You can't play guitar. Sorry, dude, but we've heard you, and you can't. You see Eddie Van Halen on stage, rocking his way into guitar heaven and drinking his way into oblivion, and you want to be him (or at least, you wanted to be him back in 1984). But you ain't him, and you ain't never gonna be him. Best you can do is fork over $90 and pretend to be him in Guitar Hero II. And you know what? You won't be able to tell the difference. (Especially if you do the drinking part.)
Guitar Hero II has one simple goal: To make you feel like rock royalty. 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. As the colored gems slide toward you on the screen, tap the matching colored button on your guitar controller's neck and strum the little lever in the guitar's body. Just add rhythm and you're a juke box hero. If you suck, don't worry; the healthy tutorial and practice modes will give you virtual lessons. At the highest of the four difficulty levels, you will need them.
If you've played the PS2 version - and good lord, please say you have - 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, 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." All of it rocks harder than your mom's headboard when dad's in a dirty mood. And if for some reason the 74 tracks that come with the game aren't enough, get ready for pay-to-play downloadable tracks over Xbox Live, too.
Let's clarify that: You'll be able to pay to download more songs, but you won't be able to actually play those songs against other people online. GHII's versus and co-op modes are strictly same-screen affairs. Depending on the song, each player tackles either the lead guitar, rhythm guitar, or bass duties, making beautiful music together. For those who prefer to cut heads, the Face-Off mode throws two guitarists into a rock battle for six-string supremacy.
That same-screen multiplayer is actually enough; we were disappointed not to see online play, but frankly, there's something to be said for talking trash in the same room and/or elbowing your opponent in the ribs while they try to solo.
Buy this game. The content is plentiful (and crucially, more is en route) and the fantasy experience is pure rock and roll excess. Your personal stairway to heaven awaits.