But then you don’t have to ever play on your own if you don’t want to, because Rock Band has got a lot more flexible about how it handles online play. You can now play through the main Tour mode with any combination of friends online and offline, with players dropping in and dropping out as needs be. Don’t have any friends to hand? Well, you can start a Live game and allow random players to join in, or even go out there and find a band that needs, say, another guitarist, singer, drummer or bass player to jam with.
It’s all very easy and it does a great job of opening up the full Rock Band experience to more of us, more of the time. After all, you can’t always find three mates when you’re in the mood to rock out. What’s more, the game is also more accommodating when it comes to matching players and instruments. It doesn’t matter that your character is a guitarist but the band needs a bassist – you can just switch instruments when it’s time to play.
This alone gives Rock Band 2 a boost over Guitar Hero: World Tour, but the biggest reason to buy this game over its rival is that it still offers a very different, more authentic and slightly less cartoony rock experience. GHWT has more customisation features, but RB2’s seem to produce more distinctive results. GHWT offers fully customisable guitars and basses, but RB2’s licensed models give those of us who aspire to owning real guitars an in-game reward worth working for. GHWT’s reworked visual style has bought the series closer to Rock Band’s real concert video style of camera angle and editing, but RB2’s performances, now with some superb post-processing effects, still look more like what you’d see on VH1 or MTV. Of course, GHWT has more humour and demonstrates a real affection for Hard Rock/Heavy Metal cliches, but there’s something about RB2’s style that makes it feel like a hipper, smarter take on the genre.
It still works better when played with other players, too. The key is the way that players can use overdrive – the Rock Band equivalent of Star Power – to save a player who’s floundering or who has dropped out of the song altogether. One tilt up of the headstock from a kindly bandmate and, suddenly, the weakest link is back in the game. This encourages you to watch each other’s backs and think like a band, as does the band overdrive where you get a bonus multiplier for using overdrive in unison.
There’s also still something about cruising through to the big climax of a massive song in RB2 that – for some intangible reason – GHWT can’t quite match. There’s also something about the way the Tour mode is structured. Somehow, hiring a manager, an East coast promoter or a merchandise girl, winning a band battle and then getting a new bus or a new plane to take you to new concert destinations means more than just opening up another gig and another straight setlist to play. RB2’s more open structure, which encourages you to play what you like where you like, also gives you a greater sense that you’re a band in charge of your own destiny.