tiistai 1. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Guitar Hero II (2006)

GENRE(S): Rhythm
RELEASED: November 2006
DEVELOPER(S): Harmonix Music Systems
PUBLISHER(S): RedOctane, Activision

Guitar Hero was a sleeper hit if there ever was one, but it was its first sequel that propelled the franchise deep into the heart of the mainstream, to be the laughing stock of real musicians and other stiffs most of which who never even tried the game themselves, and pretty much the favourite party activity of others - besides drinking. Guitar Hero II is still one of the strongest games in the series - it shows great progress from its predecessor in many areas, from the single- to multiplayer, and it features an extremely solid setlist guaranteed to please everyone even moreso than the first game.

"Free Bird" will peck your eyes out

I have nothing that essential to say about the game on a personal level except that it - in theory - probably has my favourite retail tracklist out of all games in the series, counting out Metallica, of course. There are a few total misses, but a lot more hits. I got Guitar Hero II long after I got Legends of Rock, and my friends were asking me why. I thought to myself, kind of in a fit of regret, that I did it for the tracklist alone, it seemed so awesome, but then I figured: hey, in Guitar Hero, what else do I really need to have a hell of a ride? Well, good gameplay mechanics. Guitar Hero II has those as well. Though it might not seem that way, Guitar Hero II is a quite impressive leap forward from the first game.

Star Power from the skies.
The graphics are almost exactly the same, though. The progressive scan is a little sharper, the animation in general is a bit better (your vocalist even moves his mouth this time), and the notes do not look quite as flat, you don't have to really focus and keep your head tilted slightly sideways to make them out. Which is good, 'cause there are a whole lot more of killer riffs that throw notes at you at an extremely rapid, tight and precise rhythm. It's still quite ugly all around, but what the game looks like is quite irrelevant.

What the game sounds like is most important, and it sounds very good. There are 40 songs on the main tracklist, two of which are master recordings, and the rest are covers, once again done by WaveGroup Sound, and I must say they paid way much more attention on making the songs sound as real as they could. However, there is one cover that is downright horrible, and that is "Killing in the Name" made famous by Rage Against the Machine. Why include a song like that if you must be wary of the use of expletives? The vocalist sounds absolutely horrible and the way they replaced the expletives with some random, clean outbursts sounds corny and out of place. To not overtly criticize WGS, I must say they did a great job on "Institutionalized" by Suicidal Tendencies; I thought no one could ever duplicate the song. The two master recordings are contributed by Primus, and perhaps the most overrated piece of shit band in rock history (besides Nine Inch Nails), Jane's Addiction. I guess Perry Farrell's out for some pity points and driven by the assumption his band would still have some decent commercial standing in the world. What else do we have here? Thin Lizzy, Alice in Chains, Guns 'n Roses, Mötley Crüe, The Police, Anthrax, Danzig, Kiss, Allman Brothers, Heart, The Rolling Stones, Cheap Trick, Iggy Pop, Stray Cats, Wolfmother, some more Sabbath and Megadeth, even Lamb of God, and finally, Lynyrd Skynyrd, with a song you could've never imagined trampling on your dreams and making you cry out of not just sorrow and/or heartache, but physical pain and terror. There is something for everyone, for sure.

The bonus tracks are of slightly better quality than the ones in the previous game, and not just because there are multiple bands and artists I already knew before playing the game. Most of the bands on the list still consist of Harmonix employees, but there's also a song by The Last Vegas - winners of a band contest held by Harmonix - "Jordan", a famously tricky contribution by Buckethead himself, "Six" by All That Remains, "The Light That Blinds" by Shadows Fall, "X-Stream" by Voivod, and finally, the almighty "Thunderhorse" by the one and only Dethklok. "Thunderhorse" is honestly one of my favourite songs to play in Guitar Hero history, but only on Hard - the Expert version kills, and not in a good way.

Easy as pie? Wait 'til you see "Jordan".
The goal of the game - to leave your past life as a lowly garage rocker to be a rock god - hasn't changed one bit, although it's artificially modified to make your virtual band feel a little more alive - Harmonix did it by adding consciously generic cutscenes in which your tour bus travels from one venue to another, and hiding the final song on each of your setlists until you've finished all of the other four, to serve as an encore. They're very often the best songs in the whole game, so waiting to see what they are adds to the excitement in a slight, but cool and rewarding way.

