Is there a game that you really can’t wait to get a hold of? I’m not talking about the hype that surrounds Madden every year and the stories of people who skip school and work to play. That has evolved into a media-driven sideshow and, bottom line, it’s the same thing every year: a football game. I’m talking about the game that gets your adrenaline pumping just thinking about it. Well, as an old Gen-Xer, that usually doesn’t happen for me. But, ever since I nailed a 5-star performance on “Symphony of Destruction” on Guitar Hero, I’ve been eagerly counting the days until number 2 would be released. And, now it’s all mine.
To recap for the uninformed, the Guitar Hero games are rhythm-based and feature an exclusive Gibson SG guitar controller. The guitar features five fret buttons, a strum bar and a whammy bar. As the song plays, players match the notes on screen to the correct fret button and move the strum bar to play the note. Points are earned for playing the notes successfully with bonus multipliers awarded for continuous accuracy and special “star power” powerups. Successfully completing songs will unlock other songs and venues, as well as earning money that can be spent to unlock additional songs, guitars, players, paint schemes and additional clothes (new in II).
If Red Octane would have simply reissued Guitar Hero with a different song list, most people would have been thrilled. But they went back and fixed some problems, added a few new things and made enough changes to make Guitar Hero II a marked improvement over an already great game. The biggest improvements are made to the hammer on and pull off techniques, which have been made easier to execute. In the first game, the timing had to be nearly perfect. Now, the game is a bit more forgiving.
Consequently, Red Octane also added some dastardly note combinations that will test even the best players’ use of these techniques. Also, there are now three button chords to contend with. Not necessarily a big challenge, but it adds another element to the game. The after-song analysis was given some additional depth: in addition to seeing your overall performance, the game now provides an exact note count (hits/total), average multiplier, and a section by section breakdown of playing accuracy.
There is also a nice twist added with encores. Each section is broken down into four songs (it was five in the first game). Once enough songs have been completed to advance to the next level, the fans will demand an encore. This unlocks a mystery (the first time through) fifth song that is usually more challenging than the other four. It’s one of those subtle attentions to detail that a company does when they don’t look at a sequel as just an easy money maker.
The big new addition is co-op play. You can still battle a friend one-on-one to see who is Eddie Van Halen and who is C.C. Deville. Or, you can pair up and have one player on lead and the other on bass/rhythm (depending on the song). It’s fun to play with two people working on different parts of the same song. Since the second part is completely different from the lead, it adds a second challenge for every song. And, don’t think playing the bass is easier in this game. On some songs, the second guitar can be even more challenging. Other additions are in the unlockable extras, there are now additional costumes to purchase and change the hero’s look. There are also some new guitars and skins to complete the look.
There also is a new practice mode that is very useful at the higher difficulties. It lets you play a song without worrying about your performance. Each song is broken down into sections so that you can focus on specific areas that you find difficult. Also, the speed of these songs can be slowed down which helps in learning the notes to play without having to stay at the hard and expert speed levels.
It took me a while to realize that this is a game where the player has little impact on the visuals. No camera angles to change, moving around the screen, or infinite color combinations to tweak. Even so, the game looks impressive. The heroes all have been tweaked over their earlier personas, with some new characters making an appearance. When the player puts together a lengthy combination of notes, the hero’s hands will start to glow. I guess to indicate the player is hot (what a pun). The Red Octane lounge remains from the first game (surprise), but every other venue has been remodeled. While they still generally resemble the locations from the first game (small club, outdoor, large arena), they all have completely different looks. An eighth location was added to the game, with the honors going to a concert setup at Stonehenge.
When the encores take place, there are some different animations in the arena that make a nice addition. There is an obvious lot of hard work that went into these places. It’s a shame that there is no behind the scene footage for the locations, like in GH.
Before I discuss the songs of the game, I want to take the time to personally take credit for one of the songs in Guitar Hero II. Obviously, someone at Red Octane values my advice. In the review of Guitar Hero, I asked for no more songs by “The Donnas” and offered Heart’s “Crazy on You” as a much better choice for a song when a female vocal is needed. Well, guess what song is in the game? Thank you for reading, unknown Red Octane employee.
There are 55 songs this time around running the gambit from pop to some quite heavy stuff. Most of the songs, like before, are cover versions. It is obvious, however, that the music industry noticed the success of the first game because there are more big name bands this time around. The game features songs by Aerosmith (Last Child), The Rolling Stones (Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’), Nirvana (Heart-Shaped Box), Rush (YYZ), and Van Halen (You Really Got Me). It is a bit of surprise, maybe even a letdown, that some of these aren’t the really big hits. Kiss’ “Strutter” is good, but why not “Detroit Rock City” or “Heaven’s on Fire”? But, the selection a small issue.
It shouldn’t be hard to find something for everyone in this collection.
The softer side includes songs by The Police (Message in a Bottle), The Pretenders (Tattooed Love Boys), and Kansas (Carry on Wayward Son). Things get heavier with Danzig (Mother), Black Sabbath (War Pigs), Megadeth (Hanger 18), and Alice in Chains (Them Bones). There is also a few fast playing, wrist pain inducing, play it loud stuff from Anthrax (Madhouse), Butthole Surfers (Who Was in My Room Last Night), Suicidal Tendencies (Institutionalized), and Lamb of God (Laid to Rest). One thing I really liked was the collection of instrumentals. “Frankenstein” was my favorite on Guitar Hero. This game features the previously mentioned YYZ as well as the Allman Brothers (Jessica) – another favorite of mine -, Reverend Horton Heat (Psychobilly Freakout), and Dick Dale (Misirlou). The running joke song of the last game appears as the final challenge; Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”.
The bonus songs are all original records by the actual bands, most of which are local in nature. Additionally, Guitar Hero II features the actual recordings of Primus (John the Fisherman), Jane’s Addiction (Stop), an original track by the mysterious Buckethead, and recordings from Voivod and Shadows Fall.
Once again, the music is subject to personal feelings. The recordings are done well and the vocals, for the most part, are good covers of the originals. The Danzig and Guns n’ Roses vocals fall a bit short, but, then again, those aren’t the easiest singers to cover. Overall, the gameplay in Guitar Hero II is a marked improved over the original. The guitar controller is infinitely cooler than those sissy dance pads and is calling for you, right now.
- Overall: 9.5
- This is by far the best rhythm game on PS2, with none of those lame techno songs. All that’s needed is for Red Octane to announce the release date of Guitar Hero III. Freebird!.
— Greg Necastro