PS2 (XBOX 360 soon)

Harmonix Music

Jon Cassady: I have
seen the future of gaming and its name is Guitar Hero.

Confession time – prior to preparing for this, I had never
played Guitar Hero. I saw on display
in stores and read the hundreds of articles about what songs should be in it,
how much fun it was and how people wore “Bark at the Moon” as some sort of
frigin’ badge of game honor, but for some reason I wasn’t interested.

When I saw the previews for Guitar
Hero II
, I couldn’t have cared less. Playing a game with mini-guitar? Fuck
you. And this coming from someone who used to get into Final Fantasy debates.

I don’t know why it changed my mind, the previews hadn’t, the
raves about Guitar Hero I hadn’t, the
hefty Chud thread hadn’t, but while standing in line to pick up my beloved Wii,
something changed. During my 10 minute wait, I witnessed parent upon parent
purchasing these giant boxes with the funny guitar in them. From that point I
just had to see what the big fuss was
about. So despite the skepticism of my wife, who still does not see the
greatness of the game, I went out and bought me one of them funny guitars.

Never in my life do I remember ever loving something that I was
so awful at. When I play, I feel like
I have a 1 year-old’s coordination, but I guess that’s part of the appeal. It’s
not a game that you will dominate in 10 hours. And this from a game which
really doesn’t ask for you to do all that much.

Alex Riviello: See, I’m coming
from the other side. I had to play Guitar
from the day it was first announced. I’ve been playing Harmonix’s games
since Frequency. I’ve always been
obsessed with music, and to have it combined with a game was heaven for me. The
fact that Fear Factory was on the cover didn’t hurt things. Frequency and Amplitude were both goddamn great games that really gave you the
feeling of playing music, of creating each piece of a song.

Course, they’re nowhere near as good as Guitar Hero.

There’s just something about nailing every
note on a track and hearing the music rip that’s goddamn intoxicating. When you
first play Guitar Hero you will suck.
You’ll try to hit your three measly notes and fail on the timing. To add insult
to injury you’ll usually get 80-90% done on the song before you fail, and
you’ll be pissed and excited as you slap that button to start it over again.
This is not a game that will let you go, and as you play on you’ll realize just
how good you’re getting at it. You’ll go back and 5-star the old tracks and be
amazed at how simple it’s gotten…

And then you’ll try Medium difficulty and get your ass handed to
you. The same again on Hard, as you try to hit that last goddamn fret, and in
Expert as you learn to switch your hand position and nail those hammer-ons.

Jon: That is
what amazes me so much, it’s a game which derives its difficulty from a purely
simplistic concept. Watch the screen, push the matching button as it comes
down. In Simon you had to at least remember the sequence, here you just push
the button the game tells you to push. How fucking simple is that? Then why do
I suck at it so much?

I do admit that I have gotten a little better, but I’m only on
the medium setting and can barely get through the game. Three stars for most
songs, a couple of five star ratings and a complete mental block on “Message in
a Bottle,” a song I used to listen to repeatedly my freshman year of college,
just ask my hallmates.

Alex: Well, that’s the
thing. I’ts deceptively simple. It’s easy to get people jamming on it, too. I
played hours upon hours of the original, getting my girl and every friend
hooked on it in the process. I’d thrown parties where everyone was split up
between Guitar Hero in the living
room and Donkey Konga in the bedroom.
I played so much I got calluses and had cramped my hand up in amazing 5-6 hour
sessions. You can only imagine how much that dexterity has improved my life…

So, coming into Guitar Hero 2, I was a pro. Or so I thought.

There’s two main differences in the single
player game. The first is that the game got even harder. I’d planned to start
in Hard but that didn’t go very far…. my punk ass was handed back down to

The biggest revamp of the game is in the multiplayer, which
crushes the first’s as easily as a sledgehammer to a newborn kitten’s skull.
The fact that it allows you to select different difficulty levels is a godsend,
and honestly, why wasn’t it available in the first game? Huge oversight. Now
that I can play Expert against my 6 year old niece rocking Easy mode and get
whipped, the world is at peace. The bass is fun (especially with Primus) and
the rhythm is even trickier than the lead at points. The only shame is that you
can’t choose bass for every song, and you can’t go through a career playing
these tracks. Why not? I want to be a Bass God too, dammit.

