E3 06: Guitar Hero 2 - hands on

There's a dilemma in the music business called the "sophomore slump". It essentially predicts that, if an artist's first major-label album is a smash hit, the follow-up album is almost doomed to underachieve. It happens all the time. However, ten minutes is all we needed to know for sure that the Guitar Hero series, which gives you a guitar-shaped controller and lets you play rock god, is absolutely not going to fall victim to that age-old curse. Now, tinnitis%26hellip; that's another story.

The thing the game does right is preserve everything that made the first game a chart-topper. Using the same guitar controller as before (though it will now come with more stickers, and possibly new color schemes), you "play" the color-coded notes that fall to the bottom of the screen by tapping buttons with your left hand and strumming a lever with your right. Do well, and you can tilt the guitar up in the ultimate pose and trigger the bonus meter. And you do it to some of the most timeless, hard-rocking music ever created by electronically-amplified mankind.

You want the sing-along classics, you say? Well, how about Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me" - you've heard that one, right? Or perhaps you're into the tragically obscure Reverend Horton Heat? If you're not, you will be after the raucous "Psychobilly Freakout". We burned through both tunes - two players at a time.

That's the big addition, in fact. If you've got an axe plugged into both control ports, two players can jam together on the same song, with one playing the lead part and the other playing either the bass line or a rhythm guitar part (depending upon the song). You can even choose two separate levels of difficulty, so folks looking for more challenge can still hang out with their less-awesome peers. Oh, and the bonus meter is shared in co-op mode, so you both have to do the pose together in order to trigger it.

You'll also get at least two new characters and a ton more guitars, with which to play some 50+ songs, including "Strutter" by Kiss, "YYZ" by prog rock kings Rush, Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," and the Butthole Surfers' "Who Was In My Room Last Night?" Mark your calendars now. We're getting the band back together in November.

May 10, 2006