[Hands-On] DJ Hero 2
Drop that zero and get with the Hero!
Published: September 27, 2010
The original DJ Hero caught us a bit by surprise, and really our only issue with it was the high cost of entry. Apparently we weren't the only ones, as less than a year later, you can pick up the first game with a turntable for the price of a bargain game. That might be a good idea if you are planning to get into the series, since you will definitely want a second turntable to take advantage of the great new multiplayer modes DJ Hero 2 has to offer. After getting some hands on time with the final build, we can say fans of the original are in for a treat, and those scared off by the song selection from the original might want to take a second look.
Activision was kind enough to host us at an event at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco, a place that exuded just enough underground cred to make it feel like we really were entering a pick-up DJ Battle that only those "in the know" would be attending. A handful of DJ Hero savants battled it out on stage on Expert mode, while the finest DJ's the media had to offer hobnobbed with real life turntabalists (Whazzup DJ Qbert!), several of whom were featured in the game, doing our best to impress on the demo stations set up around the premises. While it wasn't the perfect environment to really get down and dirty with the games new single player "Empire" mode, even our brief time with it made it clear it was far more fleshed out than the simple collection of mix lists that constituted the single player experience of the original game. Where the game really shined for us was in the variety of new multiplayer modes and the little gameplay tweaks FreeStyle Games has tossed into this latest revision. Oh, and a critical little component like the tracklist. The TPS crew were all in agreement that this years mash-ups make mash-ups almost palatable!
The guys sat down to decompress after the event and talk about their feelings now that we saw the whole game. What greeted us was an interface that was entirely different, but an experience that was anything but -- in the most positive way we can make that comparison. Things have been stripped down to basics; the interface itself is a spartan kind of white, specked only with basic menu options and a pair of thumping speakers, and even drilling into the menu options themselves didn't really break from this minimalist sort of aesthetic. This is a game, clearly, about picking your DJ (many, many of whom where locked off as apparently earned characters throughout the single-player mode) and letting them wreck the decks. As we discovered when queuing up the game's simple drop-in/drop-out Party Mode, things have taken a decided turn towards the all-inclusive modes of Guitar Hero -- and for once the music game deluge hasn't hampered the gameplay here. We were able to happily sub in and out between the three of us while the game would simply transition seamlessly (that's visually, not aurally) between songs, with a simple title blip informing us of what two artists were being paired in some unholy amalgam we'd be flipping our faders between. The results? Well, you'll have to read on to find out...
Aram Lecis - Senior Editor
First off, let me make it clear that I was a total DJ virgin going into this event. I had been intrigued by the promise of the first game, but scared off by the price tag and my lack of interest in the track list. I have friends that are real life DJ's, and the thing that always grabbed me was the genre-bending variety of wax they would throw down on the turntable, and the tracks in the original were just not deep enough to whet my appetite. I have since picked up the first game, and while I still don't love the music, I am totally captivated by the gameplay. But that was just yesterday, and when I first stepped into 1015 Folsom, the idea of getting my scratch on in front of all these folks scared the shit out of me.
My fears were quickly allayed when I finally worked up the courage to step up to a station and start playing with the random stranger next to me. It helped a lot that we were in Party Mode where not only can you not fail (a DJ Hero fixture), but you aren't even getting scored or competing against anyone but yourself. As track after track faded into each other, I found that even with no training whatsoever, I was able to hit over 90% of the correct beats. The controller felt really solid in my hands (although the oft-criticized crossfader still appears to be pretty finicky when trying to re-center it). After getting a little cocky, I kicked it up to hard, where I was promptly flailing around like a fool trying to keep up with the complex fades and scratches that were flying at me on the unforgiving black circle. Watching the DJ masters up on stage, playing on expert, working their turntables like surgeons made me feel a little inadequate, and it made me realize the depth and complexity that this game had to offer.
I'm not sure why they took out the guitar option, but then again I haven't had a chance to check it out in the original game yet. I do think that adding in the ability to do vocals is a swell addition, and of course lets a third person get involved. The DJ Battle modes I played with Paji really made me feel just briefly for a second that if I could do this in the game, maybe, just maybe, I could duck into the DJ Booth at 1015 Folsom and blow away the crowd with my Smashing Pumpkins "Mayonaise" vs. Fatlip "What's up, Fatlip" mash-up and crab scratch technique. Good fucking times.
