OK, so Guitar Hero 2 has come out, about a year after the original (only half a year if you live in Europe, because they actually realised that we too like the combination of good video games and good rock'n roll music), so naturally, this would be one sequel where you wouldn't excpect much change to the main formula, but with minor tweaks and improvements all over. So let's just go through that checklist first:
* Practice mode: Check.
* More multiplayer modes: Check
* More guitars and characters: Check
* More songs: Check
* More stadiums, with improved eye-snacks (for those able to see it while the song's played): Check
* Higher skill level: Check.
* More references to certain classic rock phenomena: Check
* More drummer jokes: Check
Yeah, I'd wish for a more fleshed out game (see my GH1 review), but I wasn't expecting it when the game was made and released so soon after the first one. So, I think it's safe to say that so far, nobody's really disappointed, because they pretty much knew (or at least should know, if they have any idea how video games are made) what they got here. In other words, the name of the game is still guitar simulation, and lots of it. So, that brings us to the important part: The setlist.
And this is where it falls down quite a few notches from Guitar Hero 1. Now, I'm the first to admit I'm not really the best at at classifying a song into a genre (partially because nobody can agree on how to define them, partially because they are arbitrary in the first place and thus shouldn't be relied too much upon), but the problem with this year's set list is that overall, the music is much angrier than in the first game.
Sure, there are exceptions. From Spinal Tap's "Tonight I'm gonna Rock you" (complete with yet more references to that documentary), to the powerful power ballad "Carry on Wayward Son", the nice and strange-mooded "Crazy on You", the complete take-by-surprise "Jessica", and not the least the ooooold Misirlou. I mean, knew it was old, but from the 1920s?!? Still, it makes a good (and difficult as three hells on Expert) addition to the setlist.
But like I said, those are exceptions. In the first game, you basically had good, pure party rock. Fun stuff. Not taking itself so seriously. The angry stuff - like Unsung, and Cowboys From Hell - appeared in limited doses, and thus it was easier to tolerate. Plus, even they sounded a bit more upbeat because of the company they were in. THis time, it's the other way around, with all the angry songs taking center stage, thus making the fun factor on even the good songs diminished.
What went wrong? Well, possibly it was as simple as the game creators wanting it to be harder and angrier this time around. But another possibility was the damn game reviewers. For some reason - possibly because there was so little to complain about otherwise - they all chose to pick on Sum41 in the first game (at least Game Revolution's Russ Fischer aknowledged it was a fun song to play, just that the band wasn't, I don't know, famous enough or something). Now, let me tell you, I think their song was much, much, much more in the spirit of Guitar Hero than most songs in GH2. It was fun, it was rocking, it wasn't taking itself seriously. Just as the game itself should. While in GH2, we get "Killing in the name of" by Rage Against The Machine.
Now, my main gripe with this song isn't the rendition. Since it's a cover, the singing
vocals are a bit different, but as far as I can tell, it's not really that much worse than the original (because, when all's said and done, the original singing
vocals wasn't better than karaoke quality to start with). The problem is that this song shouldn't even have been considered being in this game at all. Yes, it was apparently used as party music back in the days in the mainstream nightclubs, for reasons I will never fathom. The same clubs who would then immediately play Spice Girls or something like that. It's a horrible song, and maybe people are complaining because they are finally starting to hear it now that they've grown up a bit... One can always hope.
Not to mention that as a gameplay song, it's -incredibly-
boring to play. Seriously, that kind of mindless chord repetition is just what this game doesn't need at all. Only on Expert does it become anything resembling a challenge, and that's only if you want a 5-star review. Otherwise you'll just surf through it once and never, ever play it again.
Anyway, that's the worst of the bunch, but as I said, it's a re-occuring problem throughout much of the setlist and not the least the bonus songs. Angry stuff that's often got a boring element repeating far too much. Or having too long breaks, such as Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". Two short chords, wait, wait, wait, two short chords, wait, wait, wait is not what I expected from GH2, but that's what they gave me. Why?
