2009 was a great year for video games, with a huge variety of top-tier titles coming out to entertain fans of virtually every genre. FPS fans were treated to Modern Warfare 2, RPG fans got to enjoy Dragon Age: Origins, and fighter stalwarts were treated to the outstanding experiences of such hits as Street Fighter IV and Blazblue: Calamity Trigger. The most fortunate fans of all were the ones that love music games, with nearly a dozen titles from Activision
The first thing most players will notice when firing up DJ Hero 2 is the improved look of the game. While the original DJ Hero’s interface was fairly well laid out, the sequel improves upon it, allowing players to more easily navigate through the game. This is a recurring theme with DJ Hero 2, as virtually every facet of the game has been tweaked to improve over the original. One of the few weak points of the first game was that finding out how to browse and download newly released tracks was rather obscure. Downloadable content is now clearly defined and much easier to search through.
Another huge upgrade for DJ Hero 2 is the way that the visuals are synched with the track that is being played. This may sound like a minor detail, but having the strobes and other lighting effects in the clubs pulse in rhythm with the track you’re mixing is a great addition, and helps immerse players in the gameplay that much more. Often during long scratches the screen will jump-cut to a close-up of the turntable, showing the movement matching your scratches perfectly. Dancers moving in synch with the music and interacting with each other and the DJ all add up to an experience that’s as fun to watch as it is to play.
All these pretty visuals wouldn’t make a lick of difference if the music didn’t live up to the hype. This is a music game, the most important piece should be the tracks right? Not to worry though; the number of tracks, as well as the variety and quality, is absolutely outstanding. One of the few complaints about the original DJ Hero was the fact that a lot of the tracks were repeated throughout the game. You’d get to hear ABC by The Jackson Five a LOT. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many of the mixes were surprisingly good, but it did leave some players craving more variety.
This time around the developer made sure to have far fewer repeats, offering gamers a much bigger music library right off the bat. With over eighty quality tracks that ship with the game, DJ Hero 2 has something to offer for nearly every musical palette. No matter what your musical inclinations are, the inclusion of artists like The Chemical Brothers, Lady Gaga, Salt N Pepa, and Deadmau5 are sure to satisfy your tastes. Don’t worry that the included tracks are obscure songs from these artists either – for the most part you’ll have some of the biggest hits that they’ve produced. Everything from Galvanize to Bad Romance to Push It is featured in the game. As if that wasn’t enough, finishing the game unlocks (among other things) Daft Punk’s Human After All from the upcoming movie Tron Legacy. I could go on and on about the music featured in this game, but suffice it to say that you will not be disappointed. There’s even more great news as publisher Activision Blizzard already has plans for Linkin Park downloadable content to be available soon after the game’s release and plenty more DLC available before the end of the year.
The control scheme is another area in which DJ Hero 2 made huge improvements. This is particularly surprising, as the controls from the first game were extremely tight and intuitive. The controls really haven’t changed much from the first game, more like the developers expanded on the theme that the first game introduced.
In DJ Hero, you were given a fairly limited set of ways you could control the music; the expected tapping of the correct colored button to match the colored gem on the screen is a given, as well as holding down a button and rotating the turntable back and forth to “scratch”. Along with the slider that moved you back and forth between any of the three tracks currently playing was pretty much the sum total of gameplay. Higher difficulty levels would toss in “spikes” that hit different tracks for a quick sound bite and having to match the direction of the scratches added some flavor. These advanced techniques really only appeared at Expert level of gameplay though.
With DJ Hero 2 the difficulty levels have been smoothed out a little more, so instead of all the songs at Medium having the same thing over and over, you’ll have tracks that slowly introduce new techniques that you’ll need at the next level of play. Instead of just graduating from frantically scratching at your own pace on Medium and then having directional scratches at Hard and Expert, you’ll start learning long, slow scratches as well as freestyle scratching. Sections of the music will have areas where you hold down one of the tracks for a special sound effect, and then challenge you to do this while tapping and/or switching to other tracks. This method of providing the player with lots of easy to learn techniques and then combining them in unusual ways is incredibly fun and gives you a real sense of accomplishment as your skills improve. Smoothing out of the learning curve in this fashion goes a long way towards making the advanced levels more accessible and giving players an increasing, yet attainable, challenge.
