Rock is hot stuff at the moment. Jack Black and Kyle Gass are rocking around in the hilarious Tenacious D movie, and it's making a resurgence in the pop charts too: Oasis and U2 have resurrected their ageing bands to challenge for the illustrious Christmas number one. Even James Bond has tucked into a bit of rock, just check out the latest Bond theme tune.
So rock music is the zeitgeist of 2006. It comes as no surprise, then, that Red Octane has gone back to its sleeper hit of 2005, Guitar Hero, and tarted it up somewhat for the inevitable sequel: Guitar Hero II, the press-the-button-when-it-flashes-on-screen game where you use an actual (fake) guitar. Throwing my air guitar out the window, we jumped into Guitar Hero II whole heartedly, but could it really be better than the previous game? Let's find out.
What is Guitar Hero?
If you've played Guitar Hero before you can skip this bit, which is a quick explanation to what exactly the game is, who it's designed for and how its played.
Guitar Hero is made in a similar vein to games like Dance Dance Revolution and Singstar. Different coloured buttons stream down the screen, each one representing a fret button for you to press on your guitar at a certain time. These buttons link up to form combinations which, if you play them at the right time and in the right order, will create the sound of playing a rock anthem.
To play each note you have to hold the correct fret button down and flick the strum button (up or down). Certain songs will require you to play longer notes. There are four modes of play, easy, medium, hard, and expert with each mod making the song more difficult to play by increasing the amount of cords and notes to hit.
The formula is intuitive, and easy to pick up but difficult to master. It makes for a great party game but also offers lots to do whilst playing alone. It sounds like a perfect game, and in many peoples eyes it is. We all know the first game was brilliant - the question is, does Guitar Hero II offer enough new stuff to warrant you spending more of your hard earned cash?
The first Guitar Hero was filled with recognisable rock songs which you played along to. The second game contains fewer well known songs but follows exactly the same principle. The Career mode is identical bar the new songs - beat the songs, move onto the next bigger venue then beat those songs. If you play the game on medium or above, then you can unlock new characters and guitars to play with. If you liked the single player from the first game then this is simply more of the same.
The new modes of play are a bit more interesting. The new practice mode allows you to rehearse songs to fine tune your guitar skills. If you're finding a particular part of the song really tricky you can jump in here and practice either the whole song or just a small segment. You can even slow the song down by up to three times to work out those really tricky sections. This addition is brilliant because it provides that extra incentive to really practice and perfect your skills on the hardest modes.
The second major addition has been to the multiplayer game. Now you don't only have the choice to play head to head with an opponent and try to outscore them you can also play in co-operative and make your own Guitar Hero band, with one of you taking the role of lead whilst the other takes the role of bass or rhythm. You don't have to both play one difficulty level, so if your bassist has a beadle claw for a strumming hand he can play on easy whilst your lead Eddie Van Halen wannabe can bosh it on expert.
The resulting jamming sessions are brilliant fun. Playing together, fusing your spirits as rock was always intended is far more fun than playing against one another, and when you start really pulling it off the electricity of Guitar Hero II pulses through you. I was fortunate enough to observe two brilliant Sony representatives playing Guitar Hero at a recent launch party for the game. The guys were jamming the theme tune for Top Gear whilst on stage, both on expert mode, and it wasn't like watching a game - it was like being at a gig. People in the crowd were cheering and applauding, it was amazing.
We felt the best way to give you an idea about Guitar Hero was getting all the bit-tech editors to write their own impressions of the game. Over the next few pages you'll see three very different gamers giving their own perspective on what they think of this game...