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

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the RedOctane-published, Harmonix-developed Guitar Hero II for the PlayStation 2, the awaited sequel to last year's breakout rhythm title Guitar Hero.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to the RedOctane-published, Harmonix-developed Guitar Hero II for the PlayStation 2, the awaited sequel to last year's breakout rhythm title Guitar Hero. The original Guitar Hero was the recipient of widespread critical acclaim, chiefly because of its accessible gameplay (via a guitar-shaped controller) and its convincing simulation of an on-stage musical performance. Featuring both a humorously intense rockstar aesthetic and a selection of recognizable and popular rock 'n' roll tracks, Guitar Hero has sold more than one million copies following its release in 2005. Like its predecessor, Guitar Hero II was similarly showered with critical praise in the days following its release, currently pulling in an impressive 95% review score ratio at Gamerankings.com. Russ Fischer of Yahoo Games provides one of several perfect scores given to Guitar Hero II, awarding 5 out of 5 stars to a game that he calls "as close to perfect as a rhythm game has ever been." Fischer is especially pleased by Guitar Hero II's difficulty progression, which he claims to be a vast improvement over the original release. "Those who blew through the first game too fast will be encouraged to learn that there's a much better difficulty spread this year," says Fischer. "The Easy mode truly is easy, but very quickly things get a lot harder. Well-practiced veterans will nail five star ratings until they hit expert, at which point you're playing basically every note of the song, inasmuch as the five-fret controller allows." This new focus on difficulty is accompanied by the introduction of a practice mode, which allows players to master difficult sections of songs prior to a scored performance in career mode. According to Fischer, this is one of the game's most significant additions. "The most difficult tracks really benefit from the new practice mode," notes Fischer. "That puts Expert Mode, a notorious achievement in the original, within the realm of those really willing to practice." Fischer concludes: "There will always be people for whom the Guitar Hero concept seems cheesy or far-fetched, and there's nothing this sequel can do about that. But for the rest of us, this is an absolutely stellar release, with too much variety, originality, rewards, and pure fun to even think about missing out on." GameSpot's Alex Navarro also has plenty of praise for Guitar Hero II in his 8.7-out-of-10 review, but feels that much of the game loses its impact due to the strength of its predecessor. "As mechanically excellent as Guitar Hero was, a bigger factor in its appeal was its song selection, namely the fantastic emphasis on really memorable riffs," Navarro explains. "While [Guitar Hero II's] song list might be bigger, it's not necessarily as memorable as the first game's was." Navarro speculates that the bulk of Guitar Hero II's tracklist was chosen based upon potential difficulty within the context of gameplay, rather than popularity. "The newer, tougher difficulty seems to come from an overlying desire to emphasize speed and crazy solos in Guitar Hero II," says Navarro, "as opposed to the greater emphasis on classic riffs found in the first game. That's not necessarily a bad choice--just a different one." Regardless, Navarro is pleased with the title overall. "Without a doubt, Guitar Hero II brings to the table an impressive package," he summarizes. "The new multiplayer modes are plenty of fun, the song list is gigantic, and the practice mode is going to very much come in handy as you navigate the trials and tribulations of metal songs with 11 guitar solos and nine-minute rock epics." Chris Roper of IGN, on the other hand, finds considerably fewer flaws in Guitar Hero II. Awarding the game a score of 9.5 out of 10, Roper is almost entirely positive in his review. "Guitar Hero II expands upon the smash-hit original game in almost every way with a greatly expanded (and arguably better) track list, improved multiplayer support, a practice mode and more," says Roper. "The result is a game that seems to have almost everything you could have wished for in the sequel, aside from maybe a pack-in case of beer." Roper pays particular attention to the improvements made to the series' gameplay mechanics. He states: "While much of the game's mechanics work the same as they did in the original, there are a few differences. Three button chords is the biggest addition to the formula, requiring an extra finger to pull off these massive parts." "Hammer-ons and pull-offs work a little better," Roper also claims, noting that, "Both moves seem to be a little easier to perform this time around, as we've had less trouble hitting extremely long sequences of repeating or running notes." Roper finishes with a recommendation to all fans of the first Guitar Hero. "This is the nearly-perfect sequel to one of our favorite games in basically forever," Roper concludes, "and it's an absolute must-buy." Despite some occasional criticism of its selection of songs, most reviews agree that Guitar Hero II makes for a significantly more difficult and feature-filled addition to the Guitar Hero series. The title will likely remain a top seller among PS2 software for many weeks to come, and if overall critical reaction is to be believed, fans of the original Guitar Hero will have little reason to be disappointed with Guitar Hero II.

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