While wandering the halls of this year's E3, it became quickly apparent that everyone and their sister is jumping on the musical games bandwagon. While Rock Band was the only option for a full band experience at this time last year, this year we saw no less than a half dozen music games set to replicate the band experience on various platforms. Therefore, one begs the question as to how Harmonix plans to stay ahead of the pack this time around when the competition crank has been set to eleven?

Any music game is only as good as its instruments, and RB2 certainly has quality on its side. The new fender guitars for RB2 have been given some tweaks that are not earth shattering, but should please those Rock Band veterans who demanded a few changes. New to the guitar is a sweet wood grain starburst finish that makes the guitar look even more realistic than before. Also, the strum bar that felt unfortunately mushy and unresponsive last year has been tightened up and feels more satisfyingly stiff than before. It still doesn't make a clicking sound, which some players including yours truly prefer. Best of all, however, is a photo sensor on the guitar itself. What this sensor does is instantly calibrate the guitar to the TV, which means no more fumbling in the options to synchronise the notes like in past titles. This is especially great for HDTV owners. There is also a built in mic for those who want to try singing and playing at the same time without a friend shoving a microphone in your face for you. The guitar is also wireless across all platforms.

The real innovation in the instruments, however, lies in the drum kit. There are two configurations available, a standard clone of the old drum kit, and a Alesis-created beast that will make any drum enthusiast wet his or her pants in anticipation. First, the new standard drum kit has been improved with better silicone drum pads and a metal kick pedal. As someone who has had to replace a few split-in-half plastic kick pedals, this is a welcome addition. The new silicone pads are significantly quieter and neighbour friendly, and also have a good amount of bounce for rolls. There are also expansion ports for cymbals and crash pads.

Those who are willing to shell out a little extra for the ultimate drum kit that Alesis kit, will be handsomely rewarded. The new kit is essentially a real electronic drum kit with a module for connecting to your console of choice. The drums feel fantastic, and the model I played on featured four pads, three crash cymbals, and a kick pedal. They felt simply great, despite my mediocre drumming ability. Players will also be able to remove the module in order to connect the drum kit to an amp and use it as a real drum kit. You're actually using a real drum kit to play a video game. Also, players can configure the pads to be any colour they want. It's an exciting proposition to say the least. The upgraded drum kit will retail for $299, with an extra $49 for the extra cymbal.

Of course, all your old instruments are compatible if you don't feel like having a plastic instrument graveyard in your living room.

As for the game itself, it has undergone a few changes, most notably being that the world tour mode is now fully online. Players will now be able to go through their band dreams across the world, gaining fans and playing different venues.

The graphics and overall gameplay remain essentially unchanged, but if it isn't broken, don't mess around with a good thing and screw over everyone who made your product a success in the first place. That's how the saying goes right?

There is also a new battle of the bands mode which will be changing from day to day. Instead of lifetime leaderboards, Harmonix will be presenting new battles each week. One week may be the best who cover band, the next may be a battle to determine the greatest note streaks. It looks like a fun set of challenges that online musicians will be all over.

Considering the staggering amount of songs both on the disc and online, it's a welcome addition to be able to sort songs by various criteria, such as artist, album, or even difficulty for a particular instrument. Are you a guitar expert with a beginner drummer? Now you can sort songs that will be fun for the both you at once.

Rock Band 2 is certainly looking like a natural extension of the game that took the music industry by storm last year. Rock Band 2 is set for release in September for the Xbox 360, upon which it will stay exclusive for at least a month before being released on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and Wii.