As I’m sure some of you can relate to, I have never owned a Playstation 2 and there were always a few games which I wouldn’t of mind playing. Guitar Hero was one of them. Then it was Guitar Hero II. Luckily for me and others, Guitar Hero II was announced for the Xbox 360. A port of the PS2 version, it offers everything the PS2 version did, only this is the Xbox 360 so it’s more, and better.
Guitar Hero II is a rhythm game which makes use of the new X-Plorer controller. It has the same likeness of games such as DDR, Stepmania, Beatmania & pretty much any “mania” title. The game consists of a never ending fret board which scrolls down the centre half of the screen. As the fret board scrolls down coloured notes will come down with it. As the notes hit the bottom of the screen you have to hold down the corresponding coloured fret button on the guitar neck and press up or down on the strum bar. Doing this at the right time will cause the note from the guitar to be played, miss and you get to hear what it’s like to be a failing guitarist.
Missing notes doesn’t just make you sound bad it will also move your Rock meter down. The rock meter displays how well you are doing and is something you will only take notice of when it starts to flash red. Flashing red means you are about to fail the song if you keep missing notes - you have 2 options when this happens. Start hitting the notes and get a combo going or use your Star Power if you have any. Star power is earned by successfully hitting a series or star shaped notes in order and is activated by pulling the guitar neck upright. When you have activated it, it will double your multiplier and bring that rock meter back up much easier. The more notes you hit without missing any will increase your multiplier. Your multiplier will go from 2x to 4x. If you have 4x multiplier and use your star power it will double to 8x. This will be the key in getting high scores so it’s vital you keep that combo going.
Let’s move on to the hardware side. The X-Plorer guitar is pretty well made and for the casual GH players they should be pretty happy with it. However for the more serious players this is probably the worst design to play with. Its main annoyances are the space buttons. These are the Start/Select buttons and the D-pad. The D-pad is raised out slightly from the case and it’s very easy to press this with the bottom of your hand. The d-pad is another button for the strum bar so this can easily mess up your combo. Then you have the Select button. This button will activate your star power should you not want to tilt the guitar, but it’s pretty much impossible to press a button which is smaller than a 5 pence coin and out of reach when you’re trying to shred. Then you have the motion sensor in the guitar. To trigger star power you have to tilt the guitar up but it won’t activate till you get to a certain point which is slightly too high. When trying to hit notes, franticly lifting the guitar up is not something you want to be doing. With all the bad points aside the guitar is useable. You get a good amount of cable length and it doesn’t distract you or limit any fun you’re going to have.
Really what it’s all about is the tracks. The music that is going to make you want to play the game and to keep playing it for days. Guitar Hero II consists of 74 tracks. All the ones from the PS2 version plus 10 new ones. So only on the 360 version are you going to be able to jam along to songs from Iron Maiden, Pearl Jam and Primus, just to name a few. A lot of the tracks are covers done by the Guitar Hero team. Some of them you wouldn’t think were covers as they sound spot on but there are some tracks where the vocals are a little off. Then you have the master tracks recorded by the original bands. My Chemical Romances’ “Dead”, Bucketheads’ “Jordan”, Toadies' "Possum Kingdom", these are great to play and make the Xbox 360 version all that more exclusive.
There are 4 difficulties to choose from in Career. Easy, medium, hard and expert. My first choice was to go for medium as I don’t normally suck at games. Sadly it got a little too hard and I had to step it down to easy. The difficulties not only change how many notes in the song but also how many frets you will use. Easy only makes use of the first 3 frets, medium uses 4 and hard and expert use all 5. This is great way to slowly get you progressing up through the difficulties. When you have selected a difficulty you will be shown the set list. At first you will only be able to select from 5 different tracks and as you complete them you will unlock the next set and so on. After you have completed the last track in the set the crowd will chant for an encore and you get the chance to play a legendary song. When you complete a set you unlock a new venue to play at. Complete a song and you are rewarded with money which can be spent at the store. Here you can purchase bonus songs, characters, outfits, guitars and guitar designs.
With Xbox Live you can now show the world your shredding skills with the leaderboards. You can find out how well you are doing on a song against everyone else or just your friends. It’s such a simple thing but brings the community that extra bit closer. Also available are downloadable song packs. There are three songs in a pack and it will set you back 500 points - a bit steep to say the least. What you won’t find in Guitar Hero II however is Xbox Live multiplayer. The only way to play with your friends is if they play on your 360. What they probably won’t have with them is an extra guitar controller and Harmonix for some reason feel there is no need to make the guitar controller available for purchase on its own. So I haven’t been able to try multiplayer with a friend as no one wants to play without the guitar. [Plus you don't have any friends -Ed] Without the guitar, GH is nothing more than a rhythm game. There are 2 multiplayer modes to choose from. The first “Face Off” allows you and a friend to play the same note list. Great for finding out who the true master is. The other is co-operative play which gives you and your friend different parts of the song to play. Your friend can play lead while you play bass. Both of you need to work together to keep that combo going because the one who screws up is going to get taunted.
While Guitar Hero II is in essence a port of the PS2 version it has been given a complete graphics make over. It’s hard to look at anything else than the fret board in the game but if a friend is playing it gives you the chance to take a look at what’s going on. You will see your selected character jamming away playing exactly as a real guitarist would on your chosen guitar. Every character is synchronised with the music. The singer, bass, drummer, even the speaker’s move to the beats in the music. The lighting changes with the different moods in the song. Soft lighting when it’s calm to flashing strobes for those manic parts. You’re not going to be looking at stunning realistic visuals but the cartoony style and bright wacky colours fit the game perfectly.
For a first time Guitar Hero player I really enjoyed it and it's well worth the price. I’m not too sure if the extra tracks will persuade PS2 owners to buy it. With downloadable songs costing more than what was expected it might be better to wait out for GH3. If you're new to GH then this is a must buy. The only fault with it is no Xbox live multiplayer and the slightly careless controller design. With achievements which will be impossible for some to get 1000/1000 it can get you hooked playing for hours. I can’t wait to see what GH3 will bring.
Originally Written By: Toby Bodman