Review by Arkrex

"Double Whammy!"

Gamers just can't get enough of rhythm games these days. Along the vein of Konami's own Guitar Freaks for the arcade market, comes Harmonix's Guitar Hero series exclusive to the PS2. Guitar Hero II (herein GH2) is the focus of this review, but as is the case with virtually all rhythm games, many similarities to the previous effort can be seen.

Visuals – 7
Sound & Music – 8
Gameplay – 8
Longevity – 8
(About 3+ hours to get through a single career)
Replayability – 9 (Stuff to unlock; 5 star ratings to achieve; addictive)
Difficulty – 8 (Hard)

Fingerwork – 10
VERDICT – 8.0

Jam Session

Guitar Hero puts you through the rigours of a lead guitarist (and his band) aspiring to walk the path of a rock legend, from humble beginnings in backyard concerts to making it at the Stonehenge rock event. For each concert you have to complete 3 out of 4 songs in order to progress to the next one. This may make it a bit easier for those who can't get through all of them, but chances are if you can't finish a song in set, you won't be able to do the rest anyway.

There are of course multiple difficulties to suit newbies, experienced players, and/or gamers with a musical background (which helps a lot!) ‘Easy' works with just 3 frets (each fret represented as a single button on the guitar peripheral), ‘normal' involves 4, ‘hard' tests your dexterity with all 5, and of course there is the most hardcore difficulty for gamers who just can't get enough of their toy guitar.

I do hope your fingers can do a bit of walking if you are considering giving this game a good go. And it really helps to be able to sight read in order to make good progress. Any prior music experience helps, and if you have picked up a guitar before (even if you are not very proficient in it as I am) you'll have a much cruisier time. There's a nice tutorial to introduce you to the mechanics and an excellent practice mode that allows you to go through any part of songs you've unlocked at your chosen tempo. It does help with familiarity, but since many of the songs are very long (about 5 minutes at times!) and involve a lot of lengthy solos, sound musicianship is better than hours of virtual practice anyday.

A happy medium between air guitar and real guitar
In contrast to Guitar Freaks which only involved 3 buttons, Guitar Hero is a much more complex piece. I've already mentioned the 5 buttons used here, but there's also the whammy bar used to bend notes and more advanced techniques involving hammer-ons and pull-offs (which are not necessary, but make life a lot easier). It's excellent to see that virtual harmonics are pulled off, so as with a real guitar, higher notes can be played on top of lower notes without having to release the frets. Once you start playing you'll understand what I mean and begin to appreciate these nuances which make the game so much more playable as you get better and better.

For those who have a musical background, normal mode is a great start. This is where the challenge begins, and after 30 minutes (probably double for others starting on easy) you'll be jamming like a pro. It's great how it becomes a lot like a reflex action, just like playing for real! Adding in those extra whammies at every chance you get makes things a lot more hectic and exciting. I felt like I was playing on a real electric guitar at times!

But of course, it's still a game, and so there are some mechanics which you should be aware of in order to score big. The main show here is ‘Star Power'. Sometimes you'll come across a set of specially marked notes, and if you nail these all correctly you'll boost your power meter. Star Power is then unleashed by tilting your guitar skywards and allows you to boost your multiplier whatever it is. It's a really cool feature and it means some strategic planning must be done to choose when is best to utilise the ‘buff'. Beginners may find that they will miss a lot of these boost opportunities, but then it's not necessary for song completion, only for getting higher scores and therefore more money at the end.

Money? What on earth for? In the career mode, you play at various US hideouts as you slowly achieve rockstar status. Along the way the cash you earn through sponsors and gigs can be used to purchase new heroes, new outfits, new guitars, and new songs. The esthetics don't really have much of an impact seeing as while playing you won't be to focused on the act going on behind the scenes anyway. The new songs add to an already impressive 40 in the main game already.

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll
Do you love to rock? I'm not referring to the pop-rock which fills current radio stations these days, but more the hardcore rock. I personally am not particularly fond of this niche genre, and as such the many songs featured here didn't really pick me up as much as it may do for you. A wide selection was chosen from oldies such as “Rock This Town” and “Message in a Bottle”, to more modern pieces like “Cherry Pie” and “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” (I apologise for not being able to differentiate between time periods much here). Groups range from The Police to Black Sabbath to the legendary(?) Lynard Skynard. I do wish there were some ‘pop-ish' tunes in the mix, at least from some better known mainstream bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Linkin Park, but it goes to show how much fun the game really is since I had a great time, despite a song selection I didn't really care much for.

I'll briefly talk about the SG guitar peripheral here. It looks like a red toy guitar, but it's of a solid build (made in China) and doesn't look too childish. The whammy bar is adjustable as is the guitar strap (better play this standing if you don't want sore shoulders after 10 minutes!) and no matter what size you are, it's easy to hold and easy to play. You can play with the PS2 control pad if you want, but if you have 2 guitars (a second bought separately) there's no way you would want to go without it when jamming with a mate.

New to GH2 is the co-op mode which allows for a lead and bass guitarist, for player 1 and 2. It's cool to play together like this, but the bass parts are quite dull relative to the all-out lead parts. Once you've finished the game once though, you can both duke it out playing the same part in a battle for superiority. This mode plays better I find in the long-run, but all the multiplayer modes are worthwhile to pick up now and again.

A great way to chill, solo or duet
With intuitive rhythm action, intensely invigourating (albeit over-extended) solos, a great responsive guitar controller, lots of songs and catchy riffs, and some good multiplayer modes, GH2 is a guaranteed hit for those with either an interest in hardcore rock or rhythm games. It's not quite the ‘killer game' as many professional opinions have suggested, and if you don't fall into one of the 2 demographics listed above, you may not find it anywhere near as good as the hype makes it out.

Presentation wise it couldn't have been done better, with easy menu navigation (even with the guitar) and a rock advert style. The concerts look pretty good with special stage effects and a dynamic crowd filling up the space; some nice touches with your rocker slamming or burning the guitar at the conclusion of songs is pretty radical too. But when you're following the on-screen cues, you probably won't take much notice.

I can't say there's something for everyone here; this title targets teens to young adults, with its limited variety, despite its large quantity of songs. It definitely warrants a rental if you are interested in seeing what all the media fuss is about. Word has it that the selection found in the first Guitar Hero is more interesting, but again tastes differ. With new multiplayer options and the same addictive rhythm action, Guitar Hero II is one of the freshest musical experiences amidst all the DDR and Bemani clones. And cheaper and less work than picking up a real guitar for sure!

8.0 – It will rock your world, unless you don't enjoy being rocked
I'd still rather pick up my real electric-acoustic over this game though!

20/12/06


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/20/06


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