Guitar Hero II

Following the success of Guitar Hero a sequel was inevitable. Guitar Hero II is a very similar game in many ways, but with an entirely new set of songs.

There are some 40 songs in the main game, plus bonus tracks that bring the total to over 55. The bonus tracks are all from lesser-known acts, but they're still good. The main tracks are classics from a range of rock styles, from thrash metal to glam rock. You don't get to listen to the original vocals because they're all re-recordings, although in some cases you can barely tell.

There are a number of improvements on the original Guitar Hero game. Probably the most significant one is the inclusion of a whole new practice mode. This allows you to practice songs at four different speed settings, and to choose exactly which sections of a song you want to concentrate on. Another development is with the hammer-ons and pull-offs, which are supposed to be easier this time around. The difference this makes is hardly perceptible, however.

But if you think these moves to make the game easier mean that it will take less time to complete. you'll be wrong. Not only are there more tracks, there are more ways to play them. There are three different multiplayer modes, and in the cooperative multiplayer you can opt to play either the rhythm or the bass guitar. There are hours and hours of play in this game.

The graphics are in the same style as Guitar Hero, with all of the original characters. They're not exactly cutting-edge, but in a game that's all about the sound it doesn't matter a great deal. But there's also the addition of a few new characters, all new venues, as well as different outfits, guitars and skins. These mostly have to be unlocked by playing the game in Career mode and earning money for good performances. Songs are unlocked in groups of five, with the last song of each group only becoming unlockable as an encore after you have successfully played enough of the other songs. There are special items which can only be bought after completing an entire difficulty level, or perfecting all of the songs on that level with a 5-star score. So there's always something to aim for in this long-lasting game.

Guitar Hero II will make your fingers and forearms ache, but that's about the extent of it. It's only slightly more physical than traditional games, so if you're looking for something active then this won't do the job. Nevertheless it's a whole lot of fun to play, and immensely addictive. The combination of rock hits and the feeling that you're actually playing them for real, which is easy to imagine when you're using the guitar controller, make for a compelling experience.