Unlike the first Rock Band, which initially shipped bundled with a microphone, guitar, and drum kit, Rock Band 2 is currently only sold as a standalone product. The bundle won't ship until mid-October and individual instruments aren't yet available (though they're slated to hit stores this week). For that reason we aren't evaluating the instruments in our review of the game, but given the numerous problems (broken drum pedals, faulty strum bars, and dead microphones) with the original Rock Band equipment, as well as the new features of RB 2's instruments, we wanted to share our impressions of the hardware after five days of intense use.
We'll start with the guitar, which carries a suggested retail price of $69.99 USD. It's still a Fender Stratocaster, but it now has a new, cool-looking faux wood grain finish. It's also wireless (AA batteries are included). So far we haven't had to replace the batteries and we have had no issues with the game not recognizing notes--it performs just like a wired guitar. One of the neatest features is the guitar's ability to auto-calibrate your television's audio/video lag with the game. All you have to do is hold the guitar up to your speakers for a few seconds to determine audio lag and then hold the guitar in front of your television while the screen flashes to compensate for video delay. Unless you're dragging your instruments all over town you won't have to use this feature much, but it'll be useful at least once and works great. The strum bar is a little more firm, but that's really it as far as how the guitar feels when compared to the original guitar.
Rock Band 2's drums carry a hefty MSRP of $89.99. Like the guitar, they're wireless and include batteries. Unlike the guitar they can't be used to automatically calibrate lag--a bummer if you only buy the drums and have trouble adjusting the game's lag settings on your own. The drums don't look much different than before, but they've actually received quite a bit of attention. The pedal is now covered with a metal plate, which hopefully will make it more durable than the original pedal. It also stays attached to the kit when you lift it--a huge plus for anyone who has watched the pedal crash to the floor when carrying their drums from place to place. The base has also been altered a bit and feels sturdier. But the big improvements to the kit are with the drum heads. They're quieter and also extremely accurate. I'm not the world's best drummer and I'd typically average about 94% on medium when playing Rock Band with the original drums. Playing with the new drums on the same difficulty my percentage went up to 99% and I had a streak of over 500 notes during the first song I played. That never happened with the old drums.
Are the new instruments worth the money? If you own a Rock Band guitar and it's in good shape, there's little reason to drop $70 on a new guitar, even though it works great. The drums are a little more enticing. The $90 price tag is difficult to swallow for casual drummers, but if you consider yourself an expert (or even if you just play a lot of drums in Rock Band) the improved sensitivity and quieter pads are worth the cash. It's anyone's guess as to how well they'll hold up from a reliability standpoint, but so far we haven't had any issues to report.Note: The text and video review for Rock Band 2 will be posted on Sept. 16.