Guitar Hero 2 Xbox 360 Review - 26/07/2007

Guitar Hero II from Red Octane has strummed its way onto 360 and offers gamers young and old the chance to discover what it means to whammy like a madman, shred up the stage and feel like a true rock star.

Literary clichés aside, GHII for the 360 has come a surprisingly long way since its debut on the PS2 in time for Christmas last year. Aside from a partial graphical makeover, the key addition that has found its way into the 360 version is an expanded song list, both in game and through Marketplace downloads. Although future content is planned, there has been some controversy over the pricing of the three song packs that have already been released. Given the fact that they are songs from Guitar Hero 1 and not new tracks exclusive to the 360, it is not surprising that the steep asking price of 500 points for a pack of three has been met with some criticism. Regardless of this, the 360 version's most important addition remains with the new songs bundled with the game, and, coupled with the songs that were already a part of GHII on the PS2, the soundtrack of the 360 version is truly amazing.

Although mostly covers, Harmonix and Red Octane have obviously gone to a great deal of trouble to secure the right talent, and it shows. Classic rock songs such as “You Really Got Me” are contrasted with country efforts “Hush” and “Rock This Town”. At the other end of the scale, “War Pigs”, “Dead”, and “Heart Shaped Box” round out the various musical genres that feature throughout the game's 8 set lists. The quality of the covers is extremely impressive, and despite not being masters, they sound close enough to the real thing to satisfy even the most hardcore of rock devotees. With a total of 74 songs (and the potential for a whole lot more with further downloadable content), Guitar Hero II is an unbelievable collection of music from the industry’s finest.

The best way to experience these slices of auditory brilliance is with the X-Plorer Guitar, a comfortable, customizable peripheral that is oozing style from every crevice of its plastic shell. It is a real shame that it isn’t wireless, because for a console that is marketed as the ultimate wire-free experience it seems odd that the controller doesn’t utilize the technology. As with its PS2 counterpart, the X-Plorer comes with complete motion sensing capabilities. This particular aspect of its functionality does not feel quite as intuitive as the Gibson SG, but aside from that, it is every bit as satisfying to play. The accuracy of the notes has also been increased thanks to the 360’s next gen audio technology, which has made the game much more demanding. Thankfully, the X-Plorer is a well refined peripheral that is more than capable of giving you the increased responsiveness that you will come to rely on once you progress to the harder difficulties levels.

On that note, Guitar Hero II has quite possibly the steepest learning curve of any video game. Ever. The jump from Easy to Medium, and from there to Hard, and finally to Expert, make you feel as though you're completely new to the game each time you advance. You will find yourself either grabbing a mate to perfect songs as a pair or jumping into the practice mode and giving them a try without the pressures of being on tour. If anything, the rapidly increasing difficulty of the game does in a sense increase its appeal. In the same way many gamers will use Achievements as an incentive to revisit previous neglected gems, Guitar Hero II encourages you to unlock all of its content by getting better and better at the game. The rewards are extensive, with new characters, costumes & bonus songs by amateur artists being among the most appealing. Although the intensity of many of the songs, and in particular the solos, might put off some of you looking for a less demanding experience, Guitar Hero II is challenging for a very good reason. The rewards are always worth any finger cramping hardship you may endure.

The game doesn’t push the specifications of the Xbox 360 to any significant degree. Although the character models and stadium environments are of a much higher quality than those found in the PS2 version, Guitar Hero II is by no means a graphical tour de force. It’s the sound quality of the game that truly outshines everything else. There can be no denying that having “Cherry Pie” thumping out of a surround sound system with the Bass turned up nice and loud is the epitome of brilliance. Guitar Hero II is truly unlike any game I’ve ever played, in the sense that there is nothing else on the Xbox 360 that comes even remotely close to the gameplay experience it offers. It is truly one of a kind, and has already sparked competition in the form of EA’s upcoming Rock Band. It will be interesting to see how sales of this series measure up to Rock Band’s debut later this year, especially with Guitar Hero III looking like it may be heading for a Christmas release as well. In the meantime, Guitar Hero II is an instant classic. It is an innovative title that pushes the boundaries of a genre that is only now beginning to realize its full potential.

- Jon Titmuss



Xbox 360/PS2