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Critical Reception: Activision's/Harmonix's Guitar Hero II

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the recently released Xbox 360 port of Harmonix's Guitar Hero II, featuring improved visuals and a selection of new songs, and called a "absolutely a must-own" for newcomers to t

Danny Cowan, Blogger

April 4, 2007

6 Min Read

This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to the recently released Xbox 360 port of Harmonix's Guitar Hero II, which features improved visuals and a selection of new songs. Though it was released almost five months ago in the United States, the PlayStation 2 version of Guitar Hero II remains one of the console's best-selling software titles from week to week, maintaining a level of popularity that few titles have achieved. The Xbox 360 port of Guitar Hero II has also met with high levels of anticipation in the months leading up to its release, though many have questioned whether its additions and enhancements over the existing PS2 version merit a pricetag of $89.99 for a bundled version that includes a guitar controller. Critical reaction has been favorable thus far, however, with Guitar Hero II earning an average review score ratio of 95% at Gamerankings.com. Games Radar's Dan Amrich contributes one of Guitar Hero II's most positive reviews on record, and scores the game at 10 out of 10. Amrich praises Guitar Hero II's premise, which he claims is still as effective and engrossing as ever. "Guitar Hero II has one simple goal: To make you feel like rock royalty," he begins. "Most male power fantasies feature rocket launchers and plasma rifles; this one swaps the guns for guitars, and specifically, a guitar-shaped custom controller that's a mini-sized replica of a Gibson X-plorer. Strap it on, plug it in (sorry, it's got a USB cable - no wireless controller yet), turn it up and get your shred together." The Xbox 360 version's subtle enhancements also impress Amrich. "If you've played the PS2 version," he writes, "you'll find the same thrilling core experience, just slightly upgraded. The graphics are noticeably sharper - this is 720p, after all - and the models have been tweaked a bit into the cartoon realm. It's all part of your rock and roll fantasy." "More importantly," he continues, "the 360 version includes eight new tracks, which represent a nice mix of classic and current anthems - Alice Cooper's 'Billion Dollar Babies' and Iron Maiden's 'The Trooper' share space with more recent fare like Rancid's 'Salvation' and Pearl Jam's 'Life Wasted.'" Though he expresses disappointment in the lack of an online multiplayer mode, Amrich feels that the experience is none the worse for its omission. "Buy this game," he concludes. "The content is plentiful (and crucially, more is en route) and the fantasy experience is pure rock and roll excess." Alex Navarro at GameSpot is a bit more skeptical as to whether the Xbox 360 port's enhancements will merit a purchase for those who already own the PS2 version, however. "Longtime Guitar Hero fans might be a bit wary of spending another big chunk of change for a new guitar and an updated version of a game they probably already own," he predicts. "But for 360 owners that haven't already invested heavily in this series and have the unquenchable desire to get their rock on, Guitar Hero II is absolutely a must-own." Scoring Guitar Hero II at 8.9 out of 10, Navarro spends much of his review outlining the differences between the two available versions. "Guitar Hero fans might not love the change to the way the guitar strap sits," Navarro says, regarding the Xbox 360's redesigned guitar controller. "It hooks into the back of the neck, as opposed to the body of the guitar, which occasionally leads to the strap getting twisted, making it uncomfortable to play." However: "This one quibble aside, the X-Plorer is a much more solid-feeling controller than the SG model. The buttons are raised slightly higher off the neck, and they, as well as the strummer, don't clack as much or as loudly as the PS2-model controller." Navarro is also critical of the expanded tracklist. "While the song list might be bigger, there are definitely a number of included tracks that aren't necessarily stand-outs," he notes. "If you're going to get Aerosmith in your game, why would you pick a song like 'Last Child' over any of their numerous bigger, just as solo-heavy hits? And is 'You Really Got Me' really the best Van Halen song that could be dug up?" "If you've never had the opportunity to try Guitar Hero before, this is the definitive way to do it," Navarro admits in conclusion. "PS2 owners might be reluctant to drop nearly another $100 on a game they've already played a bunch, but there's an investment-like quality to this game. Guitar Hero isn't going to be coming to the PS2 forever, and with the series starting off with such a bang on the Xbox 360, it might just make investing in Guitar Hero II again worth your while." IGN's Erik Brudvig, on the other hand, was wary of how Guitar Hero II would translate to the Xbox 360. "Typically, ports of PS2 games don't fare very well on Xbox 360," he explains. "Guitar Hero II does not fall into that trap. While the original was never a graphical powerhouse, the 360 port looks significantly better. Textures and models have been given an upgrade and everything is now running in crisp HD. Details that were previously impossible to make out now jump to life, doing a great service to a game with presentation as superb as Guitar Hero II." Awarding the title a rating of 9.4 out of 10, Brudvig claims that Guitar Hero II has much to offer, even for those who have already played the PS2 version. "If you've played Guitar Hero II already, there is still a ton of new content on the 360 version that makes it worth picking up again," he claims. "For starters, there are ten new tracks that were recorded exclusively for the Xbox 360. Like the rest of the game, these tracks run the gamut between good and excellent, but the overall quality of recording and fun factor on these tracks is as high, if not higher, than the original set list." "Guitar Hero II on Xbox 360 is the best iteration of the hit music rhythm game yet, but it's also an important addition to the Xbox 360 library," Brudvig posits. "RedOctane and Harmonix put their best foot forward with this release. The result is a port that adds enough content to make it worth a second look from the hardcore fans, especially with the downloadable songs, and a game that is put together so well that all newcomers should give it a try." Many critics feel that Guitar Hero II remains an excellent game in its own right, though the minimal improvements offered by the more expensive Xbox 360 port might not be enough to encourage another purchase for those who already own the PlayStation 2 version. Some suggest that the Xbox 360 edition's promise of downloadable content could eventually result in a more robust experience in the future. Until this promise becomes a reality, however, series fans face a more difficult decision as to whether Guitar Hero II is worth a repeat investment.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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