ROCK BAND 2
For Xbox 360 (also on PlayStation 3 and Wii).
Rated for ages 13 and up. $59.
By Victor Godinez
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)
GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER: If Rock Band had never existed, then Rock Band 2 would be an unqualified smash. The new songs, wireless instruments and superb online play are substantial improvements over the original. But if you already own the original, RB2 isn't an automatic purchase.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE: Rock Band 2 will feel familiar to fans of the first game, from the menus to the game-play. It took me a few songs to remind my fingers how everything worked, but I was soon jamming to newly added tunes such as "Eye of the Tiger" and "Spirit in the Sky."
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPONS: While you can buy RB2 as a standalone game for $59 and use your wired instruments from the original Rock Band, the new wireless guitar and drums are such a massive upgrade that they're almost indispensable. (The game, drum set and a guitar are available in a $189 bundle.) My kids like to run around the living room like chocolate milk-drinking groupies when I play, and they frequently ripped out the controller cords when I was thrashing in Rock Band. With the new instruments, your fans can bounce around and you can kick and twirl to your heart's content without strangling yourself. I wish the wireless instruments used the same rechargeable battery packs as standard Xbox 360 wireless controllers, though, rather than traditional AA batteries.
BOTTOM LINE: RB2 is a great game, but a middling sequel. Most of the content could have easily been released as a downloadable add-on for $30, rather than a $60 DVD. Plus, all the best songs take forever to unlock (although a cheat code is easily found online to unlock everything). Finally, while the drums are quieter than the original set, they're still made of loud plastic and still not as fun as the guitar. Even so, every time I finished playing I had a huge grin on my face and dry, scratchy eyeballs from being unable to tear my eyes away from the screen.
THE FORCE UNLEASHED
For Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PS2, PSP,
Wii and DS). Rated for ages 13 and up. $59.
DARTH'S DISCIPLE: The Force Unleashed is a bit of a tease, promising you the opportunity to unleash unrivaled destruction via the Force on various members of the Rebel Alliance as Darth Vader's pupil. Well, sort of. You do indeed get to trash some pesky rebels. But none of the targets you're really hankering for _ Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks or George Lucas — ever show up in reach of your light saber. But it's still a fun, destructive romp with a much better plot than any of the Star Wars prequels.
STRETCH OUT WITH YOUR FEELINGS: You'll start out as a weak novice, but gradually acquire new powers (such as Emperor-like "Force Lightning") and fighting skills. You'll be able to sling enemies, crates, ships and robots around with your Force abilities, and the new physics software makes collisions and tossed bodies flop more realistically than in any other game. Once you beat the game, you can play through again while retaining all your hard-earned god-like powers, and it's fun to sweep aside like cotton fluff all the troopers who gave you trouble the first time through.
CANON: The story is somewhat predictable (your character begins to doubt that — surprise! — Vader has your best interests at heart), but it flows smoothly into the plot of the original movies. The voice acting is strong and there are some great sets, such as when you explore the interior of the planet-killing laser in the Death Star and have to dodge the giant beams.
BOTTOM LINE: The Force Unleashed is enjoyable, but it feels a bit empty in spots, as if there just aren't enough bad guys to pound while you're loping through huge levels. I also would have liked a chance to pilot a Tie Fighter or an Imperial Walker or a Star Destroyer. And there's no multiplayer in the game. But it's a must-buy for any fan of Star Wars.
Victor Godinez: email@example.com
(c) 2008, The Dallas Morning News.
Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at http://www.dallasnews.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.