Guitar Hero 2

November 7, 2006

[i]Editor’s Note: I marked this as a rental since it’s obvious this title is not a carte blanche purchase for everyone.[/i]

It’s hard reviewing a highly anticipated game, especially when you yourself anticipated it and ripped the UPS box in half trying to get to it. It’s difficult and important to make sure you don’t get overemotional when a game lives up to or dashes your expectations, and thus I deliberately left this review a week before even starting it. You see, I loved the first [i]Guitar Hero[/i]. It was intuitive, it had the best learning curve ever made, it had a fantastic track list, and you really did feel like the king of the world playing it. It was challenging, but not impossible. It was fun even when you weren’t perfect at a song because the balance was just right that you didn’t quite want to give up. The tracks were varied enough that you were excited for the next batch, not desperately hoping the next batch would be better.

…yes, you can probably guess where I’m going with this one.

[i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] is a painful experience. There. It’s said. I cannot take it back, and I will not take it back. It goes without saying that it is enjoyable, has some amazing moments, and is graphically impressive. With progressive scan mode over a component connection, it really does have a crisp, sharp feel to it that the first game lacked, and the environments and various bells and whistles of the characters and rockin’ arenas really are very pretty. There is a question that begs an answer that will probably never come, most likely drowned out under a torrent of internet hyperbole about how old men have got up and danced in awe at Buckethead’s Jordan, or how Trogdor made a sick child well again;

Who exactly did RedOctane listen to when they put together this game?

Who is the target demographic here? Who does RedOctane want to buy this game, and do not, damn you all, answer me “everyone”?

The track list, and the very feel of the game, scream that RedOctane sat down and read every internet site, every fan forum and internet site dedicated to [i]Guitar Hero[/i], and somehow got it into their heads that the only way to make [i]Guitar Hero[/i] better was to make it harder, more obscure, and seemingly more based in the realm of repetition than in that of actual fun playing guitar.

Don’t mistake this as me saying “I am awful at [i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] and cannot beat every song on easy.” I learned to alt-strum (which was necessary, as far as I’m concerned, to enjoy this game), I used the fantastic practice mode to slow down parts of tracks to work my way through the hard bits. I did everything I possibly could to make each song easier or more do-able than it was when I first tried it. And yet, no matter how good I become at some of these songs, they range from lacking the killer instinct and fun of songs such as No One Knows, Bark At The Moon, or Spanish Castle Magic. They are also far, far, far, far, far, far too fast. I flip a middle finger to anyone who actually thinks that The Living End’s Carry Me Home is fun – it isn’t. It is RedOctane catering, as they have throughout this game, to a niche audience.

I got people ranging from my roommate to my girlfriend’s father into [i]Guitar Hero[/i], because it was accessible, it had a wide range of songs, and it had a nigh-on perfect difficulty curve. It was a game that anyone could pick up, that you didn’t have to practice like real guitar to just pass a song, let alone enjoy it. [i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] lacks this element, and thus manages to set fire to one of the first hopes I have had in years for an accessible addition to the rhythm-action genre beyond Singstar.

This isn’t to say [i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] is awful. It’s actually very good when you have a good song beyond the mishmash of middling jam-band/classic rock songs. Heart-Shaped Box is fantastic, Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart, Hangar 18, and Freebird are fantastically put together, but there are so many songs in this game that I – and I measure many other people – will never want to play again. Instead of a broad spectrum of genres, it feels like this is a list of bands cobbled together with the hopes that the internet would read a few and ignore the rest.

It’s hard to guess at the direction and the reasoning behind some of the decisions made in this game. On one hand, it’s more of the same, and the enjoyable songs are really well put together – bar Killing In The Name of, which I am actually astounded made it to the real game. The practice mode is fantastically done, and the multiplayer ideas are enjoyable enough – playing bass/rhythm with a friend is great fun when the song isn’t too repetitive, and when you are playing a song that you actually like, this game is fantastic.

However, so many of the songs lack appeal, or are badly realised, or are maddeningly simple or stupidly complex (For example: Play Stop on medium, and then hard. It’s more of a learning line going upwards), or just have no place in the game (Laid To Rest, The Beast and the Harlot, Freya, etc), or are just so awfully repetitive that it isn’t much of a game (Freya, Stop, Carry Me Home), that [i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] feels as if RedOctane lost their way. To this day I have probably played through career mode more than fifteen times in [i]Guitar Hero[/i]. I never, ever, ever want to do so in [i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] again.

For the sake of fairness, I am not saying that you should not go and buy this game. I am saying that you should take a long hard listen to most of the tracks, and that will give you an idea of whether it’s worth your money.

That’s all there is to it. This isn’t a game that anyone can just buy anymore. It’s a niche-fest of classic rock, nerd rock, and one or two stand-out tracks. I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly, as no matter how many times somebody tells me, I am not impressed that they got Primus to give them the master-tapes for John The Fisherman. I like the song, but more time should have been spent actually making a competent, free-flowing game than finding useless accolades to put in press interviews and interface/practice mode tweaks.

I am full of venom and disappointment. For $10 more than the price of [i]Guitar Hero[/i], [i]Guitar Hero 2[/i] takes away a lot of the charm and fun of the original, and replaces it with an endurance test for the ages.

Score: 2/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.