Friday, August 29, 2008

Rock Band 2 - The New Instruments

Although the original Rock Band game launched less than a year ago, the sequel is going to launch on the Xbox 360 on September 14 with other platforms following before year's end. With Guitar Hero World Tour making their own full band additions to stay in competition, the battle for music/rhythm supremacy is starting to heat up. While both games can boast about their large song lists and new features, perhaps one of the more important improvements to look at are the new instruments. Many prefer the GH guitars over the RB Fender Stratocasters, and GH's new drum set with two elevated stock cymbals are making many gamers turn heads. However, Rock Band's new instruments are more than just a new paint job. With some smart forward-thinking in Harmonix's designs, they may tempt previous RB owners to shy away from the new Guitar Hero instruments and even contemplate getting the new ones.

Images courtesy of GameSpot

The durability of the original drum set was often brought into question, an issue which caused Harmonix and EA to establish a robust customer service program that allowed for fast and easy replacements of defective instruments. The drum pad hit accuracy, low rebound/bounciness, and the sturdiness of the pedal are all problems that have been remedied. Similar to Guitar Hero's new drums, the RB2 set also boasts quieter, bouncier, and velocity-sensitive pads. Not only will the drum sound be less distracting and gameplay be improved, but the game will also detect how hard you are hitting the drum and adjust the sound effects accordingly. This should help for those drummers that would wail on the drums with wreckless abandon. Besides the new color scheme, a cosmetic drum target has been added to each pad to give gamers something to aim at and keep hits in the center. The drum heads use a mix of silicone and plastic to create a drum head that should give more acoustically pleasing feedback and a more satisfying experience. The pedal is also metal-reinforced, which should prevent breaking. It also stays attached and flush with the drum set when lifted up and moved, which should make transportation easier. There are also marked height adjustments on the bars to make it easier for multiple people. The feet also have non-slip pads to prevent shifting while playing. But the most intriguing addition are the new expansion slots that allows up to three cymbals to be remapped from the drum pads. They will also emit an in-game cymbal sound to add to the realism. There will be a premium electric drum set made available from ION, but the new stock set sounds pretty good to me.

Images courtesy of GameSpot

I am one of the few that actually prefer the Rock Band guitars over the original Guitar Hero design, but hopefully these new changes will help convert some of the naysayers. Besides the new sunburst color scheme, the biggest addition is an auto-calibration feature on the guitar. Adjusting lag on HDTVs have been the biggest problem with music/rhythm games, and the Rock Band in-game tool allowed for a lot of human error due to manual adjustments. There is now a photo sensor/mic that can be held up to the TV and automatically calibrate for both audio and visual lag. Besides that, the fret buttons have become much quieter and reportedly make virtually no noise at all. The strum bar has increased response time, less mushiness, and reduced travel distance to detect a strum to combine for a much improved feel. The smaller, elevated fret buttons and metronome-like strum bar on the GH guitar were features that made it hard to go back to after playing the original RB guitar. The tilt sensor has also been improved and allows for a wider freedom of movement. Smaller changes like a stiffer, textured neck, removable headstock, and a screw-less battery door are small touches that make the guitar a more viable option. There will also be high-end third-party guitars made available as well as a larger amount of options.

Perhaps the best news to come from this ridiculous music/rhythm game war is both Sony and Microsoft stepping in to mandate controller/instrument compatibility across rival games. This means that instruments from Konami's Rock Revolution, Activision's Guitar Hero World Tour, and Harmonix's Rock Band 1 and 2 will work without flaw. It is both a surprise and relief that Activision has allowed compatibility in GHWT, but no word yet on patching support for older GH titles. For a more detailed chart, check out Joystiq's Instrument Compatibility Matrix.

With almost universal compatibility across these latest wave of games, frivolous barriers like incompatible controllers are mostly a thing of the past. Add to that additional third-party controller support and offerings, and this allows consumers to pick the instruments that best fit both financially and ergonomically. It's still tough to convince previous Rock Band owners to fork over almost $200 for these new instruments along with the game, but they are really making it tempting. Hopefully we'll see soon how the Guitar Hero bundle will stack up.

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