Review by XCommander
"The second in one of the most appealing series of all time is even greater on the 360"
Whilst not being a magnificently praised from the gaming hardcore, one has to admit there is a general sense of intense appeal when it comes to the Guitar Hero games. They boast a lovingly arcade-like interface, controller, and gameplay style. The Xbox 360's version of the second title in the series certainly falls into this area. While it is ideally just a port of the Playstation 2 game, the extra features and options such as downloadable content and graphical improvements make this game worthwhile even for those who have lots of experience with the original Playstation 2 version.
If you are one of the few that are unaware of the game mechanics of the Guitar Hero series, it is based on moving notes cascading down a fret board of a guitar, with the player needing to strum and move his fingers on the fret to one of the corresponding keys on the guitar controller. Of course this is provided you have a guitar controller of your own; the game can be played with a regular 360 pad, but it really kills the experience of the game. It can be safely said that the guitar controller is a necessary investment for the game, and most bundles of the game include a white wired guitar controller based on the Gibson X-Plorer guitar model.
The guitar itself is naturally of a very high quality. There are no major gripes in the design except for one that is small but sometimes can become annoying present. It is in the placement of the Xbox buttons. Some guitar players, such as myself, rest their arms in the place where the buttons are. A simple accidental press of the button during gameplay can kill any combo. It's only minor though, because after a while you can get used to the unusually small surface area of the X-Plorer.
The game features essentially two main modes: Quick Play and Career. Quick Play is essentially Arcade mode. Players compete with already established high scores from previous players, and intend to improve score and accuracy over the others. However, at first only a limited amount of songs are available. This is because they are unlockable from either completing them in Career Mode, or buying certain ones from the store.
Career is where the vast majority of the game will inevitably be played, especially considering the vast majority of the Xbox Achievements naturally come from this particular area of the game. You control essentially a band with competes at different venues with different songs available for them. If you complete a certain amount of songs you can play an encore. Completing songs in Career mode with earn you some cash which can be used to purchase things from the store which contains various goodies that include songs, outfits, guitars, and hidden characters. The ability to gain money and unlockables is a major reason why the Career is so essential to play.
The game is also playable with two guitars (or controllers if you are a masochist). There are Face-Off and Co-Op modes. Face-Off allows for others to battle you for a higher score on the same songs, while Co-Op allows for different parts to be played such as lead, rhythm, and bass lines.
As mentioned above, the game is based on pressing certain buttons that correspond with notes on the fret board of the guitar, and strumming the guitar mechanism at the same time. Its very simple, but makes for some very crazy experiences and deceptively intense gameplay. The game is split into four difficulties: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert. Easy only uses the first three notes of the guitar and the fret moves incredibly slow. Medium increases the notes to four, with the speed also increasing. Hard allows for all five of the frets to be utilized. Expert difficulty increases the speed, and tends to add more difficult playing with lots of chords stuck in there. Easy is there mostly for those who have more than likely never picked up a guitar in their life. Most people can safely start out on medium. With increased practice, the harder difficulty modes become entirely acceptable, despite looking menacing when inexperienced in the game. Songs on the harder difficulties tend to net far higher scores than the ones on easier difficulties because of the increased note abundance. For that reason, among others, the difficulties offer varying high scores, which can make novice players compete with other novices while the experts complete with other vets of the game.
Completing certain notes in a row offers you more multipliers. These go up to 4x. When a note is missed the multiplier goes back to 1x. There is also an element of the game called Star Power. This is where certain series of notes, when fully completed, allow for a charging of your Star Power. This can be let loose by tilting the guitar to the right. It doubles your multiplier for a certain time, resulting in very high scores. It makes you constantly on the lookout for these Star Power sequences, and cautious about making them when they come up.
The game also allows for more complicated maneuvers, most notably the Hammer-On and Pull-Off techniques. This is based on the respective abilities naturally occurring on guitars, essentially offering the ability to slur notes easier. Certain notes lack a black outline, and can be simply fretted without strumming, mimicking these effects on real guitars. A Hammer-On can be used for hitting higher slurring notes, while Pull-Offs are used for a lower slur. These are pretty essential on some of the higher difficulty songs with fast sweeping solos.
As is the case with just about every music-based game, it wouldn't really be much of anything without a good soundtrack, and Guitar Hero II delivers. Mostly consisting of tried and true classics such as War Pigs, Heart-Shaped Box, and Freebird, the game presents a smorgasbord of tastes in music, but presents them as being altogether acceptable. There are also some more obscure songs, mostly present in the unlockable sections. Most tracks are cover versions of their respective songs, but are usually very well done. Before I played the first game in the series, I had my doubts on how well some of the covers would be, but time and time again the band used has pushed out accurate and exciting renditions of the songs. Like the first one in the series, all of the songs that are unlockable are master renditions of the tunes.
The game's graphics, while improved from the Playstation 2 version (especially in the field of resolution, which can really help a game like this), aren't incredible but they are functional. That is part of the charm of the series. It's all about how it is played, and the fun times you receive from it that way. The graphics shouldn't really ever matter for what is essentially a music puzzle game, and they don't they succeed pretty nicely. The designs are also quite cartoonish, again adding to the game's charm.
In the end, Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360 is a hell of a game. There's a reason why it's pretty much standard on college campuses. It's about time you can play a game that's well made like this, and not be considered a real nerd. If there is a problem to it, it's one that really can't be avoided. You're bound to hit a roadblock, and song or part of a song you can't get past. You'll probably lose interest after a while of completing song after song. While it still has appeal as a party game, the single player experience may wear off in the fun department.
The second in a series which is bound to increase exponentially in titles is a great one. One every Xbox 360 owners should check out, music fan or not. Guitar controllers are becoming standard accessories for any system these days. The series is popular and rightfully so. The games are VERY playable, and the fun factor is through the roof.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/28/08
Game Release: Guitar Hero II (Game only) (US, 10/28/07)
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