Guitar Hero II Review

Being the first Guitar Hero product to be ported from the series’ PS2 roots, Guitar Hero II for Xbox 360 had a lot to live up to. The expectations were reasonable. Namely, good songs and can’t-put-it-down, megaton addictive gameplay. In many ways, the game delivers the goods: a massive catalog of songs (about 80 altogether), a (mostly) reliable controller, and a bump-up in the visuals department. In its basic form — for Xbox owners who may have never touched the first game — GHII represents one of the most fun ways to play with electricity.

For sure, noobs are gonna go gaga. You can’t deny the kind of party-game appeal that something like this offers. Many a drink will be spilled in tribute to the old fashion of passing the controller around the room, and there’s no doubt that every friend you have will want to step up to the plate sooner or later. Even gun-shy non-gamers want to rock out with their… socks out, and Guitar Hero is — seriously — the best way to play air guitar ever conceived. It’s only a coincidence that it just so happens to be the most fun rhythm game ever made.

Building upon the foundations laid down by the out-of-left-field success of the original, enhancements and additions are mostly found in the song selection and options. Sure, tweaks are present in the form of easier hammer-ons and pull-offs (the ability to hit close, successive notes without strumming) and nifty new visuals, but really, it’s the choice of tracks and stellar co-op that make this a whole new game. While the first game stuck to a pretty rigid and verbose style of rock, the sequel dabbles in just about everything. The final songs in the game truly feel like "bosses" — big, big songs that require true rock finesse. Along the way to the big finale, you’ll face a solid selection of monsters from all eras of rock’s illustrious history: "Crazy on You" by Heart, "Carry On, Wayward Son" by Kansas, "John the Fisherman" by Primus, "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath, "Miserlou" by Dick Dale, "Mother" by Danzig, "Hangar 18" by Megadeth, "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Carry Me Home" by The Living End, "Jessica" by The Allman Brothers, "Tattooed Love Boys" by The Pretenders… the list is just huge.

For 360 owners, it gets even bigger. Nine new songs were added since the game’s PS2 release back in November, and most hit their mark; Iron Maiden’s "The Trooper" and Toadies’ "Possum Kingdom" fit right in with the current stable. Some are questionable: the decision to include Pearl Jam’s "Life Wasted" over any of their previous hits reeks of poor judgment. The ability for additional downloadable content is also present to potentially bolster the amount of playables. And even the worst songs available ("Surrender" by Cheap Trick, "Strutter" by Kiss, "Woman" by Wolfmother) are fun as hell in the awesome, awesome co-op mode. Two guitar controllers — literally, though pun is slightly intended — make this game twice as fun. Bass and rhythm sections are available for the entire playlist, making for a neat (though very PlaySkool) way to taste what it’s like to play in a real band. Good stuff.

Not everything is all devil horns, though. The game’s biggest problem (in relation to the original game) is the occasionally weak covers. Due to licensing and whatnot, Harmonix had to re-record imitation versions of the game’s songs, and at times they fall flat. Nirvana’s "Heart-Shaped Box" suffers the worst; Kurt Cobain’s voice is completely butchered while a new, decidedly un-Nirvana solo section is arbitrarily stapled on for gameplay purposes. For any Nirvana fan, it’s kind of disappointing to hear their song bleed from the gills like this. Heart’s "Crazy On You" suffers a similar fate. Instead of being a close resemblance, the vocals come off as a cheap imitation, almost deflating the entire song around it. Let’s not even get into the censoring of Rage Against The Machine’s "Killing In The Name Of." Surely, the game is about the guitar. But it’s just as much about the culture, and if you can’t include the culture in its entirety — swear words and all — it’s hard to think of this stuff as anything but caricature.

But I digress. Despite these warts, the game around it is worth the steep price of admission. $90 is a lot of money — $20 more than the already pricey PS2 version — but it’ll buy you a boatload of gameplay if you love good guitar-driven rock music. If you’re a fan of the first game, there’s a lot to love here (especially the Achievements — good luck beating Buckethead’s "Jordan" on Expert difficulty, hands down the hardest — and coolest — song in the game). Guitar Hero II makes a fantastic addition to the 360 library, easily sidestepping and accompanying all those shooters in your collection. Dig it.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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