Despite its relatively recent release,has quickly become one of the world's best known games franchises. The game's first sequel, Guitar Hero II for the PS2, adds on more songs, more game modes and more guitar playing than the original, and generally is almost as much fun as the first. While the sum of its parts may not quite equal the majesty of the original game, Guitar Hero II still rocks plenty, and at times, rocks quite hard indeed.
Developer Red Octane has wisely stuck to the same core gameplay that made the original a hit. The game is still played on a small replica Gibson guitar, which features a strum bar on the face and five colour-coded fret buttons on the neck (Guitar Hero II is available either as standalone software or bundled with a guitar). Gamers "play" a song by strumming and hitting the appropriate fret button, which is shown on a rolling fret board on the TV screen. Songs on easy difficulty have very few button presses and only utilise the first three fret buttons. The higher the difficulty, the more notes and fret buttons you'll have to deal with.
What Guitar Hero II has added to the mix is more songs and more gameplay modes. The sequel certainly trumps the original in terms of pure volume, with 40 licensed songs in comparison to the original's 30. As well as the 40 songs from (mostly) well known bands, there are also more than 20 unlockable songs from up and coming artists. The song list is as varied as the original game's, with some notable standouts such as the Foo Fighters with Monkey Wrench, Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name Of, Dick Dale with Misirlou, Nirvana with Heart Shaped Box, and more. And in a nice nod to Australia, two local acts have been included -- Wolfmother's Woman and The Living End's Carry Me Home.
While the song list in Guitar Hero II is certainly long, it doesn't feel as vibrant as the original's. The first game's song list was outstanding, with some true classic tracks that felt great to play (More Than A Feeling and Hey You spring to mind). Guitar Hero II has some undoubtedly great tracks, but as an overall list it just doesn't feel as endearing as the first. Many of the songs in Guitar Hero II are also quite long -- from metal epics such as Black Sabbath's War Pigs to 10-minute rock anthem Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, you'll find the length of many of the songs makes this game an unappealing spectator sport.
Thankfully, Red Octane has substantially improved on the multiplayer aspect of the game. While the original only had a face-off mode which saw two players battling it out for top score on the same song, Guitar Hero II also introduces a comprehensive two-player co-operative mode. In co-op, players play the same song but on different guitar tracks-- for example, player one might play the lead guitar section while player two tackles bass. All of the game's songs feature at least two tracks, and in some cases feature three -- lead, rhythm and bass.
This cool feature effectively doubles and almost triples the amount of guitar playing to be found in Guitar Hero II compared to the first. And playing co-op is great fun, although you shouldn't expect it to feel exactly as if you were playing in a real band with some friends. In fact, it's sometimes hard to discern exactly what part your partner is playing in a song, particularly if you're concentrating intently on hitting your own notes.
Those who found Guitar Hero tough will find even more of a challenge in the sequel. Songs on normal difficulty are much tougher than the equivalent level in the original game, with Guitar Hero II's difficulty curve generally much steeper than the first game. Those with expert fingers will relish the challenge, although it's much tougher for newbies to get on board.
That's not to say the challenge is insurmountable. Guitar Hero II features something the original desperately needed -- a dedicated practice mode. Guitar Hero II allows you to practice any section of any song (such as verses, solos, and more), and even lets you slow down the speed of playback for easier memorisation. It's a welcome addition to the series which can help players decipher even the fastest and most challenging songs.
Graphically, Guitar Hero II is still a mixed bag. Some of the character models and animations look great, although they mainly get lost in the background. Sound, as you'd expect, is top notch. The cover versions of many of the songs on Guitar Hero II sound spot on, with only some noticeable variations from the originals (such as the vocals for Heart Shaped Box).
An expanded song list, great multiplayer and the introduction of a much needed practice mode all add up to make Guitar Hero II a worthy sequel. While the songs themselves may not be as fun to play as the first, Guitar Hero II is still a must have title for this holiday season.