Friday, December 29, 2006

VG review: "Guitar Hero II"

Red Octane, for PlayStation 2

rated T for Teen (lyrics), $79.99 (with guitar controller), $49.99 (without).

The first "Guitar Hero" game all but screamed "sleeper hit," coming out of nowhere and quickly snatching up critical acclaim and profits like peanuts at a bar.

A sequel was inevitable.

But after a nearly perfect game like the first "GH," what do you do for an encore? Where do you go after you've already turned your amps up to 11?

You move them up to 12, apparently, as "Guitar Hero II" improves just about every aspect of the game, from the song list to the game play.

As before, the game comes with a guitar-shaped controller you strap over your shoulder. Playing "Guitar Hero II" doesn't require previous music lessons, though.On the screen, colored knobs scroll downwards toward the player while a concert goes on in the background. When a knob reaches the bottom of the screen, you must push up or down on the strum bar and press the appropriate fret button at the same moment to hit the note.

Inexperienced users will be able to get comfortable in "Easy" and "Normal" modes, but by "Hard" mode the notes come at a fast and furious pace (if anything it's even tougher than in the first iteration). Thankfully, developer Harmonix listened to fans of the previous game and included a "Practice" mode, where you can slow down a particularly tough tune and work on it without fear of a "game over" screen.

One of the places "Guitar Hero II" really shines is in its track list. Whereas most music games feature an anemic soundtrack, "Hero" gets your blood pumping. Tunes by Black Sabbath, Heart, Primus, Kiss, Wolfmother, Megadeth, Stone Temple Pilots and even Spinal Tap are included (though not by the original artists). And yes, you can even try your hand at "Free Bird."

The most improved aspect of the game, however, is the multiplayer section. Now, it's possible to jam along with your friend in co-op mode, with one player handling the rhythm or bass section. Of course, you can compete against each other in sections like "Pro Face-Off" mode. Either way, an extra guitar controller is a must. (Yes, you could use the standard PS2 controller to play along, but why would you?)\

As good as the first game was, "Guitar Hero II" is a richer, more full-bodied experience the second time around. Every aspect, from the character animations to the loading screens, seems to be that much more enjoyable.

In short, the game does everything it can to make you feel like an actual rock god and not just some schlump pressing buttons in your living room. That it succeeds is no small bit of magic.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006



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