E3 2008: MTV Games

Now this was one meeting I couldn't skip out on from the moment I got the "save the date" email. Who wouldn't want to go see first-hand what the next Rock Band will be bringing to livingroom rockers all over the world?

Rock Band 2

Lead Designer Dan Teasdale woke up the morning crew with the first rocking demo of the day (9 a.m. on Wednesday July 16), with a newly-arrived preview build.

First of all, Rock Band 2 will have full backwards compatibility with Rock Band. All the venues and songs in the original game can be played in RB2. Add to that the 80+ songs track list plus the ton of downloadable content, and you have a track list that spans across a whole wall.

With so many songs available, finding one would become a chore if it weren't for the new sorting feature. The song selection menu can be sorted alphabetically by band, genre, album or location (Rock Band, Rock Band 2 or downloadable content), making it easier to find whatever you are in the mood to play.

The game will be sold individually or as a bundle with the new instruments. The Fender Stratocaster has been improved to have a sturdier strum bar, plus a light sensor and microphone for guitar calibration. The drums set has a reinforced pedal, quieter pads and expansions on the back to adapt cymbals and extra pedals. These add-ons can transform the Rock Band drums set into a real drum set.

But why so much emphasis on the drums? Because Rock Band 2 is turning into an educational piece of software by offering players a drum trainer. This is a teaching tool to inspire people to play music is a more practical way, and progressively learn how to play the drums for real by using the RB tool kit. The drum trainer will include several basic beats, sound samples and a vocabulary trainer.

The coolest new feature is probably the Battle of the Bands. These are challenges that will be updated daily, creating some dynamic content for the game. Active battles will display in this menu, and the challenge is somewhat progressive to a larger scale.

First you compete against local bands and if you win, you will be competing against other bands in the country, and lastly, in the world. Like elimination rounds, if you will. The battles will always have specific goals and requirements, and after playing you will always receive a rank, points and money as a reward for your band's performance.

If someone beats your score, a notice will appear showing your new rank and letting you know how much time you have left to try to beat that score.

Another new feature is the band staff (say a cleaning lady, for example) management. You can hire staff members, who won't directly affect your band's performance, but they can help you out on occasion.

If you want to play through a Tour Challenge, you will notice that there are sets for songs pertaining to guitar, drums and vocals, which indicates the most "appropriate" instrument for the song. Just an extra feature to help you enjoy your performance more. But if you really want to enjoy yourself without worrying about crowd pleasing or failing a song, you can turn on the "no fail" modifier and have those friends - who can't even play on Easy - participate in a little concert.

There is also a watch mode of sorts, where you just pick the characters and watch them perform. I guess we could compare it to the Jukebox in DDR, you just let it play while you throw a party or something. Pretty cool!

Rock Band 2 will rock onto store shelves in September for the Xbox 360, and later this year for PS2, PS3 and Wii.