Guitar Hero II

Year: 2006
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Harmonix
Genre: Rhythm
Review Date: 2/9/09
Rating: ***

"Guitar Hero 2" adds a much needed 2-player co-op mode to its rock star simulator, allowing you to rock out with a friend. That was my first exposure to the franchise, and a good way to ease into the paradigm. Plus, it's a lot of fun. The premise of the game is simple enough - take your character through the ranks of garage band to headlining act while playing along to some great (and not so great) music. At its core, it's a rhythm game with a fancy controller, and you have to press certain buttons on your guitar in time with the music. Performing well gives you access to different songs and venues, and earns you money which you can spend on purely superficial things like different guitars and outfits. It's all rather pointless, since you never actually get to watch what your character is doing on stage because you're too busy trying to follow the notes. But it's still fun to try and mix things up a bit for any of the spectators you may have in your living room. The "easy" setting is just hard enough to challenge new players and teach them the techniques that they'll need at the harder levels. Consider it a training ground, much like a fighting game. "Medium" uses all four fingers and various chords, which is about as much of a challenge as I want out of the game. "Hard" and "expert" are for the true elite who have WAY too much time on their hands. At that point, you're better off playing the real thing, which is arguably easier to do.

The song list contains a nice variety of tunes from the late 60's through the 2000's, and some are definitely more fun to play than others. In general, the songs that you've actually heard before are more fun to play, since you have some amount of familiarity with them. The real sticking point is that the songs are all performed by cover artists, which can be very disconcerting. I think the guys at Penny Arcade said it best: "The best John Fogerty impersonator in the world is really, really good, but he's still not John Fogerty." However, after listening to the songs a few times, it becomes much less annoying. Ironically, in the game world your character is in a cover band, so it only makes sense that their performance would sound like a cover band. But you, the player, want to hear the real thing. The graphics are colorful and whimsical, and the venues are delightfully tacky. There are a number of characters to choose from, including three female rockers. Each character has an alternate costume that you can purchase, which provides an incentive for earning gig money. Unfortunately, the character models aren't particularly attractive or engaging, and are basically just cartoon caricatures of several genre stereotypes. Through careful and rigorous evaluation, I finally settled down with Judy Nails as my preferred rocker. If you buy into the whole gameplay paradigm and enjoy the music, GH2 is a lot of fun and surprisingly immersive. It's also very addictive. "Just one more song, then I'll go to bed. I really mean it this time..."