words: Heather Campbell
Let’s face it. Most of us were getting tired of Rhythm Action Games. By the time Dance Dance Revolution Final Mix Universe Saga the Fifth Stage Ultimate Beat Drum Drum had come out, we had already heard enough of the genre to live out the rest of our lives on mute. We’d beaten enough Donkey Konga, we’d hopped on enough glowing arrows, we’d shaken our asses till they were sore. Some of us were desperate for the Silence Inaction Game, where the screen was an infinite scrolling barren line with no shimmering moguls in site. A game where you watched white noise and didn’t tap/dance/jump in time to anything. We thought we needed a break. We were wrong.
When Guitar Hero came out this time last year, it was immediately cool to press buttons to music again. Taking a cue from Konami’s Guitar Freaks, Guitar Hero improved on the formula until it felt new. A whole new group of gamers pulled out their plastic guitars and fell in love with the candy colored frets. We wailed, we soared, and sometimes, we sang along in secret.
So, it’s a year later, and the champions at Harmonix have heard our suggestions, and have presented us with another round of awesome. Once more, nerds in their bathrobes can engage the culture of cool. The name Guitar Hero could not be more appropriate; John Tam, executive producer of the game, is a hero indeed. We can pretend to be the violent, wild, raw rock gods that everyone, everywhere, wants to be … even if your mastery of the SG is limited to easy mode.
What’s changed? What’s better? For starters, there are now three styles of guitar-play ready for us wanna-be jam members; Lead, Rhythm and Bass. Two players can cut chords cooperatively or competitively, sharing the song or having a synchronized battle of the bands. When assuming the identity of a Guitar Hero, gamers now have a choice between eight returning idols or three new ones. And in an optimistic take on the music industry, bands work their way up from high school gym stages to massive, sold out arenas.
And what a thrill it is, the first time the camera pans down from hanging stage lights to your adrenaline-filled, sweat-stained avatar. The lights dim, and the pressure is on. Never before have I felt so terrible screwing up as I do during GH2. It’s stressful to miss notes in your favorite songs; not only are you letting down your virtual (or very tangible) audience, but you’re betraying the memory of the melody. Missing a note in Sweet Child ‘O Mine is blasphemy, and you’re the one taking the song’s name in vain. Skip a step in DDR, and you’re just breaking a combo. Stutter a lick in GH2, and you’ve ruined rock itself.
Thankfully, the learning curve in Hero 2 is gentle, and even beginners can shred through a chart-topper with just a little practice. Building on a steady set foundation, fret-gnashing gamers can pull of solid, satisfying songs in little-to-no time.
Speaking of great songs, Guitar Hero 2 has a lot of them. Sixty-four tracks grace this rock compilation, and everyone has a different favorite. From Nirvana to Van Halen, The Police to Rage Against the Machine, we all have something to play at the party. Even the guy you know who really likes Rush.
There are some players who will be disappointed at the near-identical execution that Guitar Hero 2 shares with its predecessor. Other than slight changes to chord mechanics that only obsessive-compulsives will notice, this is the same game with more features. Your old guitar even works with the title.
Usually, these similarities would be a disappointment. Here, they’re welcome. Guitar Hero was a critical and commercial success. Rather than muck the formula, Harmonix has branched out to provide more gameplay. Great! What a workout you’ll give the game, and your SG Guitar. True, you can slow down the speed of the hardest sections of songs in Practice Mode, but it seems more fun to struggle at the bottleneck of your inabilities until finally you find the zone and chainsaw through a previously impossible solo. Master the most ferocious combos, and you’ll find yourself standing up in your living room, cheering till your cat hides under the couch.
Still, I can’t stress it enough: You’ll hate yourself every time you stumble in Guitar Hero 2. It’s not like missing a jump in Sonic; no one is disappointed when you restart Green Hill Zone. But when you have to reset a song in GH2, you can feel the smoky disgust of Perry Farrell like ash on the back of your neck.