Guitar Hero II

The obliterator of productivity is back, and it's even more addictive than before. We go hands-on with a near-final version of the game and return with our trip report.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 11, 2006
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Guitar Hero II might appear to be a game, but it's actually composed of cleverly packaged pockets of productivity-sucking awesomeness created by Satan. Why? So that the Devil can find the best digital guitarist in the mortal realm and then challenge them for their immortal soul. It's all very Charlie Daniels, y'see.


Seriously, though, only one game has ever managed to completely obliterate any semblance of actual work being done in the office, and it was Guitar Hero. As we quickly discovered when the UPS guy arrived yesterday morning to deliver our previous build of the sequel, all developer Harmonix Music Systems needed to do to sweeten the pot was simply add in the dynamic of having another person play along with you.

It sounds simple and yes, GH supported two players, but the back and forth and completely different parts for rhythm, bass and lead guitars makes Guitar Hero II both unique and absolutely face-rockingly good. This is more than just alternating the same track as a single-player game; you're actually playing different parts simultaneously, and they don't feel truncated in any way.

You can still choose to go at things head-on (now either playing different guitar parts or the "classic" version where both players strum the same part), or you can rock out like we did with co-op (which requires that both players kick on Star Power at the same time), and you can do so as three new characters in addition to the first game's characters who all got a nice little visual face lift; rockabilly picker Eddie Knox, bad girl Casey Lynch and Norwegian axe grinder Lars Umlaut. Again, it just makes what was already the ultimate party/drinking/stoner game that much better and deeper with the new parts.

The build we received isn't the full game; it lacks the Career Mode and a good chunk of the final song list, but it was more than enough to hook everyone (at one point, we even got our usual FedEx guy to come up and play). The new Practice Mode is clearly built off the input of gamers that begged for a way to hone their skills in a particular part of the song (and in fact the new stats report at the end now breaks things down by every verse, chorus and bridge in the song so you know where the sticking parts are). Buried under the Training Menu, Practice lets you pick a song and a range of sections, then a speed (normal and three increasingly slower speeds). At any point you can start over, change the section or the speed with minimal loading.

All this is important because the game on Expert difficulty truly does justice to the name. Whereas most of us around here were really only hung up on "Bark at the Moon" and "Cowboys from Hell" in the original, some of the later songs in our build of the game were relentless, requiring an absolute fundamental understanding of when to use hammer-ons and pull-offs and in some cases frightening dexterity as the new three note chords were thrown in. The next of the guitar is used a whole hell of a lot more, both in longer zig-zag five note strings and huge jumps in where fingers must fall.

To help things out a little, Harmonix has tweaked things a little. Both hammer-ons and pull-offs now sport the same lenient window that normal notes do, meaning it's a lot easier to flub a half dozen note string timing-wise and still technically hit the notes. Some of the more elite gamers might scoff at this, but the rest of Expert difficulty's strings should help them feel nicely challenged. More importantly, though, for us chumps that couldn't be bothered to learn HO/POs in the last game, it's possible to pick up on them early and retrain your brain.

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