Every main feature of the Career Mode is still intact, there's no more or no less. The Store has went through some clean-up to include as lot of new stuff as possible, so a lot of the unlockable extras from the first game are moved to be at the player's disposal from the beginning. Aside from the remarkably well considered tracklist - disregarding the few bad apples here just 'cause I'm such a nice guy - the improved gameplay mechanics are what make this game so good. The guitar controller's motion detector used to trigger Star Power is more responsive, as is the strum, AND most importantly as far as I'm concerned, the hammer-ons and pull-offs actually work, which means that you can actually rip those tricky-looking solos apart by utilizing advanced techniques - it's still extremely hard, but at least it's certainly possible. The HO/PO notes are easier to spot than before, too.

There are two new multiplayer modes to accompany the traditional one, which is now renamed Face-Off. In that mode, you can face off against a friend in any song, and you can both choose your difficulty levels. Playing on Expert and doing fine does not guarantee victory over a player playing on Easy and doing great, which makes this kind of a sensical, but uninteresting mode. Pro Face-Off is more like it; it's the same thing, but you're both playing on the same difficulty level. Co-operative is fun, and semi-self-explanatory. You can take any unlocked song and play it with a friend instead of against him, with the other player on lead guitar and the other one on bass - or, depending on the song, rhythm guitar. This was the first step of Guitar Hero becoming a true band simulator than just a party game exclusively revolving around a toy guitar.

That is one mean looking axe.
So, it's an updated version of Guitar Hero - works for me! Seriously, it truly does after all these years; it poses the kind of challenge Guitar Hero never came even close to providing. Sure, "Frankenstein", "Cowboys from Hell" and "Bark at the Moon" were difficult songs, but Guitar Hero II features so much more difficult songs, and they're actually scattered all the way from the middle of the game right up 'til the end, and not just clamped in one in the final set. Rapid strumming and chords composed of three different notes are standard for an Expert song from an early point on. Star Power isn't as effective as it used to be. This game makes you fight for your prize, and going at it on Expert is pretty much your funeral. You've all heard of "Through the Fire and Flames" in Guitar Hero III, and while it still stands as the most difficult song in Guitar Hero history, Guitar Hero II has a tank full of songs that are not to be taken lightly, all the way from the exhausting passages of "Freya", to the non-stop burns of "Rock This Town" and "Psychobilly Freakout" to the final solos of "Free Bird". Of course, you can also go to the Store to unlock "Jordan" for your warm-up sessions any time. Giving Microsoft ten more songs for their Xbox 360 port was a bad move by Harmonix when it comes to the lifespan of Guitar Hero II on the PS2, but we're still talking about a very impressive period of time; most of the songs are so great you just don't want to let go until you've nailed five stars from each of them, on the difficulty level that matches your skill (or will).

Guitar Hero was a game. Guitar Hero II was the start of a global phenomenon, one that perhaps came and went, but definitely left a mark. All of the most important features of a classic rhythm game are in place, and although the final game in the "original trilogy" went and hit the ultimate jackpot despite being developed by the wrong company, I will never forget the effort Harmonix made with Guitar Hero II. It's just great, a defining moment in rhythm game history.

SOUND : 9.2


GameRankings: 91.95% (PS2), 92.29% (X360)

The Xbox 360 retail has ten more songs than the original PlayStation 2 game. Eight of them are on the main setlist, while two are additional bonus tracks. They are - in order of appearance - "Possum Kingdom" by Toadies, "Salvation" by Rancid, "Life Wasted" by Pearl Jam, "Billion Dollar Babies" by Alice Cooper, "Hush" by Deep Purple, "Rock and Roll, Hoochi Koo" by Rick Derringer, "Dead!" by My Chemical Romance (master recording), "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden, "Drink Up" by Ounce of Self and "Kicked to the Curb" by Noble Rot.

The Xbox 360 version also has the benefit of downloadable content. 24 downloadable songs have been released for the game; half of them are songs from the first game, which was only released on the PlayStation 2.

An "expansion" to Guitar Hero II, exclusive to the PlayStation 2, entitled Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s (better known in the U.S. as Guitar Hero Encore) was released in 2007.

"Jordan" was only played live by Buckethead prior to its inclusion in Guitar Hero II. The song's studio version remained exclusive to the game until the summer of 2009, when it was released on iTunes.

The memorable South Park episode entitled "Guitar Queer-O" (Season 11, Episode 13) was inspired by the popularity of Guitar Hero II. The episode features a fictional version of the game (referred to as just Guitar Hero), and some of the songs in it, including "Carry on Wayward Son", "Jordan" and of course, "John the Fisherman" by Primus, who perform the show's theme song. The episode premiered in the U.S. less than two weeks after the release of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

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