Parjanya C. Holtz - former Editor-at-Large, and new Bay Area Senior Editor
Just as our Alaska correspondent and Senior Editor Aram Lecis, I missed the first DJ Hero when it was released to much critical acclaim last year, and as such it was hard for me to appreciate the little changes that, as I was told, ended up in DJ Hero 2, courtesy to FreeStyle Games. Despite my lacking experience with the game's predecessor, I took a few things away from our hands-on time with a complete build of the title.
Just as Aram described so eloquently, I too was terrified by the idea of making a complete fool out of myself when trying to battle one of the more experienced DJ Hero 2 players that were roaming the floors of the underground venue that Activision chose to allow the press to get some hands on time with the full game. It turns out my fear was unsubstantiated.
DJ Hero 2 has improved both in its tracklist and its accessibility to new players, making this version of the game infinitely more attractive to people like myself that missed/skipped the original. Jumping in and out of battles and fine tweaking things like a DJ's difficulty was a piece of cake, qualifying DJ Hero 2 as a title that I personally would seriously consider setting up at party for people to mess around with. Having an infinite loop of mashups run down in Party Mode and allowing two DJ's to "do their thing" and jump in and out of mashups at their liking, or change the difficulty on the fly without having to fear failing is a brilliant mode and an excellent match for a title like this. It's hard to believe that the first DJ Hero got away without the option for a mode like this.
It didn't take me too long to understand the basic concept of the game, and I soon found myself wishing I could hear the mashups unfold in all their glory on my glorious 7.1 sound system back home. Despite the lackluster testing conditions, I tasted blood and one of my many daydreams is now seeing myself spending sleepless nights in sparkly blue spandex pants next to my boss, pretending we are Daft Punk themselves.
Sam Bishop - Editor-in-Chief
I was the sad sack that got to actually review the first DJ Hero, and despite being utterly inundated with music games last year (I think I reviewed six of them in almost as many months), DJ Hero was no joke -- and I'm that depressing fogey that rolls his eyes and whines incessantly whenever mashups played at a club. My hate of riffing lazily off two tracks that fit together hasn't changed, but neither has my understanding or love for the fact that this is precisely what DJs have been doing for decades now, and the art (and yes, it is an art, shut your faces, naysayers) of live sampling of music and mixing that in is the core of turntablism. What the first DJ Hero did (albeit perhaps accidentally) was make it clear just how much effort goes into really doing live combinations of music. I may still abhor the whole process of taking two songs and shoving them together in some sort of unholy embrace, but there's no doubt that the idea of regularly bouncing back and forth with a little bit of spent skin mixed with the vinyl can make for incredibly intoxicating gameplay.
It's one of the biggest reasons why I left my little hovel enclave and decided to actually brave the San Francisco skin to see how things had improved and jeezus had they. Like all music games, it really does come down to the tracks and how they're presented. Make no mistake, DJ Hero 2 is embracing those that weathered the original game; it's harder, more advanced and more technically-inclined. Didn't quite get the quick flicks to bounce tracks when you were mainlining both? Too bad, they happen very, very often -- as do inter-mix taps that will test your ability to juggle flinger flips on that still-too-loose fader with scratches that are no joke. Seeing the aforementioned folks up on the main stage ripping it up was a sight to behold -- and in an interesting twist, it was markedly different from what you see when Guitar Hero guys flutter their fingers. This was a different kind of mind/body match and it was genuinely awe-inspiring to see. No, still not the same as the actual thing (but perhaps just a bit closer) as our clicky plastic instrument fantasies have lead us to believe, but remarkable nonetheless.
There is no denying precisely what Paji and Aram mentioned, though; this an infinitely better soundtrack, mostly because it taps a bit more strongly into current club cuts but because the pairings (from what we could hear at the time) were a little more complementary when, well, collided. Did I have a yearning for more pure turntablism moments? Yes, absolutely. But by the same token I have hope that Activision hasn't completely forgotten that they did feature one of the most important voices (and fingers) in modern music as their VO MC. I still have my gripes; the turntable still needs a little more tactile action (the buttons aren't doing it for me), and the mash-ups still pain me to my core, but there's no denying that they're tapping at least a tiny stream of the musical zeitgeist happening right now. Mash-ups may have (thankfully) died down a little in favor of proper mixing, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of room left to explore the hobby side of things.