When DJ Hero was first announced there were plenty of doubters claiming that it was gimmicky and just wouldn’t work. That title completely silenced it’s critics with inventive gameplay and an obvious passion for the music it contained. DJ Hero 2 builds on that foundation in every way, expanding the gameplay techniques, the multiplayer modes, and including an excellent career mode that will challenge you no matter what difficulty level you play it at.
The career mode (called Empire mode) starts players out as an aspiring DJ, with your home club of Ibiza being the only place you can play. Players get to choose their DJ, the club name, and a logo to represent themselves and then it’s time to start spinning that turntable! As part of shaking up things in DJ Hero 2 your first gig is a six song megamix that will test your endurance. Gone are the days of just single mix after single mix to advance you through your career. In Empire mode you’ll have plenty of variety to keep you busy, whether it’s megamixes, challenges, or DJ battles.
Sadly enough, the DJ battles are the only thing that mar the gameplay in this title. While it’s a solid concept that we’ve seen implemented in the Guitar Hero titles, it’s just executed poorly in this instance. This is unfortunate, as the idea of battling another DJ fits into this title beautifully. Unfortunately, the difficulty here is incredibly uneven. Far too often you’ll find yourself with what you think is a huge advantage over the game with a sure win in your future, only to find out that the other DJ stages an unbelievable comeback to defeat you. The opposite can be true also, as you can be completely baffled by a mix and somehow still come out on top, as if by magic. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t happen so frequently and end up being so frustrating. Issues with the DJ battles aside, the career mode is very well done overall and will keep players come back to it over and over.
One thing that hasn’t been covered so far is the use of vocals in this game. In most other music titles players can fake their way through singing a song by following the words on-screen and being vaguely familiar with the tune. This is most definitely not the case in DJ Hero 2. Not only do you have to be very well acquainted with the lyrics of both songs that are being mixed, the game is also fairly demanding when it comes to pitch. Throw in having to deal with track switches and rewinds, and your average vocalist is up for quite a challenge. I’m not saying that singing in this game is not worthwhile, just be warned that you’re going to have to endure some very low song scores while you learn the lyrics and timing that this title demands. This does bring up another point though, the fact that all the songs in the game are “no-fail”. No matter how abysmally you do on a track, you’ll still play through the entire thing and not have to start over to try and complete it. This type of gameplay decision doesn’t work as well in other music titles, but for DJ Hero 2 it works perfectly.
Gameplay on the multiplayer side has seen a huge amount of expansion, as several new modes and tweaks have been brought to the table. Multiplayer in the original DJ Hero wasn’t overly exciting, with players having the option of co-op or head to head play. Co-op in this instance is rather misleading as both players merely play the same song, potentially at different difficulty levels. There was no reward for hitting consecutive notes together, or getting a perfect on special sections of the mix. Head to head play was watered down too, as it only consisted of who achieved the highest score at the end of the song.
As stated previously, multiplayer has been cranked up this time around, with plenty of competitive modes to entertain players. One of the biggest changes from the last version is that rewind is now available in multiplayer. This means if you build up enough of a score you can rewind and replay through a section of the song, leaving your opponent standing while you rack up more points.
The majority of the multiplayer modes are easily recognizable to any fan of the Guitar Hero games. Star Battles challenge you to achieve more stars than your opponent, so you’ll have to use all your Rewinds, Euphorias and Freestyles wisely to win. Power Deck Battles are made available once you earn some custom decks in Empire mode. Each of these decks provides bonuses to your gameplay, whether it’s a longer Euphoria, more frequent Rewinds, or higher score multipliers.
The really exciting multiplayer modes are Streak, Accumulator, Checkpoint, and DJ Battle. Streak is a test of your nerve as well as your skill – build up your perfect streak and then bank it using the Euphoria button. You can only bank a streak that’s higher than your currently stored one – make one mistake and it resets your streak. Highest streak at the end of the track wins. Accumulator is similar to Streak except your banked score builds up instead of just being your highest stored streak. Checkpoint breaks up each track into sections and you have to outscore your enemy in that section to win it – the person with the most won sections at the end of the song wins. My favorite mode has to be DJ Battle – both players play the same song, but you alternate control of sections. The back and forth battle in this mode is a blast to play and should be at the top of your list to try out.
More than a music game, this is an entirely new way to enjoy rhythm based games.