Don’t fret

No sophomore slump for Guitar Hero
Rating: 3.5 stars
November 8, 2006 5:46:55 PM

BASS-CENTRIC: GH2 taps into the original’s gleeful feeling of discovery.

I have to admit to the smallest twinge of disappointment when I strapped on the new red SG and fired up Guitar Hero 2 for the first time. Sure, launching into “Shout at the Devil” was exciting, but as those old familiar colored notes started streaming toward me, I couldn’t help thinking that this was just Guitar Hero again. Except for the inclusion of the one true Crüe, everything seemed the same: the star-power meter, the spooling fretboard, even the skinny, bearded bassist. I worried that the game would seem more like an expansion pack than a true sequel. And then we fired up two-player mode.

If the original Guitar Hero had a failing, it was in multi-player. Only a head-to-head option was available, and the song was split in half for each player. Each song was easier to play, and there were stretches during which you weren’t actually doing anything. The sequel solves this problem by assigning the two of you different instruments: one person plays guitar and the other bass, or one shreds on lead while the other chugs along on rhythm. The possibilities this feature opens up seem endless, not least because it doubles the number of tracks available to you.

More important, it taps into the gleeful feeling of discovery that made the first game such a surprise hit. It’s always so easy to ignore a bass line until you’re the one playing it. (There are also bass-centric songs like the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and an alternate take of Primus’s “John the Fisherman” that the band specifically provided for the game.) Splitting duties between rhythm and lead is even better. Our crack team of Dio-certified rockologists found the two-guitar attack of the Butthole Surfers’ “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” so exhilarating that we had to play it several times in a row.

The other significant addition is a sorely needed practice mode. After you complete a song, you can look at how you performed on each section; if you nailed the verses but flubbed the solo, you can enter practice mode and play just the solo till you’ve got it down. You can practice a song segment in any difficulty mode, but the money feature is that you can slow each section down. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to do during those especially frantic portions of “Free Bird,” you can take them down to a crawl and commit the note changes to memory. I never noticed the absence of a practice mode in the original game, but its presence in Guitar Hero 2 seems as essential as the Gibson SG controller.

As play goes on, the subtler refinements become apparent. In addition to the sad honking sound you get when you miss a note, the fretboard now turns black and shakes. It’s as though the game were grabbing you by the shoulders and telling you to get with the freaking program. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are a little more forgiving this time around, something that comes in handy given the track list’s greater emphasis on metal. (Try playing Lamb of God’s “Laid to Rest” without using these techniques. You can’t!) And yes, if it matters to you, the graphics are better: the character models are more intricate and the art direction is more polished. The Stonehenge background in particular is gorgeous. Not that you notice those things while you’re playing. You’re too busy shredding till your fingers bleed.


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