Jon: Multiplayer is a pretty
nice diversion. For the Co-op mode I asked my wife, who was curious about the
guitar game, to join in. However, it was clear that she wasn’t into it, and
more importantly she was atrocious. While perhaps a harbinger of the longevity
our marriage, the session ended with me screaming, “oh come on, its not that
hard. Just push the damn buttons!”

The unlockables are pretty cool in that, if you don’t want them
they won’t hold back the gameplay, but if you do, they are worth the effort. Guitar Hero II is not a game driven by
unlockables, it’s a game driven by perfectionism. Nonetheless, it was awesome
putting Izzy in the top hat.

I dug the song selection as well. Not too much of one genre and
not too many well known songs. Having some unknown tunes makes the session feel
more like a unique experience rather than karaoke night at the Grapevine in
Scottsdale. The lawyer in me would find it interesting of what goes on in
securing the licensing for the songs, on top of what was wanted versus what
didn’t got left out. On the other hand, the warm-blooded human, just loved to
hear “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You.”

Alex: Yeah, but that is what keeps it from being as good as the first.

Whereas in the first you had pretty much
all the classic rock tracks you can think of, this one throws some truly
bizarre choices at you. The ones you think will work well don’t work out as
planned, either. Nirvana’s track proves to be insanely boring since it’s just
repeated chords, and horrible renditions ruin a few others, like Misrlou. There
are more newer bands and a bunch from the grunge era but it’s not as horrible
as people claim. There’s just a much wider variety of rock on display

I’m pleased to see more metal songs in the mix (come on people,
you know they’re the most fun to play)- shredding on Madhouse and Hangar 18 is
a trip. Laid to Rest should have been great, but the vocalist has apparently
never listened to the band, and sounds nothing like it should. Shame, because
it’s a fun song to play.

Jon: The
bottom line is that the game is plain and simple video game crack. No real
story, no real graphics or lasting emotional impact, just hours and hour of
pure and simple fun. I spent hours of precious free time plugging away at the
chords and frankly, don’t regret a bit of it.

Alex: Despite
a few problems the game is just as beautiful as the first. It’s still the
ultimate in “One more time!” goodness. It’s just as addicting, it’s even more
fun at a party setting, and it’s hugely popular, which means that we’re
guaranteed lots more of these bastards. I for one can’t wait. I need my metal
disc with Slayer.

Jon: And
this gets me back to my rip-off opening statement. Right now we are embarking
on the HD generation. What are we in store for this generation? Yes, we’ll have
games so detailed that we can see the splitters on the crates. But in essence
they’re the same crates we’ve been hiding behind for the past 10 years. We’ve
been getting better and better graphics, but where is the innovation with the
games? Before you list titles like (blank), here’s the how 90% of games fit in:
First Person Shooter, Action-Adventure collect ‘ems, RPG, Sports and GTA-model.

But you know what? The games that we remember are the niche
games. The games like Trauma Center, Okami, Katamari and the other games that make us sit-up and remember why
we became obsessed in the first place. The thing is that developers pour
millions of dollars into some titles, when simple games like Lumines, Tetris and Guitar Hero
capture our imagination.

Alex: Guitar Hero brings me back to those old-school action/adventure games where
you only had one life to get through it all. It’s the Chakan The Forever Man, the
Super Ghouls and Ghosts
, the Contra
without that pussy code. It’s the game that you fought like hell to get better
at, advancing more and more on each try, and having a helluva lot of fun doing

There’s nothing like it anymore. Every game
now is a glorified treasure hunt as you try to collect 100 coins or gems or
fucking miniature statues or something for some unknown reason. There’s a sense
of accomplishment in doing that, sure, and I’ve got put hours upon hours into
games trying to get every last thing, because I like to just dominate my games.
But there’s nothing like getting into that groove that you did in those old
games, where you just became one with what you are playing. That’s exactly how
you feel with the music in Guitar Hero, and as you get further and further into
the game you’ll just want to keep playing. Not because you want to get 100% on
every aspect of the game, but because you’ll want to get that better score on
that song you love, that 5-star rating, that 100% complete with no dropped
notes. Games like this are very rare.

I can
understand why there are some musicians who are skeptical on how fun Guitar Hero is, since they can do the
real thing, but coming from someone with a musical background (although
admittedly I haven’t picked one up in a few years) it will still hook you in.
Video game perfection.

9.5 out of 10

[Note from Nick: I just don’t get it.]