My arms are killing me. After picking up Guitar Hero 2 last night I played a five-hour session on hard, and now my body is getting its revenge. Guitar Hero 2 isn't much of a leap from the Guitar Hero 1, the graphics are on about the same level, the guitar still works the same way, and game play has not really changed from what you saw in the first game. Why it's a great game—and it is a great game—is that the developershave tweaked everything that bothered people in the first title; a bunch of little additions make the game truly shine. If you thought Guitar Hero was addicting… well, then don't buy this. You simply won't get much done.
First, hammer-ons and pull-offs feel much more forgiving. It doesn't seem like they dummied down the difficulty, but stretching the time you can hit them by a tiny amountmakes the system much less frustrating. Second, the ability to track detailed stats for each song, and also each section of each song, means you can zero into where you need to practice to get the big points. By the way, there is also a practice mode where you can try each section on its own, over and over, while speeding up or slowing down the tempo to make sure you can get it nailed. Awesome. If you were upset about your DLP HDTV lagging on the first game, you can actually adjust lag in options this time around. Hallelujah.
You can play head-to-head against a friend the same way you could in the first game, or you can play Pro Face-Off which gives you both the exact same notes so no one can complain about the differences between each side of the screen. This is great for those of us who didn't much enjoy multiplayer in the first game, as trading off notes could be a frustrating experience when it didn't match up with what we were used to playing.
The real fun is going to be had in co-op, though, where you are playing with a friend, not against them. They also have added different lines for each songs, so one person will be playing lead, the other will play bass. Another option is lead and rhythm guitar. This gives each song a much different character in co-op, and it's a blast to try to beat your own high scores while working with someone else. You even need to use Star Power at the same time. The bass lines are a little on the easy side, even on the higher levels, but they are certainly a blast to play. Bass just makes you feel cool—as if you didn't feel awesome already while flailing around on a plastic guitar.
The song list is great, but some songs are certainly better than others. Most of them are passable, some are excellent, and others… well, they are terrible. Killing in the Name Of has been edited, and the vocals are embarassing. Heart Shaped Box is fun on guitar, but whoever is trying to emulate Kurt Cobain needs to be shot. Them Bones also has some questionable vocals, but who the hell can sing like Layne Staley? This is made better by spot-on songs like Strutter, Tattooed Love Boys, and Girlfriend. Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet in particular is one of my new favorite songs. It's not hard, but it has a great feel to it, and every time I play it I get a big smile on my face. Trogdor will also give you aching arms, but for all the right reasons.
The animations, venues, and characters have all been updated as well. The game is still funny as hell, and the sequel makes it easier to pick up and play, more friendly for multiplayer, and the song list is hard to find issue with. There are a few nits I could pick, but overall this is one of the strongest games of the year. If you liked the first one, this is a no-brainer. If you've been wondering what the buzz is about, this is a good place to start.
Have you played it yet? What are your favorite songs? Least favorite? Let's hear it!
Status: Buy, along with a second guitar
Price: $49.99 game, $79.99 with red guitar
Publisher and Developer: Red Octane
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