Guitar Hero II Apr 15, 2007 17:36:37 GMT 6
Post by ΨBarnacleBrainBrantΨ on Apr 15, 2007 17:36:37 GMT 6
Microsoft is eroding Sony's collection of exclusives at an alarming rate, and this week one of the biggest hits arrives on the 360: Guitar Hero II finally reaches the next generation. And while we're sad to be saddled with a wired controller, the other changes are pure gold: better graphics, ten new songs, online leaderboards and the promise of a steady stream of downloadable content. Even as we wait for that online content to materialize, this edition of Guitar Hero II is a chart-topper.
Those who've spent the past eighteen months under a rock might need a Guitar Hero primer. Tweaking the basic rhythm game premise, the Harmonix hit lets you play along with famous (and some not so famous) rock and metal songs. The difference is the fantastic guitar controller, fitted with five fret buttons, a strum bar and whammy bar. Hold the fret buttons and strum to correspond with a cascade of onscreen colored prompts; shake the whammy bar to build extra star power, which can help you out when the going gets tough.
First off, let's investigate the new guitar. Modeled on Gibson's famous Explorer, this hardware is a generally well-designed piece of kit with a few small flaws. The neck is narrower than any other Red Octane guitar, and the fret buttons noticeably easier to press. It's light and comfortable, despite the odd shape. But the whammy bar isn't optimally placed, and the start buttons and d-pad will be easy for some users to hit accidentally. Even so, the adjustment curve is slight, and as soon as there's a wireless version we'll stop complaining.
For many, the ten new songs will be more of a draw than any hardware or graphic alterations. Encompassing some fun ('Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo' by Rick Derringer) and some puzzling (Rancid's lame 'Salvation') there's probably something here for everyone. The Toadies ('Possum Kingdom') and My Chemical Romance ('Dead') offer original master tracks, as do two unsigned bands in the bonus section. The other six offerings are generally solid covers, though we were a bit let down by the vocal attempt on Iron Maiden's 'The Trooper'.
Most of the other changes are purely cosmetic, but all are for the better. The graphics are noticeably more smooth and detailed. Every venue has additional lighting effects and additions to the environment that add entertainment for those players able to tear their eyes away from the crawl of notes. Those notes are easier to see than ever before, especially on an HDTV, which is a boon to players (like us) with eyes that water madly when confronted with expert level difficulty.
The song order has been reworked, as well, so that tracks once found earlier or later in the career progression have been moved around. There are still a few songs that seem slightly misplaced, but some of the weird difficulty progression from the original GH2 release has been fixed. The Sword's 'Freya' is no less irritating when it breaks into that extended middle riff sequence, however.
If the basic career progression and star ratings weren't enough to drive you to perfection, online leaderboards and (of course) achievements have been put into action. We've only seen the leaderboards in action on Microsoft's internal network (where we were ranked #6 overall!) but that's enough to know that the basic functions work just fine. There aren't many frills to the online presentation, but that's to be expected, given the game's generally low-key menus. And the fifty achievements will keep you playing long after you've five-starred every song on expert.
The big question mark is downloadable content. Activision has promised loads of it, but what form it will take remains a mystery. We assume that more songs, characters, guitars and skins could appear, but the rate of release and pricing will be revealed later.
Suffice to say that with the addition of even a handful of decent songs online, this edition of Guitar Hero II will become the definitive one. Even without a massive collection of exclusive content, this is an improvement (if a slight one) over the five-star PS2 original, which is all 360 owners need to know.