If you paid attention to the holiday sales this past year, you would know that one of the best selling games was an expensive peripheral-based title known as Guitar Hero. Now as a general rule most games packaged with expensive peripherals don’t sell well, however GH has found a way to penetrate the market and captivate anyone who so much as plays one song. I can’t explain how this works nor do I care to contemplate it, all I can say is that if you do not own this game, there is now no excuse not to own it.
Guitar Hero II for the Xbox 360 marks the first time the game has been available outside of the PS2. Fans of Microsoft’s newest machine now have the opportunity to see what all the fuzz is about all while getting enough exclusive content to make fans of the series run out and buy a whole new console. For starters, unlike the PS2 iteration GHII for the 360 has the ability to offer downloadable content via the Xbox Live Marketplace.
The developers of the game have promised a plethora of new songs to show up as soon as a week after the game’s initial release. This gives the game unlimited value as long as the support is there, which, if the first week’s sales are any indication, there are plenty of users out there willing to snag up any new content as soon as it hits.
The second reason the Xbox 360 version reigns supreme, is the initial batch of new songs already on the disc. Ten new tracks have been added to the already impressive list bringing the total selection up to 74 songs available out of the box. These have all been nicely transitioned into the revised career mode, which has been revamped to create a much smoother learning curve. Among these ten new jams you will find such classics as Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” which is a personal favorite of mine, especially on Hard, and even a couple of master recordings such as The Toadies “Possum Kingdom” and My Chemical Romance’s “Dead!”.
Some of the other enhancements fall into the appreciated but not required category, though they are still worth mentioning. The visuals have received a nice high-resolution facelift giving the game a smoother, more polished presentation. Lighting effects have also been added and really do a nice job of creating that rock star presentation.
All of the songs have also been completely remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. While this is not as noticeable when playing on a standard set, pump it through a proper surround sound system and you will clearly hear the difference.
Probably one of the coolest new features of this version though, comes in the form of the guitar packed in the box. While most of us were dying for a wireless axe from the outset, RedOctane has promised that there is one in the works, but when and how much are the biggest questions. Regardless, this new guitar has been completely re-designed from the ground up and is now a replica of the Gibson X-Plorer.
In addition to being a completely new design, there are a few new features on the controller. The first is obviously a jack where you can plug in your headset and send voice messages to your friends. This of course could also be used to chat if there is ever an online version of the game, but for now it is nice to have to avoid having to try and type a text message with the guitar controller. The second input looks strikingly similar to a phone jack and its use is still a mystery. RedOctane has stated that it may be used for future Guitar Hero releases, but for now it is nothing more than a useless peripheral slot. Hopefully they will add a foot pedal that could be used for effects or even star power.
The final piece of this new package is probably my most enjoyable, achievements and leaderboards. It is one thing to claim just how good you are a GH, it is another to put your money where your mouth is, and with this iteration, you can finally show off your mad skills without having to drag your guitar all over creation. The leaderboard system is based entirely off of your highest score, and you even have the option to filter just your friends list. This adds a whole new dimension to the game as you constantly try to perfect songs in order to show up your friends online.
The second part of this (a personal favorite of mine of course) is the Achievements. Harmonix and RedOctane have done an amazing job of creating a perfect set of Achievements that are challenging and fun. While some people will certainly never see the full 1000 points, by this I mean getting five stars on Expert-c’mon, but there are plenty of others that will keep you playing for hours on end. With the ability to add 250 more points down the road, and of course new songs, the lifespan of this title could easily stretch well beyond that of any other title currently on the system.
The bottom line is that if you have yet to dive into the world of Guitar Hero, there has never been a better time. The Xbox 360 adaptation is far and away the definitive version of the game and certainly worth the extra ten bucks. With an expanded track list, the promise of downloadable content, and the addition of leaderboards and Achievements you will be playing this game well into 2007 and beyond. I cannot honestly think of a reason not to own this game, this is the type of pick up and play addiction that I imagined the Wii would deliver with all titles. You will simply not find a better or more addictive game to play alone or with friends this year.