Guitar Hero 2 (PS2) – Review

Guitar Hero 2 CoverThere’s very little to say about Guitar Hero 2, produced and distributed by Harmonix and Red Octane, beyond that it a truly outstanding sequel, exceeding the original title by having a better selection of guitar-ripping tracks, tightening up gameplay in favor of the player, and adding more multiplayer modes.

The game plays, for the most part, exactly as it’s predecessor. You’re the lead guitar in a band trying to earn money and better gigs. For each song, notes come at you along a guitar fret, including held notes and chords, and using the special guitar controller (which you can buy with this game, or you can get the game without the controller if you already have it) with 5 fret buttons, a strum bar, and a whammie bar, you attempt to keep pace with the music. You also can use hammer-ups and pull-offs to hit fast sequences of notes which is a key tactic needed to beat the higher difficulty levels Keep a good job, and the audience cheers and hollers as you rock out, while they’ll boo you off the stage if you make too many mistakes. Selected phrases will be marked with stars as to build up your Star meter; once filled, tilting the controller up will activate the Star power and double your score for a short time.

The game has improved to help the player more. For one, the hammer-downs and pull-offs are a bit looser and easier to pull off, which makes them more usable in actual gameplay in order to hit fast rifts. You can now practice any song you’ve unlocked at 4 different speeds to help with fingering and finding where the hammer-downs and pull-offs should be used. You can also practice, if they exist for the song, the bass and rhythm lines, either to get used to them for the music, or to be ready for co-op play – unfortunately, you can’t go through career mode playing these parts. These are all necessary as the difficulty of the game seems to be a bit tougher; I found Medium to be a very tough challenge – not that I had to repeat any of the songs, but my left hand was aching after even a few songs near the end with the amount of fingering needed for these songs. Many of the medium songs had a lot of fast fingering, with the blue fret key (4th one) used a lot more often than I remember in Medium difficulty songs from the first Guitar Hero. A few shots at the Hard songs were laughably failures, though I’m sure I’m out of practice for these. Despite it being more difficult, I found it to also be a lot more fun, in particular due to the familiarity of the tunes and excitement of the guitar riffs. Even though some riffs are simplified for the Medium level, there’s still a sense of accomplishment being able to pull off some of the most well known guitar solos yourself.

Guitar Hero 2 ScreenshotThe playsets is much better this time around; the bulk of the songs contain really strong guitar parts with at least one significant solo section, with a much heavier emphasis on classic hard rock bands. The most significant song this time around is the full length version of “Free Bird”, a perennial rock anthem and the last song in the normal game. and fully treated with the respect within the game; the last song you play prior to it will leave the audience chanting for “Free Bird”, and the game makes sure that you really want to play it as, at more than 10 minutes long, it’s a rather long haul. Add in some Rush, Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, Megadeth, and Van Halen, and the setlist contains some of the best guitar-thrashing songs in existence. There’s even some tracks specifically made for Guitar Hero 2 riding on the success of the first, such as the near-impossible “Jordan” by Buckethead, and a handful of fun tracks, including Spinal Tap and “Trogdor” from the Strongbad Emails. With a lot more classic tracks, it makes it easier to anticipate the guitar riffs that you need to make to succeed, and in generally, the tracks I hadn’t heard of were the hardest to make it through.

Value/Replayability: A

There’s 40 songs in the main playlist across 8 different venues, set up similar to Amplitude; you need to complete 3 of 4 songs in the set, and the play the encore in order to unlock the next set. There’s also 4 difficulty levels to try to complete, with much tougher riffs to hit with increasing difficulty. Depending on how well you play, you’ll earn money that you can spend to unlock new characters, guitars, videos, and 24 additional songs. There’s also a lot more stats to look at after a song, including a section-by-section breakdown so that you can practice only the tougher sections as to improve your scores. Playing once through the Medium difficulty took me about 3-4 hours, but even trying my hand at some Hard songs, I figure I’d need 10s of hours just to be able to complete that difficulty, much less the Expert one. Of course, you’ll also want to go back and aim for 5 star ratings on each song to unlock special guitars, and that’s just a matter of continuing to train yourself.

Multiplayer (on the same console, sadly) has been expanded to include two new modes beyond the original ‘dueling’ face-off format. There’s the Pro face-off, where instead of sharing some of the notes at a time, you play the song at the same difficulty at the same time, making it harder to hear where your part is compared to your opponent’s. Alternatively, you and a friend can co-op on a song, with one playing the lead guitar, the other playing either the bass or rhythm line, in order to make sweet music together, though the overall performance and star power meters are shared by both players.

Graphics: A

As you play, the lights, stage, and crowd will respond to the music as well as to your performance, with a bit more additions than from the first game. The stage venues are a bit more fleshed out with a lot of active stage elements to try to keep track of if you’re an observer. There’s nice little details, like the crowd with lighters during the first half of “Freebird”, or the exploding drummer at the end of the Spinal Tap song. Some of the loading screens for specific songs are also cute little references to the original material you’re about to play. Unfortunately, as the player, you’re likely too engrossed in the actual play sequence to see most of this, but this was also the same problem with the first game as well. The graphics seem a bit tighter and a tad less cartoony from the first game, for the most part, but otherwise there’s little change in the general appearence and artwork.

Audio: A

The audio, needless to say, is excellent. While these songs are covers (all are presented “as made famous by” their original band), there’s little problem with either the instrumental parts or the vocals. The environmental sounds for the crowd and other effects are also nicely done, and give you subtle hints to how well you’re doing without having to take away from the fret bar.

Overall: A

There’s little to say wrong about Guitar Hero 2 – like it’s predecessor, it’s an outstanding music game with little wrong, and even better this time around due to a rather impressing playlist set and improved support for learning the tracks before playing it. For a game that has almost no fundamental changes to the gameplay, Guitar Hero 2 is a sequel that may even exceed the popularity of the first, and shows that the series has legs for the anticipated follow-ups into genre-specific releases. It’s doubtful that if you’ve gotten the first Guitar Hero that you already don’t have that, but if you’ve yet to experience

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