he fact that Guitar Hero II is headed your way as one of the finest music-based video games in history shouldn’t come as a surprise – particularly if you’ve ever tried the first one. With the simple button presses of that little toy guitar controller, the first installment managed to make more people graduate up from air guitar than anyone might have imagined possible. With such a tremendous success under its belt, Red Octane and Harmonix together set out to take the next logical steps. Guitar Hero II is bigger and badder than its predecessor in every way. But is it better?
In everything related to gameplay itself, the answer is yes. Individual guitar lines in the career mode feel even better than before, and the wailing solos and tricky riffs are all the more satisfying to nail thanks to some awesome note layouts and little additions like three note chords. The excellently designed practice mode offers exactly what the first game didn’t – a chance to hone your skills at multiple speeds and starting from anywhere in any song. Most importantly, the new cooperative duet mode is the clear star of the performance. You’re honestly doing yourself a disservice to buy the game and not get a hold of a second rig. With independent lines for lead and rhythm or bass guitar, there’s a genuine sense of teamwork unrivaled in any games except the best cooperative shooters.
So is the music as much improved as the gameplay? That’s a harder question to answer, and depends largely on what you like. Certainly there’s a lot more music – 64 tracks should keep you busy for months. However, I’m not sure the hype machine behind this game has convinced me that the track listings are altogether better than before. While some huge bands are represented, in many cases it is with individual songs that are lesser-known titles – a fact that could be good or bad depending on your musical tastes. While I’m all for introducing new music to the masses, I think the game could have been served by a few more familiar toe-tappers thrown in the mix.
It’s an issue that serious players are almost certainly not going to mind, since the music that is here (well-known or not) is excellent and implemented into the game so well. It’s so good, in fact, that there are few gamers I wouldn’t suggest this to, if only for how great of a tool it is to evangelize gaming to friends and family. The high cost of admission is most certainly worth it – this is a show you don’t want to miss.