Otherwise, Tour mode itself hasn't evolved particularly - you still work your way around the US with your custom characters, smiling at load screens with band-name bumper stickers and ticking off Achievements, and occasionally pausing to tackle a challenge posed by the developer, such as performing a random song as part of a 'video shoot', adding a drum-heavy song to your set to impress a potential sponsor, or gambling your earnings or the amount of fans you'll retain on your performance. Eventually you buy a jet and take off around the world, and this time you can hire people to support your band, who act as passive modifiers to your earnings and fanbase, among other things. There are minor irritations here (the occasional challenge claims it applies to a song and then spans five, multiplying success or failure rather unexpectedly), but it's generally sound.
The umbrella Tour mode also encompasses Challenges and Battle of the Bands elements. Challenges are increasingly difficult setlists with different themes and requirements - a bias towards bass, a two-member minimum, or a fondness for a particular artist - and these again take in DLC and imported songs, with more and more unlocked as you complete each. Battle of the Bands, meanwhile, pits you against groups from around the world, generating a comparable multiplayer score (even despite differences in band line-up depth) for your performance during a particular set. This can be played as often as you want, in order to try and ride up the leaderboard, and new BotB challenges are set daily. BotB challenges also make it impossible to fail by missing a bunch of notes, so everyone can reach the end of the song - and this "No Fail" modification is actually a toggle available as an extra for general play, along with a few unlockable others.
If that sounds a bit wimpy, you'll be pleased to hear that Rock Band fans who felt the original game's difficulty levels were out of whack are also appeased, with an "Expert" guitar level finally worthy of the name, while the bass is now an entertaining instrument to play (less flamboyant than lead, but more capable of driving you into the zone thanks to its escalating "Bass Groove" multiplier), and the drums are still thrilling, with a special Drum Trainer section (for which you can even drum along to your own MP3s) to help newcomers over the hump. Vocalists still have fun too. The scoring is a bit suspect here and there, but it's worth it for every time you get to sing "Livin' on a Prayer" or "White Wedding".
Finally, then, we come to the new instruments, but at this stage they're not really in our thoughts - and not least because we couldn't import them in time. Having played with the new guitar at E3, we know the strum bar's better, but we still prefer the wireless Guitar Hero III controller, and the same event also gave us a sense of the quieter, wireless drum-set, with a new foot-pedal that's less likely to shatter at the first sign of a foot. We'll take a closer look at those when the game's out here.
What's most impressive about Rock Band 2, though, is that it doesn't have to trade on the novelty of new instruments this time. More or less every concern and complaint we had about the original game has been addressed, the new tracklist is very much to our taste (with 20 more free songs to come, remember), and with the rebalancing of difficulty, modes like Battle of the Bands and the No Fail modifier and Drum Trainer, Harmonix has completed the awkward job of broadening the game's appeal at both ends of the skill spectrum successfully. It's an excellent, measured sequel that should appeal to all.
9 / 10