STAFF REVIEW of Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007.
by Aceattorney

Guitar Hero II Box art I play mostly rhythm guitar, but I am also trained in classical guitar, and a little of lead guitar playing.

Anyway, I was really excited about this game because I had played a little bit of it back at CES earlier this year. To finally be able to spend time with the game was really a prospect I was looking forward to.

The box comes with the game, guitar controller, stickers for your guitar, guitar strap, and manual.

What you will notice immediately is how light the guitar is. Well, at least that's what my wife remarked. Once you attach the strap to the guitar, I recommend you go through the training levels to find out what strap length is most comfortable for you. Speaking of the training levels, definitely go through them to get some valuable tips in playing this game, and to score an achievement!

The gameplay is exactly like you've read in all the previews/reviews out there: it rocks. At first, you might have a tough time timing the pressing of the buttons with your left hand and strumming the "string," which is a toggle switch with your left, but after going through a couple of songs in the easy mode in the career mode, you'll start to get the hang of it.

So is playing the game like playing the guitar? Yes and no. Yes, the finger movement is similar, but since there are only buttons and no strings, your finger placement does not need to be precise (as opposed to pressing down on 1 string out of 6 on a real guitar). Also, there are only 5 frets on the controller, but that doesn't keep the game from requiring some flexibility and stretching of your fingers, not to mention quick finger movment.

The strumming/picking requires nearly perfect timing, so even on easy mode, it can take a few tries to get the timing right. One thing to note is that I've actually been playing with a real guitar pick. I know it sounds a little silly, but now my rhythm is totally dependent on using a pick ? without a pick, I miss notes left and right. And on the subject of picking, my wife simply presses the toggle down with her thumb instead of "flicking" the toggle with her thumb and index finger (like I do with my pick).

I love some of the tricks implemented in the game, like hammer-ons and pull-offs. It's a shame that sliding can't work with the controller though, but for some of the quicker note sequences, you might find that sliding your fingers to other buttons can help a bit.

There's also a special power-up of sorts that you can use in the game ? the Star Power mode rescues you from failing a song, but more importantly, acts as a 2X multiplier to boost your score temporarily.

Going through the game earns you money, which allows you to buy unlockables, such as guitar player characters, guitars, guitar finishes, costumes, and songs.

Oh, and co-op is available offline only, but if you have two guitars (sadly, as of yet, guitars are not sold without the bundle), you and your partner can play different instruments (lead, rhythm, or bass guitar) and in different difficulties. My wife and I have had some awesome sessions in GHII, it gets really hectic when you play on the more difficult modes. (Playing on easy mode does not earn you money, BTW). It certainly helps to actually be familiar with the song you are playing, but it's not necessary to know the song to "beat" it.

I'm currently playing through the "Hard" career mode, and practicing in the practice mode really helps a ton since the game has options to play different sections in any given song, and play them at slower tempos.

The graphics aren't stunning, but I did find myself impressed with the Psychonaut-stylings in the game. And yeah, you leave your eyes off the notes for one split second, and you'll find yourself struggling to recover. And on the subject of eyes, blink, and you will likely miss a note. This means that your eyes will be super dry at the end of each song. ;)

Finally, the songs are spot on. There's a Rage Against the Machine song ("Killing in the Name") among the selections to which I really have a great time rocking to.

I'm really glad that some of my favorite songs are in there, and it's neat learning songs that are new to me as well. Note that all the songs are performed by a cover band, not the original artist. I just wish there was a way to request songs for downloadable content that were not included in the game (Halo 2 rock-theme, anyone?)

Conclusion: Gameplay that will make you play till your fingers bleed. Promise of Downloadable Content is mind-bottling, but so far the song packs have been kind of meh. Too bad the guitar isn't wireless, and too bad about the price. - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.4 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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