Review by Eric43

"Yeah, it's next-gen Guitar Hero--yeah, we're all rocking out, but eh"

Guitar Hero is one of those game that struck gold—literally. Combining super-exciting rhythm action, popular rock tunes, and good, clean fun, it gains mainstay appeal as well as high ratings from the professional reviewers. Now that Guitar Hero is on next-gen consoles, it's going to ensure RedOctane and Activision big profits for quite some time.

However, that in itself is the main flaw in the game. After Guitar Hero came out for PS2 on November 2005, people had an undesirable urge to buy Guitar Hero II. The long wait ended as the PS2 version came out in November 2006. The Xbox 360 version came out in April 2007. That's a five month gap—long enough that most people would tank and buy the PS2 GHII and the cherry red Gibson guitar controller for $80. Now we're buying the same game again, except with shinier graphics and a few new features for ten bucks more. Really, is it petty to criticize the game just because of its release date and price, or is the game really not worth it? When I'm playing this game, I just can't help but feel ripped off a bit, but still, it's not a bad game in the first place.

Playing Guitar Hero II is a simple concept. If you've been living under a rock for the last year or so, then here's how the game works. You hold the plastic guitar controller in your hands with one hand on the colored buttons on the neck; the other on the strum bar (at least that's how it's designed). On the screen lies a fret board with notes that scroll down in accordance to the song you're playing. There's five different notes to play, and to play a note, you must press the responding fret button down on your controller and strum at the same time. Play the note correctly and the guitar in-game will play as normal. Miss the note and the guitar will cut off and give you a nasty “doink” noise. Hit notes in succession to get higher scores, miss them and your Rock Meter will fall into the red, causing you to fail the song instantly.

While this is pretty much the entire game, it's fairly engrossing. There's four difficulty levels per song, and on higher levels, the game throws more notes at you. On Easy, it's like preschool with spaced-out notes soft-served to you nice and easy. However, on Expert, it gets a whole lot more complicated, simulating the tabs of a real guitar song quite well—solos and all. The game makes things more interesting by throwing chords (multiple notes held at once), rapid-fire notes, and long notes at you to give you more of a challenge to your fingers. You can try to get high scores in the game to get "5-star" ratings, and this is assisted by Star Power, a little meter that fills when you play certain notes in succession, which will give you a temporary boost to your score multiplier or help save you from failing a song during a tricky guitar solo.

The bulk of the action takes place in Career mode, which is as simple as “pick a guy, pick a guitar, pick a song, ok, let's rock.” You play the songs in tier lists, and once you beat all the songs in that tier, you unlock the next one. However, the songs become more difficult, as well as interesting, as you move on up. You'll start out playing in a Battle of the Bands school venue, then work your way up to nightclubs, big auditoriums, and eventually sold-out stadiums. There's no real story to be heard of; just your band moving up the ranks by playing covers of famous songs. By playing songs and getting four- and five-star ratings, you'll earn cash which can be spent on extra guitars, guitar covers, extra songs, and characters.

While a lot of the features were lifted from the PS2 version GHII, nothing was lacking from the original. With covers of famous tunes such as Freebird, Sweet Child ‘O Mine, Killing in the Name, and Carry On Wayward Son, it's kind of dumb to complain about the song selection. . I mean, yeah, there's always a few songs here and there you just don't like (I'm not a fan of KitN, personally), but the mix is well-done, especially following GHI. Most of the songs are covers, but thankfully, they're not too bad, save a bogey here and there. The game's menus, consisting of grosteque drawings of people and weird animals, are still intact and look just as great on the Xbox 360 version. The practice mode is still here, so players can play any song at various speeds and improve their technique without fear of failure. You can also play two-player with a friend and either compete for high scores or play co-op, in which one player plays Lead and the other takes the Rhythm or Bass guitar. Nothing from the PS2 version is absent in the Xbox 360 version, and that's a good thing.

