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Guitar Hero II

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: RedOctane
Developer: Harmonix
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Rhythm/ Party


Graphics & Sound:

Until recently, only PS2 owners have been able to live out their rock star fantasies, but not anymore. Guitar Hero II is the first game in the series to appear on a Microsoft platform and the first next-gen iteration. Though it doesn’t make too many drastic changes to the formula it is still a game worth owning, even if you already have the PS2 version thanks to the promise of downloadable songs (including a few new 360-exclusive tracks) and Achievements.

Music is a sort of a big deal for the series. Guitar Hero II features a wide range of musical selections, ranging from rockabilly ("Psychobilly Freakout") to classic rock ("Carry on Wayward Son") to pure instrumental tracks ("Jessica"). The game even features "Freebird," ensuring that all of your virtual concerts end in style. The 360 version expands the song list of the PS2 version by at least 10, offering at least one new tune in each section. Among the new entries are covers of “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” (Rick Derringer) and “The Trooper” (Iron Maiden) as well as “Possum Kingdom” (The Toadies) and “Dead” (My Chemical Romance), both of which are performed by their original artists.

Twenty-four unlockable bonus tracks are available in the store; most are from indie groups, though there are a few, like “Jordan”, that were written especially for Guitar Hero II. “Trogdor” (of HomeStar Runner fame) and “Thunderhorse” (from the Adult Swim show, Metalpocalypse) are also available. The overall selection is good, though I would still love some Tenacious D.

Guitar Hero II retains the same visual style as the first. The game's outlandish cast of characters touches on nearly every rock star stereotype. The visuals aren't the most impressive, but at the same time, they work for the game so there isn't much room for complaint. The onstage theatrics have been ratcheted up for the 360 version and feature more elaborate light shows that go on and off in time with parts of songs. It should probably be noted that the game uses lot of rock imagery, including the odd pentagram or demon head. None are used in a malicious way, so they shouldn't present much of a turnoff. Besides, your attention is usually focused on the fret bar.


Gameplay:

The same game types all return in the sequel and are joined by two new modes: Practice and Multiplayer. Career mode puts you on stage as part of an indie band working its way to the top. You begin playing small venues and soon work your way up to superstar status where you’re selling out arenas. Progression is set-up similar to the original. All of the songs are grouped into categories, with each tier corresponding to a different stage in your career. You are only required to play a handful of songs from each section before moving on to the next and, once unlocked, you can replay songs in any of the Guitar Hero II’s other modes. At the end of each set, the audience will ask for an encore, adding one additional song to the playlist that you must complete before moving on. The entire Career mode builds up to a rendition of “Freebird,” one of the longest songs in the game and something that should only be attempted by the greatest of Guitar Heroes… okay, so it isn’t that menacing, at least when compared to “Jordan,” but the game does a great (and funny) job of making you think you’re about to tackle the guitar equivalent of playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with your armpit and a kazoo.

Practice Mode was one of the most requested modes from the original. Here you can practice any song in the game and not have to worry about losing points on the Rock Meter, which in a normal game ends the song immediately. You can practice the entire song or select individual parts. In addition, you can do so at slower speeds, which is good for getting some of the trickier fingerings down. The only thing missing is the ability to loop parts of the song; instead you’re required to back through the Options Menu and reset the portion you want to practice.

Expanded, revamped, retooled – however you want to say it, Multiplayer is Guitar Hero II’s biggest improvement and most entertaining Mode. The Head-to-Head Mode from last year’s game is back, only this time you can choose to play through the entire song together rather than trading off spots. Then there’s Co-op play.

In Co-op, players choose to play as part of a lead and rhythm combo or guitar and bass combo depending on the song. The first combo is the same parts from the Single-player mode, only split up. The second adds new bass sections to the original guitar track. Each player can set their own individual difficulty level, making multiplayer accessible to both gamers and non-gamers. This gives multiplayer that one thing that will make even the shyest of players want to jump in and try the game out.

Guitar Hero II is a blast to play with people, so I was a little disappointed that the game doesn’t include online play, especially since the guitar has an input for a microphone.

The two biggest, and best, additions to the 360 version are Leaderboards and Achievements. Leaderboards are great for bragging rights and to see how well you compare to other players. I typically don’t mention Achievements in reviews, though Guitar Hero II’s are worth mentioning since they always give you something to work towards and include some really difficult ones as well as silly ones like refusing a encore.


Difficulty:

Guitar Hero II is noticeably harder than the original, but not so much that it shuts out casual players. Easy is great for getting the basic fingering down, while Medium adds a new button and gets into a little more of the technique of the game. There is a noticeable jump in difficulty when moving to the harder modes. Expert players will survive the hard settings, but probably won’t coast through as quickly as they can in the original because of the addition of three-button chords in some songs.

Just remember that there’s a Practice option now and you shouldn’t have too many problems eventually getting through songs with high ratings. One of the more remarkable things to spring out of Acheivments and Leaderboards is the sense of community and goodwill that has sprung up among players. Nearly every game-related message board has at least one big topic featuring all manner of tips and tricks for the game, ranging from grip tips to unconventional tricks like using a guitar pick or rubber banding certain fret buttons.


Game Mechanics:

For those unfamiliar with the game, a quick explanation is in order. The guitar-shaped controller features five colored buttons on the neck and a small flipper used for strumming. As the song plays, a series of colored nodes scroll down which you need to match with the button presses while strumming. Hitting notes scores points and fills your Rock Meter, which measures the crowd’s response to your playing. Miss too many notes and the meter will dip into the red area and boo you offstage.

Every once in a while, some of the nodes will turn into stars. Hitting a series of these correctly gives you the added bonus of filling up your Star Power meter. Once this meter is filled, you can activate it by tilting the controller up (or by hitting select if you are no fun) and receive double points for a limited time.

The controller that comes packed in with the 360 version has been revamped. The outer shell now resembles Gibson’s X-Ploder model guitar. The fret buttons and strum bar feel the same, though the strap pegs have been repositioned to make it comfortable for both right and left-handed players. A “Live” button has been added so you can quickly get to the 360 information blade as well as a D-pad for easier Menu navigation. The only drawback is that the Start and Back buttons aren’t as prominent and are harder to reach.

The biggest question mark in regards to Guitar Hero II is how downloadable content will be handled. Three song packs featuring songs from the first game are already available on the Marketplace, though the pricing (500 points per pack) has caused quite a negative stir among gamers. Hopefully minor issues like pricing will, as they have with other games, work themselves out over time.

Guitar Hero is one of those games that everyone should own, or at least play once in their lives. Yes, even the rhythmically challenged who have a hard time tapping their foot to a metronome. The music selection rocks, you get to play with a controller shaped like a guitar and it is a great ice-breaker at otherwise lifeless, uncomfortable parties. In a way, it is the pure game form of what Nintendo is trying to do with the Wii – a fun game that can reach just about any player regardless of skill level.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Microsoft Xbox 360 UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 Nintendo DS Disney's Herbie Rescue Rally

 
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