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imageHarmonix has more plastic guitar experience than any other American video game company. Between Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero 2, and Guitar Hero 80's, Harmonix established its dominance as the king of button-mashing on controllers resembling famous brands of guitars. Unfortunately for most fans of the Guitar Hero series, Harmonix's next entry into the rhythm game genre, Rock Band, eased up on the guitar parts, sacrificing extremely difficult guitar songs for relatively difficult songs for a full band to play. With the exception of the final tier or final two tiers, Rock Band's guitar was lacking in difficulty. Coming from a reviewer that is relatively decent at guitar, I was sorely disappointed by the lack of an actual challenge. However, the game made up for it by allowing me to finally play bass lines without being forced to play full songs in practice mode. Granted most of them were simple bass lines, but being able to play them in single player was loads of fun. Harmonix has thankfully stuck with this trend with Rock Band 2.

Difficulty


If you've ever played the original Rock Band, you would know that almost none of the early songs were very entertaining to play. After getting the Flawless Fretwork achievement, the motivation to play most of the early tier songs was very low. The songs themselves were pretty mediocre; tolerable to listen to, but nothing to keep me from coming back. Rock Band 2 injects some much needed difficulty into the sagging guitar and bass chart. As expected, the first tier is relatively bland in terms of difficulty, but you get to play some songs that everyone knows and are great to sing along with, so early tier playing is actually more enjoyable this time around. Instead of continuing this trend through Tier 4 or 5 as has been customary in the game of past, the 2nd tier has something most of the original Rock Band was lacking: difficult solos. The solo in Nirvana's "Drain You" was extremely unexpected considering my prior assumptions of what a tier 2 song is (not to mention the fact that Nirvana's other rhythm game representations don't exactly paint them as a guitar shredding band). I had not heard the song going into the game and was pleasantly surprised to see that the solo actually contained a bit of difficulty. Another favorite came from Alice in Chain's "Man in the Box"; if you're not expecting the beginning of the solo, odds are you're not going to hit it. I'll keep the chart a secret for the sake of those of you who don't know about it yet, but it definitely caught me off-guard. This trend continues throughout the earlier tiers, and just when you think you've stepped up your game for the final tier...you get slapped by the cold, hard palm of reality. Most guitarists that have made it to the point of even reaching the final tier are already extremely good at the game. Actually getting to the point of being able to beat the final tier requires quite a lot of dedication, finger speed, and strumming speed. From the hand-wrenching chord changes in "Master Exploder" to the blisteringly-quick last solo of "Peace Sells" to stamina-draining "Visions," the final tier basically throws every challenge a guitarist can have into one twelve-song-long hell.

Bass follows a similar theory as guitar. In Rock Band, almost all but the hardest songs were fairly forgettable. In the sequel, the difficulty has been ramped up quite a bit, which leads to a lot more songs being worth multiple plays. A surprise hit, if you don't know the song very well, is "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morisette, with a very fun bass line. It makes sense, considering Red Hot Chili Pepper's bassist Flea played for her, but most people (including myself) aren't aware of this fact before playing the song in-game. As with guitar, the difficulty of the bass lines is rather surprising, which range from the bore-yourself-to-sleep easy songs like "So What'cha Want" to the how-is-this-riff-any-different-from-guitar "Shackler's Revenge" to...again, the stamina-draining "Visions". I'd even go as far as saying that "Visions" on bass is harder than it is on guitar, my sightread on guitar was a solid four star performance while I barely missed out on the four star for my bass sightread.

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Manual HO/PO's and Chord Slides


As mentioned in the Guitar Engine page, Rock Band 2 has added two more charting techniques: manually placed hammer-ons and chord slides. The manually placed ho/po idea was first implemented, with mixed results, in Guitar Hero 3. From playing through most of the guitar charts, the option to add in ho/pos wherever required is a very good thing. One of my major gripes with Guitar Hero 2 and Rocks the '80s was either playing a song with far too few of ho/pos, forcing me to get tired of a chart that otherwise would be a blast, or playing a song with far too many ho/pos, forcing me to overstrum a lot because of the ho/po engine. No song actually comes to mind where there was an excessive usage of this beyond "Visions", but even this song is mixed. Most of its riff is nothing but a ho/po scale going up and down the fretboard, but there is a slower chugging riff after the scales that are all strummed. This is repeated. Chord slides, however, are not quite as perfect as the manually placed ho/pos. As mentioned in the Guitar Engine, the chord ho/pos don't actually work the way they're supposed to when the high note of the chord is being held down. While it is possible for them to work if you lift up the entire chord and re-hammer-on the entire second chord, it's in no way practical. I'm hoping for this feature to somehow be patched in the future so the chord slide can work the way it was designed to, but it is sadly broken for the time being.

Manual HO/PO's are only used incredibly sparingly on bass. The only song that I can even think of that actually might use manual ho/po's is "Down With the Sickness," but even that's just a theory based on the other Disturbed bass songs that all have a similar bass line and are all ho/po'd instead of strummed. Since bass rarely has chords anyways, chord slides aren't really relevant for the instrument.

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