Musical selection aside, there's also more audio problems this time around. The guitar volume can suddenly get much lower, then higher again for no good reason. The guitar/rest of the band comparative volume is also not always consistent, meaning I'll have to tweak with the audio settings from one song to another to get the most out of them. That can be pretty annoying.
As with the last time, the vocals can be a bit up and down. Missing out that particular rusty quality of Kurt Cobain, but on the other hand nailing Axl Rose (I didn't know it was possible to sound even remotely like him). Like the first game, it's not generally disturbing ( with a few exceptions), but then again, several of the songs I've never heard before, so what do I know. And if it is, just put the guitar volume up, since you've already gotten used to doing that by now.
While, as I said in the opening, the gameplay hasn't changed significantly, there is one thing worth to mention: Encores. Instead of choosing 5 songs at a time, you now choose 4 songs, and when you've beaten them, the audience will demand an encore, which means the 5th song on the set. Now, I didn't really get the point at first, but as you play through the different locations, you'll get to understand it a bit better (basically, it's about giving each stage a bit more oomph)... Although it's not until the final song you really understand it... All the other encores were really just the set-up for this one, final song. If you haven't read the set-list (or forgotten about it), I urge you to keep it that way until that point. It'll be worth it. And it'll seriously rock.
Multiplayer modes are naturally improved, and the main thing is that now it's possible for a pro to play an amateur thanks to either the co-op play where bass guitars and rhythm guitars allow for an easy introduction to the game, or you can play one of the competition modes, which has separate difficulty settings. And if you have two pros (or amateurs), then you can now both play the complete and full song to really determine who's best. Something for everyone!
As in the first game, you also get to buy a lot of stuff. Guitars, guitar finishes, songs, characters, and also character outfits. New this time is that whatever you buy carries over to all the other difficulty settings (except Easy). This is a good idea in theory, but it has a certain drawback: You'll need to play through Medium. Now, for someone new to this game, that's not a problem, but the majority of the players will already have worn out their fingers on the first game, and for those of us who belong in that category, Medium is BO-RING (especially the repetitive songs). Not to mention if you're an obsessive-compulsive gamer, discovering that some guitars needs to be unlocked by playing through Easy (isn't the basis idea of unlocking stuff that you must do something difficult to acquire it?)... Trust me, it's not worth it. Just leave those two guitars unlocked. Suffer through Medium if you must, but only in small doses, 1-2 song each time you play. At least you should get 5 stars on them all on 1st attempt.
Once you get back to Hard and Expert, you'll find that the difficulty setting's been ramped up a notch from the first game, so it's a good thing the hammer-ons and pull-offs are also improved. This is just as expected, but you'll also find that the songs can be more randomly spread around this time in this regard. I expect to find the easiest songs on the first stage, but when I first tried the 1st set song "Woman" on Expert, I actually failed! Heck, I still only have a 3-star review on that on Hard. Whereas "Cherry Pie" on the 4th set netted me a 4-star on the first attempt on both Hard and Expert. Those two could have switched places easily, and there are more examples of this kind of thing happening. It's not a make-or-break thing by far, but it's still slightly annoying to have to struggle through one song early, then go through the next 16 or so - who should be more difficult - with ease. Or perhaps I just suck at the fast guitar solos and using the hammer-ons and pull-offs...
In any case, the last few complaints are fairly minor ones compared to the big one about the setlist. Now, to be fair, once you find the good songs and stick to them, you'll still have plenty of good times happening in your living room. And you're certainly going to have to improve your skills, because man, some of those songs are killers . But if you're looking for a game full of upbeat rock suitable to make a good party out of, then you'll probably be disappointed. Unless your idea of a party is to have lots of angry music. But if it is, then you're probably one of those that don't like this game's cover of "Killing in the Name Of", so that means this game is mainly for the skill-testing. It mostly does this very well indeed (especially once you get to the three last setlists), but the price we're paying is less of a party game with rock'n roll that's just fun to listen to while playing. Possibly thanks to those bloody goddamn game reviewers whining about Sum41. The morons.