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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 13:00 GMT
How to strum your way to success
By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News website

Artwork for Guitar Hero II, Red Octane
The game is aimed at budding rock gods
Like Page and Plant's Stairway to Heaven, the original Guitar Hero game almost instantly became a classic.

Wielding a plastic mini-guitar jacked into a PlayStation 2, wannabe rock gods were given the chance to strum their way to musical nirvana by playing along with an onscreen band.

The innovative gameplay managed to turn air guitar and classic rock from guilty pleasures in to acceptable, even cool, past times.

Burning up the plastic frets as you knocked out Ace of Spades by Motorhead was so much fun that even non-gamers wanted in on the action.

In my house, the game was responsible for turning gaming sessions from snatched half-hours into entire evenings rocking out in the lounge.

Cover version

Guitar Hero II, like a Status Quo track, does not deviate much from the original winning formula.

The main thrust of the game is still playing along with a virtual rock band, pressing the correct sequence of buttons on the neck of the guitar and strumming along in time to the music.

Hit the right notes and chords and the moshing fans rewards you with cheers. But fumble on the closing solo of Free Bird and the crowd turn in an instant and boo you off stage.

GUITAR HERO II
Format: PlayStation 2
Graphics: 7
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 8
Enduring appeal: 8
Overall: 8
With the introduction of tricky three-finger chords to the sequel, the latter is a regular occurrence. Luckily, the sequel features a practice mode where you can hone your riffs at slow speed before unleashing them on your fans.

In the main game, like the original, the player controls the career of their chosen character.

Bringing the house down means you ascend from high-school garage band to rock-deity, playing before the throngs of the faithful at Stonehenge.

As you rise to the top, you unlock more songs from the vaults and pick up new equipment, like amps, from sponsors.

Battle of the bands

Guitar Hero II comes with a cherry-red guitar, but the original black Gibson SG inspired controller that shipped with the first game also works, meaning you don't have to invest in a new axe.

But if you do, you will be rewarded. The multiplayer games are when the fun really begins.

Guitar controller, Red Octane
The game comes with a guitar-shaped controller
Co-operative mode allows you to jam as a band, where one player can take on the heavy licks of the lead guitar and the other the rhythm or bass sections.

After a couple of warm-up tunes you will be both be stood on the coffee table, the necks of your guitars locked, wishing you could turn your TV up to 11.

But remember most great rock partnerships come to an end for a reason, so when creative differences force you apart you can take advantage of the face-off modes.

These allow pairs of axe-grinders to dual against each other, letting their finger work do the talking. The winner is the one that hits the most notes.

Rock nirvana

But it is not all rock heaven for this sequel.

The first instalment suffered from having too many songs unknown to a UK audience.

Although developer Harmonix has gone some way to remedying this, with covers of Nirvana and Guns 'n' Roses, there are still vast swathes of the set lists that remain a mystery.

Another annoyance is that you cannot play career mode as a band.

So if you start playing as a pair you are limited to the first eight tracks of the game unless one of you is prepared to go it alone and play the single player mode to unlock more.

However, these are minor issues with a sequel that is every bit as good, if not better, than the original.

Guitar Hero remains one of the most innovative titles on the PlayStation 2 and the only one that allows you to release your inner rock banshee.


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