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Guitar Hero II Preview

Joe_Dodson By:
T Contains Lyrics

What do these ratings mean?

Music for the masses.

Last year, Guitar Hero came out of nowhere and quite literally r0x0red our b0x0rs. For weeks we forgot about X buttons, thumb nubs and aggro orcs to focus on hammer-ons, pull-offs and whammy bars all while tapping our feet and biting our lower lips to forgotten favorites like “Cowboys From Hell” and new sensations like “No One Knows.” But geeks and kids weren’t the only ones to discover the joys of virtual music; everybody seemed to like Guitar Hero.

And almost all who played had ideas about songs they’d like to see, er, hear in the future. Well, according to the developers we talked to at E3, the future will arrive this November in the form of Guitar Hero 2. From what we saw, Harmonix isn’t trying to reinvent the rhythm game, instead adding some new practice options, new cooperative content, and a reported fifty-five new songs to avoid the sophomore slump.

click to enlargeWe played a handful of the new tunes, including covers of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” Rush’s “YYZ,” The Butthole Surfers’ “Who Was In My Room Last Night,” Reverend Horton Heat’s “Psychobilly Freakout,” Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me,” and KISS’ “Strutter.” We were also shocked and pleased to see an original Primus song, “John The Fisherman,” on the list. As in, not sound-alikes, but the actual track from the Frizzle Fry album. This marks an important step forward for the series, as it could potentially open the door to more fully-licensed material.

In terms of how they played, “You Really Got Me” and “War Pigs” were relatively easy to dive right into, but “YYZ” features a rhythm unlike anything we saw in the original. “Psychobilly Freakout” on hard made “Bark At The Moon” on expert seem like cake. This game will test your mettle and your metal.

Some new practice options have been included to ensure you pass with flying colors. Desperately missing from the original, these will allow you to isolate any run in any song you want and practice it to the exclusion of all else. You won’t have to waste time playing through three minutes of stuff you’ve already conquered just to practice the hard parts anymore. Screw the strumming and get to the solo!

If you think practice is for pansies, think again. Guitar Hero 2 will feature three-note chords for some seriously diabolical sequences and solos. Still, the game will be just as accessible as ever, even during cooperative play. In Guitar Hero 2, you and another player will be able to play different parts of a given song, such as one on lead guitar and one on rhythm or bass. Each player can choose their own difficulty, so an unskilled player won’t ruin the game for a pro, nor will the pro have to play down to his partner. Your Satriani skills will not be ruined by your buddy’s garage band sloppiness.

click to enlargeHowever, both will share the same Star Power meter and the same Rock meter, so if one player completely blows it, the curtain will fall on both. On the flip side, players will have to coordinate when to use Star Power, as both must rock their axes back at the same time to activate it. This presents an interesting situation in that one player has to somehow give the other a cue without either taking their eyes off the incoming strings of notes. This is invariably solved by one player screaming “Star power! Star Power!” at the other, which leads to the revelation that “Star power!” is just a fun thing to yell in general. Then you both rock back, point to Valhalla and pray no one is secretly recording you.

Alas, Guitar Hero 2 will not feature a freestyle mode, as its developers said the PS2 just couldn’t handle that much attitude. Certainly a bummer, but ultimately those chops are pretty small next to the smart tweaks and monster playlist. Expect to crank it to 11 when it hits stores this November.

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