Guitar Hero II Reader Review
I'm a self confessed child of the night. I wore silly day-glo clothes and spent hours talking bollocks to strangers in clubs and grew up listening to Paul Van Dyk and Tiesto. I never liked rock music much but I still can't help loving how Guitar Hero 2 makes you feel.
As I bite my lip in concentration and whoop with joy when I hit a tricky combo of notes, I suddenly find myself wanting to be Brian May, Noel Gallagher, "The Edge" or anyone from The Who. Standing on my bed, with a hefty collection of Trance and House on my 360, I suddenly want to fulfil the childhood ambition I never had of playing the guitar, being in a rock band and "corna" old ladies.
If you've never heard of Guitar Hero then here's a quick recap to enlighten you to the glories of this title. It was originally released on the PS2 to massive critical acclaim and popularity due to the innovative gameplay and unique controller plus the fact you get to pretend to be a rock star.
It's a rhythmic title like Dancing Stage Unleashed or the forthcoming Boom Boom Rocket and you have to hit different coloured notes which move along the fretboard towards you on screen. To hit these notes correctly you have to hold down the corresponding coloured fret button and 'strum' the strum bar either up or down at the same time. It's tricky at first but spending half an hour with the tutorials and in the practice mode will have you strumming away competently.
Hit enough notes in a row and you'll increase your multiplier and score more points; build up enough Star Power by hitting the flashing notes and you'll be able to unleash your most power entertainment skills on stage and get a x8 multiplier for some serious scores. Miss a note and you'll crash faster than Keith Richards and if you keep missing those notes the crowd will abandon your performance and you'll fail the song.
Of course, you then have to take these skills out on the road in career mode. You can name your band, select the guitarist character of your choice and even which guitar you wish to use. There's a good selection of punks to choose from and you get three guitars to pick from the outset with the ability to buy more later on in career mode plus you can buy different skins.
Progressing through Career mode is pretty simple on easy but can get frustratingly difficult on medium or hard and the learning curve takes a sharp, uncomfortable twist when moving from easy to medium which seems unforgiving considering you can only earn cash to buy new gear on the medium difficulty setting.
Quickplay allows you to get into the action straight away and you have a small selection of songs available at first and you have to unlock more in Career mode. Finally, there's practice mode which allows you to practice any of the songs you've unlocked at a range of difficulties and speeds.
The game does take time, skill and patience and spending the time trying out the tracks in practice mode, then moving to Quickplay to see where the best place to collect and use Star Power falls and you'll be ready to hit four or five stars in career mode. It's a level of dedication rarely seen in a title but the rewards are fantastic.
It's so very satisfying to hit a tough combination of notes or perfect an entire song because of the amount of time you've put into practising the title. Plus, there's a great mix of achievements from simple ones which are tied in with your career progression to tougher ones tied in with your skill like hitting so many notes in a row or getting high scores on songs.
Speaking of which, what songs are actually available on the game? Well, fear not, for it's not just a selection of obscure rock bands that no-ones heard of, there's over 60 great tracks for you to hammer the stum bar to including hits from Nirvana, Alice Cooper, Guns 'N' Roses, Iron Maiden, The Rolling Stones and even the Pretenders (not featuring Peter Kay) with a further nine coming exclusively to the Xbox Live Marketplace.
The game does feature multiplayer co-operative and versus modes but sadly that's only over local Xbox and not via Xbox Live. While the game might be expanded in the future to include online play, there's nothing confirmed. The lack of online play is very very disappointing.
And what of your battle axe? The game can be played on a normal 360 pad but this is quite boring so getting the X-Plorer controller is a must. Without the controller, the game really does lose its charm and fun factor. The controller comes with a strap so you can secure it over your shoulder and a selection of stickers to personalise and customise your axe.
Sadly, there are a few niggly problems with the controller as one batch produced does have a technical fault that leads to the already flimsy feeling whammy bar failing all together and you'll sometimes mash the Guide button with your elbow if you start to rock a little too hard which destroys any rhythm you have. Finally, it's a wired controller which, in today's wireless world, is a travesty.
I've got all this way and not spoken about visuals. They're great. Great menu presentation which is very reminiscent of the awesome Amped 3 and once you're in a song, the venues look brilliant with an bustling crowd and a brilliantly rendered band giving it their all. Of course, the audio features rock.
Guitar Hero 2 is a game that demands dedication to get maximum enjoyment from it and is ultimately more rewarding and fun due to this. The controller adds an extra level of immersion that simply doesn't exist with the normal Xbox 360 pad. The lack of online play is a massive omission and stops this being a fantastic title and instead makes it just a great one while if you're unlucky enough to get one of the ropy axes it can really ruin the whole experience.
This game has a hell of a lot of appeal to fans of the series and will also be enjoyed by gamers that like to really put effort into a game. The quickplay option means more casual or inexperienced gamers (like your Dad during a mid-life crisis) will also enjoy playing the game without the commitment of biting the head off a bat.
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8 / 10