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Guitar Hero II

God gave rock and roll to us. now, amen, Xbox gives us Guitar Hero II...

Like us, chances are that somewhere along the line you abandoned all dreams of being in a rock band. Two things did it for us: number one, we'd only just learned to play Kum Ba Yah on the guitar. Not a great start. Number two was more problematic still: no one seemed massively impressed by our tales of reaching Level 30 in Elder Scrolls.

Well, it's time to reawaken The Roll and the Rock, because a game has arrived on 360 which is going to give you flashbacks. In a good way. Not only is it going to give you flashbacks in fact, it's going to give you a taste of the life you never had and show you how it feels to perform to a stadium full of thousands of people all chanting your name. They'll wave their lighters in time to you plucking the last, searing notes of a particularly emotional rendition of Sweet Child O' Mine (this one goes out to you, Mum); they'll cheer and screech and leap about to your mental Megadeth homage; and at the last dying notes of Can't You Hear Me Knocking they'll be screaming for an encore. "More, more, more!" they'll be begging you. Yeah, THE CROWD LOVES YOU! You're Slash, you're Van Halen, you're... er, wait a mo - you're playing a plastic guitar with buttons for strings.

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X-TASY
Yep, it seems you give a person a plastic guitar and suddenly a straightforward rhythm game becomes something much more. You can't rock out when you're holding a controller - you can when you're clinging to a Gibson X-Plorer guitar controller, with five fret buttons, strum and whammy bars. Self-consciousness goes out of the window once you've learn how to play the thing, because by the time you're halfway through the Normal setting's songs, you're moving your hand up and down that guitar like it's the real thing. There are even three-button chords to play - not until the Hard difficulty mode thankfully, but by the time you've got that far, anyone without Ferrari-fast brain-waves and Mozart's fingers will need to practice and learn the notes much like a real musical instrument.

Guitar Hero II isn't just about rhythm, though. In fact, it gives you a generous time window on hitting a note, so timing isn't as important as in other rhythm games - it's about working up the reaction speeds needed to just survive the thrashier death-metal tracks. For the uncoordinated of hand, it's also about just working out how to go from one two-button chord to another, but whatever level you're at there's a difficulty level to match it and you're always improving. Like a level of any game that needs playing over and over again to get through, this is all about repetition and self-improvement. For the more musically minded, it's a welcome challenge. The only difference between this and repeatedly playing all of Gears of War for the cogs is that they don't leave coloured spots in front of your eyes and the room looking like it's scrolling upwards for about five minutes after you've turned the console off.

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BUTTON LOON
Guitar Hero's interface is simple. A track begins and a runway of music scrolls towards you. At the bottom of the screen are five coloured circles, which correspond to the five like-coloured fret buttons on your guitar. You hold down the right buttons on the guitar when the notes are coming, then hit the strum bar at exactly the moment they pass through the circle at the bottom to play them. Do it right and the song plays, but messing up prompts screeching wails from your guitar and jeers from the watching crowd. Oh, the humiliation. Also, thrown into the mix are longer notes that have to be held down (you can let rip with the whammy bar on these for bonus points and a cool-sounding vibrato effect) and sequences of star-shaped notes that fill up your Star Meter if they're all played correctly.

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