock Band 1 and rocks like Rock Band 1, then what makes it Rock Band 2? If you're afraid of getting a glorified song-pack, Harmonix has a handful of new features in store that they hope will assuage your fears, and they all seem to revolve around the user experience. That means no new instrument types and no fancy, new graphics, but a whole lot of what you love about Rock Band 1 has been fixed up and added onto. We got a chance to check the game out at EA's EA3 event last month and EA shared a fact sheet with us that lays out all the new features.

The sequel's major feature seems to be "backwards compatibility" – that means all your previously purchased DLC will work, no need for redownloading or authorizing. It just works. The same philosophy extends to your equipment: all of your Rock Band 1 equipment will work with Rock Band 2.

Just because the equipment looks identical, doesn't mean it is. While the hardware they had on hand at last month's EA3 event wasn't final, and wasn't even playable, that didn't stop us from fiddling with the display models they had. The wireless guitar (yeah, the Xbox 360's default guitar is wireless now) promises to have a "sturdier, more precise feeling strum bar" as well as "quieter buttons" while the new wireless drumkit (yeah, it's wireless now) sports a metal-reinforced pedal, along with "quieter and more natural feeling drum pads" which, oh yeah, are now velocity sensitive. They also spoke of the drumkit being "expandable with third party options," but we'll have to wait to see those. One final hardware upgrade is the guitar's "integrated calibration tool" – a tiny camera which can be held up to your display to instantly calibrate the game – a godsend for anyone who brings Rock Band to a friend's place.



Harmonix has also added more character customization options – while leaving everything from the first game – and now that your characters can be multi-disciplinary, we may actually use this feature. No longer will your Cobra Commander drummer be confined to the skins alone, he can pick up a guitar or take his rightful place behind the mic. Now that you've got the band you want, take the whole game online in a multiplayer Battle of the Bands contest "that will be generated by Harmonix on a regular basis." You'll also be able to bring your band online in World Tour mode, one of the original game's most oft-cited shortcomings. Lastly, one of the most interesting new additions to the game's many modes: a drum trainer which "gives players a step-by-step lesson through the basic beat and fill vocabulary any real world drummer would know." See mom? It's educational.

They've also streamlined the song selection screen, making it look nearly identical to the game's store: album art is displayed alongside the tracks, making it quicker to scroll and catch something you want to play. Another welcome new addition: custom setlists. Want to blast through a dozen of your favorite songs without stumbling through the song and band selection screens? Make a playlist for more rock, less management. Speaking of songs, though RB2 promises 80 tracks on the disc (in addition to whatever you've already downloaded of course) they were only showing off 10 tracks:
  1. Dream Theater - "Panic Attack "
  2. System of a Down - "Chop Suey"
  3. Foo Fighters - "Everlong"
  4. The Muffs - "Kids in America"
  5. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Give it Away"
  6. Motörhead - "Ace of Spades"
  7. Cheap Trick - "Hello There"
  8. Elvis Costello - "Pump it Up"
  9. Journey - "Anyway You Want It"
  10. The Who - "Pinball Wizard"
We're eager to learn more at E3 but, right now, we've got that feeling that everything being added in Rock Band 2, save for the substantial song selection, could have been accomplished with a patch or update. While Harmonix hasn't categorically denied it, most disappointing is an apparent inability to access all your music from the Rock Band 1 disc in Rock Band 2. For example: you've purchased The Pixies seminal Doolittle album, but only downloaded 14 of its 15 tracks; "Wave of Mutilation" is on the disc, you see. So, when Rock Band 2 rolls around, those 14 tracks are seamlessly swept into Rock Band 2's library, but your experience is incomplete. For us, our dreams of a music "platform" were inexorably tied up in our ability now, and going forward, to access every Rock Band track we'd purchased to date from one elegant interface, without switching discs. Here's to hoping Harmonix has another trick up their sleeve.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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