First Impressions: Rock Band 2 Guitar (PS2/PS3)

I’m now the proud owner of a Rock Band 2 Wireless Guitar for PS2 & PS3. Huzzah! Figured I’d list a few impressions.

First, the visuals. The old guitar had an ugly neck & head (it was a kind of “bone” color that really looked like a shade of “this was white once but sat in the room of a heavy smoker for 5 years” yellow) but a plain black and white body. The new guitar has a nice black neck, and the head is a wood grain pattern. The body has a solid white “plate” and the rest is wood grain fading into black around the edges. I’m not a huge fan of the look of the new body, but you *can* get face plates for these things, but I’ve never seen a neck plate.

The guitar once again comes in two pieces, but now there’s a push button so you can remove the head if you need to. The new dongle has 2 USB ports on it; a nice convenience feature for folks with fewer than 4 ports on their consoles.

The new guitar is very quiet: both fret buttons and strum bar. If you like the ‘click’ of some guitars, this might be a problem, but I really appreciate the silence. The strum bar feels very sensitive. It only takes a light touch to get notes to register. The Start button has a ridge of plastic around it making it less easy to hit by mistake. The tilt sensor feels adequate. Honestly the tilt sensor on my old guitar was so borked that I’m not sure what a “good” tilt center feels like. In a silent room you can hear a spring flexing inside the guitar when you move it; I worry a little because it sounds pretty fragile.

Now keep in mind I’m a very casual music-gamer. Since coming back to the genre with RB 2 after a 6 month+ break, I’m still playing on Medium. *pauses to let the laughter die down* 🙂 My set up has audio going from PS3 to an old receiver via digital optical cable, and video to a 52″ LCD via HDMI.

The feature that blows my mind with this new guitar is the auto-calibration. You hold the guitar up to your center speaker and hit a button and let it calibrate the audio, then hold it up to the tv to calibrate the video (via a series of blinding white flashes..those woke me up!). The system “auto-calibrated’ the guitar far differently than I had it manually calibrated, in particular the sound delay.

And OMG! What a difference that made!!!! Suddenly, at least for songs that I know really well, I could play with my ears as well as my eyes. I’ve always taken it for granted that you almost had to ignore the beat of the music and play these games by watching when the notes crossed the strum bar. What a fool I’ve been!! So I fired up Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, an oldie that is burned into my brain, and I can actually look away during certain passages when I know the note is going to stay the same. I can play the song by ear and by feel, and damn, but that feels great! When I make a mistake, I know I made a musical error, not a ‘screen reading’ error (where I fail to correctly anticipate when the game expects me to hit the note). I got a 98% of “Pump It Up” the first time I’ve played it. I know I know, it’s still on Medium so I’m a noob, but now I see how I could get better by learning the songs better.

So is it worth it to get a new guitar to go with your new game? In my opinion, absolutely. The instrument feels a lot better made and more sensitive (though it may be a bit more fragile, too). And if you have a mixed setup like I do, the calibration tool alone makes the purchase worthwhile.

Rock Band the Second

Last year I was introduced to the whole ‘plastic instruments games’ genre as dominated these days by Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I’d sniffed haughtily and declared them “silly” many times before taking the plunge and, of course, having the time of my life playing. But as with everything else I get involved with, the infatuation passed. I kept downloading any freebie songs and things like that, but never got around to playing them.

Today the PS3 version of Rock Band 2 came out (I play these games on my PS3…I have a 360 but don’t trust the hardware very much, having had to send mine back for repair twice already). We were out and about doing chores and stopped for lunch and I had a beer which lubricated my purse strings enough that before I knew it, I’d picked it up, even though there was no budget for it. 🙁

Tonight I booted it up and the joy came flooding back in, buyer’s remorse flew out the window, and that silly grin reappeared on my face. I almost always play alone, and one of the nice things about Rock Band 2 is that they included some RB1 “band only” features for solo players in #2. Instead of flat playlists to work through, you now have the “world tour” where you have to earn money and gain fans and fames enough to work your way to bigger and bigger venues. It makes the game feel more like a game, which I like. But you can still set up your own sets and play those if you like.