Okay, now that you have the concept, it's time to talk about these new features in the Xbox 360 game. First of all, the song count has been upped to 76 (48 in career mode; 28 bonus)—ten new songs have been included. The most noteworthy of all would be Iron Maiden's The Trooper, as well as My Chemical Romance's Dead! (sure to annoy anti-emo kids). Other new bands include The Toadies, Pearl Jam, Alice Cooper, Rancid, Deep Purple, and Rick Derringer. However, those that were looking for some difficult, yet entertaining songs will be a bit disappointed, as the only real difficult song of the new bunch would be The Trooper, and that's only seventh tier (eighth tier is the hardest). The others are middle tier fodder that, which are nice to have, aren't as substantial for hardcore GH fans. Sorry, no Metallica, Hendrix, or Zeppelin this time around either.

The other new feature would be the Gibson Explorer controller, which is shiny white and looks pretty darn good. I was disappointed to find out that the controller really wasn't wireless (the generic one, anyway), but it's not all that important. The controller requires a bit of effort to get used to (especially since it doesn't feel very loose), but that's not a big deal as well. My only complaint though would be the location of the Select button on the guitar. The Select button was vital since it would active Star Power easily without having to wail the guitar in the air and miss potential notes. However, on the Xbox 360 controller, it's a tiny button stuck in a divot on the guitar and you have to shove your wrist into the hole to activate it in-game. What makes it worse is that it's dangerously close to the d-pad/start button, which can accidentally strum/pause the game. After playing for a while, you get a hang of what to do, but it's pretty bad when I still make dumb mistakes trying to reach the hard-to-locate button and ruin my high scores in the process.

It's kind of RedOctane to include Xbox Live for GHII, but there's no online multiplayer to be heard of--only leaderboards. Considering that sites like have already keep good track of high scores, it seems kind of pointless to include them aside from the reasoning that all Xbox 360 games have online leaderboards in some form of another. GHII also offers downloadable tracks on Xbox Live, but as of late, the only music includes tracks from the original GH, plus they are pricey—three songs for 500 points a piece. It doesn't seem like a good deal considering we can always go back to GH on our PS2s if we're desperate.

At least RedOctane didn't skip on the graphics. The Xbox 360 version looks similar to the PS2 version, except with revamped texturing and lighting effects. Venues that looked rather stale in the PS2 version have an extra dose of contrast slapped on them, which means the levels look more dynamic. The character models aren't much different, but look slightly better than their PS2 counter-parts. The framerate is nice and won't mess with the guitar playing at all. RedOctane did what they could with the graphics in this new iteration.

Overall, Guitar Hero II is a great music game that appeals to rhythm game fans that are turned off by the “nerdy” reputation of DDR and whatnot, or those that just like rock music (which is pretty much everyone). Standalone, it's a good game. However, though, if you have Guitar Hero II on the PS2, there's little incentive to buy this game. There's a few new songs, no new characters or venues, the same old single and multi-player modes, a slightly worse guitar, as well as HD lag just to mess with your head. If you don't have the PS2 version, you're rich, or you want the achievement points, then I guess Guitar Hero II would make a decent purchase anyway. I'm still keeping my eye on you, Activision.

Presentation: 8/10 – Cool menus, rock music, weird drawings of people and stuff.
Gameplay: 7/10 – Use the plastic guitar to play songs. It's still a lot of fun, but gee golly, it's the same thing as the PS2 version that came out five months ago.
Graphics: 7/10 – It's nothing fancy, but the environments and characters look good and are more colorful overall.
Sound: 9/10 – Um, it's a music game with rock music. It's hard not to hate it unless you just don't like the music, period. People still seem to have a problem with the covers of a few songs, though.
Replay Value: 7/10 – You've got a lot of songs to play. It gets a bit repetitive though, unless you've got a friend to play with or you're fond of high scores…

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/17/07, Updated 08/28/08

Game Release: Guitar Hero II (Game only) (US, 10/28/07)

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