Version tested: PlayStation 3
SingStore is horribly brilliant. Brilliant because it gives us a sexy, increasingly well-stocked catalogue of songs to download when we get bored of "Valerie" by The Zutons. Horrible because we make poor enough decisions when we're sober, and SingStar is indivisible from alcohol. With money stacked in the PS3 wallet, Pinot and Grigio stacked in our tummies and Bowie and Erasure gliding across our eye-line draped in 99p signs, it's easy to click yes a few times and then watch the progress bar silently shame us in the corner. All of which begs the question: why do we need another Blu-ray version?
We can only think of two possible answers: either the core game has evolved in some critical way that requires a new software platform, or Sony is worried that Internet-deprived Eurogamers outside broadband comfort zones like the UK are desperate for more songs and can't access the PlayStation Store (losers, eh? it's fine, they can't hear us).
Booting up SingStar Vol. 2, it turns out the first part is half-right: as well as the usual 30 new songs, Vol. 2 lets you do harmonies during duets. Say you're singing "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & The Papas: as the first player does the Papas singing "All the leaves are brown", the second player does the Mamas singing the same line, off-set by a second or so and at a different level. Scrolling lyric tickers appear at the top and bottom of the screen with the pitch meters in the centre, so no one gets confused about who sings from what and which prompts to follow. In some songs, players sing different lines, and then culminate on a shared note, holding it at different levels.
The other big new feature is being able to use Remote Play to access the SingStore and My SingStar Online using the PSP to remotely control the PS3. Our review code wouldn't allow us to do this (and not just because Remote Play is brain surgery to set up), but Sony talked us through what happens and effectively it's the ability to load the game and view the My SingStore Online and SingStore areas remotely, as you would with any other Remote Play application. That's likely to be a boon to players accessing their home console during lunch-breaks at work, or at the pub before heading home, although we're not sure the Internet needs more ways for you to post horrific comments on other people's hard work. Just kidding: bring it on.
In general though, that's it for content changes. The karaoke mechanic is as good as ever, tracking your pitch rather than asking you to sing in key. The interface is as slick as ever, but unchanged (apart from an attractive new purple background by default - and this can be swapped out for waterfalls and kiwi fruit and so on), and the core modes remain: solo, battle, duet, etc, and "pass the mic", the team game where you duke it out with random human opponents at medleys, battles, duet score attacks and trying to keep the performance bar above a certain level. Plus the actual pass-the-mic bits.
You can still record scores for each performance and save them on a chart populated by achingly lifestyle defaults like "Nigal". The carousel selection mechanism for songs is still lovely, and like the PS2 SingStars you can press the Select button to swap discs for the old SingStar PS3 if you want access to those songs, without having to dip back to the XMB. And you can still take snapshots with the EyeToy, and record and upload short videos and audio files for other people to rate on the excellent My SingStar Online.
All of which leads us into another thorny debate about song quality. Vol. 2 begins way back in the '60s with "California Dreamin'" and "Summer in the City", before bypassing the '70s almost entirely (Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" being the only exception - the yardstick for all '70s music, obviously) and getting excited about the '80s, where it bobs along with the questionable haircuts of The Police ("Don't Stand So Close To Me"), Spandau Ballet ("TRUE") and Bobby Brown ("My Prerogative"), before sulking for a bit with Morrissey ("Suedehead") and The Cure ("Pictures of You") and going all street with Tone Loc ("Funky Cold Medina") and Young MC ("Bust A Move"). There's even space (sadly) for the horrendous "Dude Looks Like A Lady" by Aerosmith and The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", which your Dad can always sing. And does.
Then there's an amusing cross-section of the '90s via George Michael ("Freedom '90"), Shakespears Sister ("Stay"), Nirvana ("Lithium"), Blur ("Country House" - no invite for Liam and Noel), Pulp ("Common People"), Radiohead ("Street Spirit", whose rather lovely mournful groans would prove portentous), and then the ghastly and unsingable "Pretty Fly (Who A White Guy)" by The Offspring and "Sexbomb" by Tom Jones and Mousse T. So there's one for Mum as well.
Then it's into the 2000s with choices that may or may not stand the test of time. Eminem's "Without Me" is hardly his best effort, but presumably satisfies some sort of rap quota; I despise The Libertines in every form, but most notably in this "Can't Stand Me Now" guise; Gorillaz' "Dare" leads to Panic At The Disco's "But It's Better If You Do", which must have bypassed me completely; and then it goes variously XFM and Wifebeater with Gossip's "Standing In The Way Of Control", Kaiser Chiefs' "Ruby" and Maximo Park's "Our Velocity".
Three cheers, too, for The Killers' "When You Were Young", which is also in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Rock Band. That said, given that Rock Band is a 360-exclusive in Europe for the moment, this does mark the first chance to sing along to it on the PS3 (interestingly, with that one exception, there's absolutely no crossover with Rock Band, despite the two series regularly sharing artists). Finally, a perplexed word for Paul McCartney & the Frog Chorus' "We All Stand Together" - one of the most bizarre SingStar inclusions we can remember.
Whether you want to fork out for that will depend, as ever, on your approval of the track listing. The structure is the same and the new features are rather throwaway (even from the developer's perspective, judging by the paucity of duet content that supports harmonies), so you're left with the maths of whether the GBP 18 you can pre-order the solus disc for in certain quarters of the Internet is a good return. Otherwise you might as well spend it on the SingStore. From our perspective, it's probably just about there, but while there's plenty to get drunk with, there's not much else to get worked up about.
7 / 10
SingStar Vol. 2 is due out on 20th June in Europe.