Everyone should own a Guitar Hero game. If you haven't played it yet, you really don't know what you're missing. The music rocks. Playing with a guitar shaped controller rocks. Jamming with a friend rocks. Did we mention that the game rocks? Everything from the presentation to the gameplay in Guitar Hero II is universally appealing. If you haven't already played Guitar Hero II on PS2, this is a must own game. Even if you already have done all of this before, you may yet find a reason to grab the Xbox 360 re-release. With reworked graphics, sound, new songs, downloadable content and more, this is easily the best Guitar Hero game yet.
Introductions are in order. While PS2 owners have enjoyed the Guitar Hero franchise for a couple of years now, this is the first time any guitar music game has appeared on a Microsoft console. The premise behind the franchise began years ago with Konami's Guitar Freaks but didn't grip the mainstream in the US until RedOctane teamed up with developer Harmonix. The two companies put together a special controller to accompany the release of an all new franchise, Guitar Hero. If you haven't heard about it yet, it's high time you came joined the party. Guitar Hero and its sequel have been massive successes financially and critically and with good reason. Who doesn't want to step into the shoes of Keith Richards or Eddie Van Halen and shred some classic licks? We all do. And now 360 owners can join their PS2 brethren in rocking out.
All of the songs and sights from the PS2 version of Guitar Hero have made it over to Xbox 360, though they've gone through a bit of a facelift during the move. That means that the praises and issues with that game hold true for the most part. Rather than rehashing old news in this review or explaining gameplay mechanics laid out in previous releases, we'll ask that you head over to the PS2 review if you're unfamiliar with the game.
It should be noted that if you own a PS2 Guitar Hero controller, it isn't going to work on the Xbox 360 version. You'll have to buy a new one and the guitar and game bundle rings up at an expensive $89.99 on Xbox 360.
The Good Gets Better
Typically, ports of PS2 games don't fare very well on Xbox 360. Developers looking for a quick buck rarely take the time and money to add features, let alone rework the graphics. Guitar Hero II does not fall into that trap. While the original was never a graphical powerhouse, the 360 port looks significantly better. Textures and models have been given an upgrade and everything is now running in crisp HD. Details that were previously impossible to make out now jump to life, doing a great service to a game with presentation as superb as Guitar Hero II. New lighting effects have also been added which add to the feeling of being a rockstar on a stage, but they have a tendency to make a small minority of people playing the game feel a bit dizzy.
Fancy graphics are nice, but if you're buying Guitar Hero II for the visuals then you're completely missing the point. The game is all about the music. The main group of songs all come from widely known and popular bands like Guns N Roses, Stone Temple Pilots, Aerosmith, Nirvana, and Primus. The track list is a bit more metal and punk-centric than the first Guitar Hero game, though there are a good number of classic rock hits and a few pop tunes sprinkled in for good measure. Whether the track listing is to your tastes or not is up for debate, but the quality of music is not.
The majority of the music on Guitar Hero II is played by a cover band and, as such, a few of them sound a bit off. Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" doesn't sound quite right, nor does the cover of "Can't You Hear me Knocking" by the Rolling Stones. Overall though, the cover work is outstanding and you can't complain one bit about the few tracks that feature the master recordings from the artists themselves.
The sound, like the graphics, has also received an overhaul and the results are quite drastic. To take advantage of the DD 5.1 capabilities on Xbox 360, every song has been remastered and they sound fantastic. The difference in sound quality when played on a home theater is noticeable even to the untrained ear - it's that good. You won't notice the difference as readily if you don't have a nice setup, but you will notice a smoother sound.
If you've played Guitar Hero II already, there is still a ton of new content on the 360 version that makes it worth picking up again. For starters, there are ten new tracks that were recorded exclusively for the Xbox 360. Like the rest of the game, these tracks run the gamut between good and excellent, but the overall quality of recording and fun factor on these tracks is as high, if not higher, than the original set list. Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" and "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" by Rick Derringer are flat out fantastic both in terms of the controller mapping and the cover music. "Dead!" by My Chemical Romance and "Possum Kingdom" by The Toadies are both master tracks, so you already know those songs are as good as they possibly can get. The new songs have been worked into a reordered career mode quite well and the progression of difficulty feels much smoother this go around.
Ten new songs are great, but the ability to download additional tracks from the Xbox Live Marketplace is what really gives this version legs. Songs from the original Guitar Hero will be available on the Marketplace. We haven't learned the full list, but our reliable source tells us that Ozzy's "Bark at the Moon", Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Higher Ground", and Incubus' "Stellar" will all come in the first wave roughly a week after the game launches.
These tracks from the original Guitar Hero do more than just give Xbox 360 owners a chance to play the songs they may have missed out on. They also give a very compelling reason for PS2 Guitar Hero owners to make the leap and repurchase this title. The hammer-ons and pull-offs were vastly improved in Guitar Hero II over the original and I'm sure veteran players are chomping at the bit to put that to use on the original songs. Everyone at IGN certainly is.
Like a Bird on a Wire
There really isn't any better way to play a guitar than with a wireless patch. Stage antics are completely necessary to get the crowd into the show. With Xbox 360 supporting wireless controllers, it seems like the guitar peripheral that comes with Guitar Hero II would almost have to be wireless out of the box. It's not. RedOctane has told IGN that they are working towards getting a wireless controller released separately in the future, but can't announce anything. Being tethered to your console is far from ideal. Hopefully that wireless controller will come to fruition soon.
The wired controller isn't the only structural surprise that Guitar Hero fans will find inside the box. The PS2 controller has been completely reworked, starting with the shape which is now a replica of the Gibson X-plorer. The neck and button placement is identical, but veterans will notice a different feel in the whammy bar. A d-pad has been added to help navigate through menus on the dashboard alongside the guide button and ring of light. These new additions have made the start and back buttons take on less prominent roles, and the result is that it is slightly more difficult to pause the game in the middle of a song than it was before.
The sides of the guitar feature two other new additions. The first is a jack for the Xbox 360 Communicator. This will allow you to record voice messages to send to your friends without having to swap out controllers, but it has the added benefit of allowing voice chat if online play is added to future Guitar Hero releases. The other new jack is slightly more mysterious. It resembles a Cat5 cable jack and RedOctane has told us it will be used in future Guitar Hero releases. The hopeful conclusion is that we'll see pedals added to the next Guitar Hero. For now, it's just a useless jack.
Some of the greatest additions to this version of Guitar Hero II are the most obvious ones; leaderboards and Achievements. Being a rock star is just as much about posturing as it is about playing great music. Now you can do both. The leaderboards in Guitar Hero II have all the necessary filters for seeing how well you stack up to the world or your friends in every individual song as well as your total career score. Playing songs perfectly isn't just for your own personal satisfaction anymore. Now you can show the world your skills.
It was clear from the beginning that RedOctane and Harmonix did their rock and roll homework. Rock clichés and jokes are injected into everything from the loading screens to the stage backgrounds, and now that great presentation has found its way into the Achievements as well. Fail a song on the easy mode and you'll net the Long Road Ahead award. String together 1000 note streak in cooperative mode and you get the Keef and Mick award. Beating the game on Expert won't net you the points for the lesser difficulties which means you'll have to beat every facet of the game, and with style, to get everything. Some of these seem nearly impossible, but there are a good number that everyone will be able to get. Let us know when you get the Kick the Bucket award and we'll be officially impressed.
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