I'm a sucker for music-rhythm games and the last I played was Elite Beat Agents on the NDS. Brilliant. And so, on a whim and to alleviate what had been a terribly hard week at work, I decided that I would get Guitar Hero 2 for the Xbox 360. I had played the PS2 version a few weekends beforehand and I think that sealed the deal (although I was umming and erring about it due to the price). I�m a bit of a musician, think I've got a good rhythm in me, so I thought that it would be pretty enjoyable to be challenged into making some decent sounds. I had the idea of it being Elite Beat Agents multiplied by ten, being so much louder and being able to get into the groove and motion of a rocking guitarist.
And it is so very much like this, only goddamn more fiddly than tapping on a touchscreen. Five fret buttons, strum-bar and a whammy are between you and getting five gold stars on approximately 70 tracks (48 of which are part of the game progress, the rest being purchaseble through the in-game shop using gig money). For those that have never held a guitar much or played the GH before, it takes a little getting used to, especially when a song requires the use of all five buttons. Thankfully, for those that aren't as rhythmically gifted as me, you have Easy (three fret buttons) and Medium (four) modes, followed by Hard (five) and Expert (five). As well as the increasing number of buttons, the higher difficulties ask for more notes to be strummed per beat.
If you do have a beat in your bones, then I would highly recommend going straight for Hard as it does provide a decent challenge and will make you replay them to complete the track. Furthermore, getting five gold stars (which involves perfecting the song with zero mistakes) is really going to make you suffer. Let's not get started on Expert, which is doable but you'll probably put the guitar through the TV before you gold star them all. Easy and Medium are pretty mediocre and really don�t show how good GH2 is. In fact, I get so frustrated with Easy and Medim when I make simple mistakes because it should be so bloody easy and no trouble at all - I think it's because it�s all too slow for my Fingers of Dexterity(tm). Hah!
There's no really much more to the game mechanics; hold down fret button(s) and twang the strum-bar. Add a bit of whammy if you feel like it. Fill you Rock Star meter by completing star-sections of the track perfectly, and then tilt the guitar vertically to activate your Rock power - a saving grace on the hard songs as it boasts your Rock meter into the green (away from the red section that see you being booed off the stage). As much as having a small plastic guitar strapped to you might make you look foolish, I'd definitely recommend at least a slight bending of the knees in time with the music - it really does help.
As for the songs, I don't think that I can fault them. There's a mix of rock music there, some that I know, many that I don't. But it's nice to be able to play along with favourites like Message in a Bottle and even finding that the Top Gear music is called Jessica. Free Bird is great too. There�s a lot of music to get through and once you've managed to unlock them all, you can dip in and out all you like.
One other great feature - something that I hear wasn't as well implemented in previous versions - is the practice mode. Practice makes (near) perfect, or at least being able to pass the song, and with GH2 you can practice the whole song or any part of the song, on four different speed settings. With the song sliced-up ready for practice, it means you won't have to repeated play the early sections just to be bamboozled by that 20-seconds riff-out-spaz-fingering section again and again. It�s something that I've used a lot for the later songs and has most definitely stopped me from smashing up everything in the living room. The only fault that I can highlight is that you can't practice the rest of the song from one of the aforementioned song slices (for example, start from verse 2 and practive to the end of the song; you can only practice verse 2 and it chucks you back to the song section selection - unless you replay that verse again).
There's multiplayer, which I haven't had a chance to play, but you can use a standard controller (unless you went crazy and bought another guitar). Here, one of you chooses to play rhythm and the other bass and you play simultaneously side-by-side. There's co-op and head-to-head, also. That's all on a single Xbox as there's no Live play, which is a real shame but is probably a good thing because lag would be a killer for a game that relies on timing and feedback. Maybe the developers can find a fix for such a problem, because I experience lag when playing Virtua Tennis 3 with someone within the UK and it�s just plain off-putting and annoying.
Lastly, and something that the developers made everyone aware, are the purchaseable-from-Marketplace tracks. There are three songs in each download pack, each pack setting you back 500 Microsoft Points (about £4.25), and probably only one track in each pack that you'll actually want. Bastards. And as 1up Yours podcast said a couple of weeks ago, they should just put them all up separately and charge each a little bit more than 500MSPoint-divided-by-3. This way you can chooses which ones you want without wasting money, and the seller will gain that little bit more money for each track. Oh well, to paraphrase Luke Smith - formerly of 1up - says, you�ll just have to bend over and take it.
But otherwise, there should be enough in the stock package to satisfy your rocking needs until Rock Band (and all the peripheral trimmings) hits your living room. If you have no interest in rhythm games at all, then give it a miss. If you've played the PS2 version, then there�s probably not much point even if there a few new tracks (unless there�s something in the downloadable tracks that pique your interest). If you've never had the chance so far, then Guitar Hero 2 is not a wasted purchase (although at £70 it is a little pricey. Blockbusters had it for £60). Push that coffee table aside, turn up the amp and get ready for some finger-riffing goodness.