There’s a Battle of the Bands feature which lets you match scores against other (basically anonymous) bands, and then there’s a series of challenges… basically a whole lot “more” than what RB 1 had.

Make no mistake, the basic mechanics are the same (why mess with a good thing, right?). The presentation is sharper and things like guitar solos seem more tailored to the music that’s playing. I spent the $5 to get an “Import License” for the RB 1 songs, which do take up 1.5 gigs of space (that would be a big deal on my 360 but the PS3 has a 60 gig hard drive).

There’s still a few things I’d like to see: I’d like to create characters to fill out the rest of my band, for instance, and I don’t *think* you can do that right now. I mean just for aesthetics. I hate it when my lead guitarist is all decked out in punk-ish threads and ends up in a Gwar-themed band, for instance. Actually it’d be pretty cool if you could play any character in a band at different times, now that I think about it. But I think the “band leader” always has to be present.

Also when you create your own sets, there can be some weirdness. I had some rock dude singing Belinda Carlisle’s vocals in “We Got the Beat” during one set. But since the band doesn’t change across the songs in a set, I guess that’s as much my fault as the game’s. And really this is nit-picky stuff.

I played for like two hours so this is NOT a review of the game. But my initial reaction has been really positive. If you enjoyed Rock Band I can’t see any reason why you won’t love Rock Band 2 as well. And if you’ve never tried one of these games, well, time’s awasting. They’re an awfully good time. Just be careful who is around. Apparently I sang every lyric of “Psycho Killer” while I was playing through it, loud enough to be heard by others. Much teasing ensued.

When I was younger music was a *huge* part of my life (as it is for many young people) but the older I got, the less I listened. What I love about Rock Band and Guitar Hero is that it gets me back to listening to music (while “playing” it) and in fact often hearing it in new ways. Yeah, they’re “toy” instruments but still these games feel like they have a bit more meaning than your typical shoot-em-up.

I might owe Harmonix an apology

A couple of weeks back I wrote a rant against Harmonix (Harmonix can kiss my behind) after I learned that Rock Band 2 was going to be a timed exclusive for the XBox 360 (and I happened to get it for the PS3 due to my love/hate relationship with the 360).

Well after doing some snooping around, I now get the feeling that Microsoft is just doing a spin job on this timed exclusive stuff. I think Harmonix is just taking a little bit longer to finish the PS3 version, which is a totally different thing from accepting a boatload of money from Microsoft in order to shaft PS3 owners.

I have a few reasons for this change of heart. First, if you look at release dates on Gamestop and Amazon (and I know these aren’t always, or even often, reliable), they have the XBox 360 version, game only, with a launch date of September 14th and the bundles (ie with instruments) for both PS3 & XBox360, as well as the PS3 game only, listed for October 19th.

Second, Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb was on Leo Laporte’s “This Week in Tech” podcast talking about E3. During the conversation Hryb mentioned that Rock Band 2 was a limited time XBox 360 Exclusive and when Laporte asked him how long it was exclusive for, Hryb claimed he didn’t know.

So first of all, if Microsoft had purchased a “Timed Exclusive” window from Harmonix, I suspect Hryb would know exactly how long that exclusive was for (though I’ll grant you he might not have wanted to share that knowledge). Second, it seems almost silly to buy exclusivity for only a month (assuming the Amazon and Gamestop dates are accurate). And lastly, if it was a business deal you’d expect both the stand-alone game and the bundle to be exclusive, not just the game.

So now my suspicion is that Harmonix had the 360 version finished earlier and just figured they might as well ship it asap rather than wait for the instruments and the PS3 version to be completed. And when Microsoft learned about this, they started using it as a “timed exclusive” marketing point, with no money changing hands.