Also available on: Xbox 360, Wii
Genre: Rhythm Action
Gaming is an expensive hobby at the best of times, so it's no surprise that something such as last year's DJ Hero may have struggled to shift units when priced around the hundred pounds mark. Over the past year, however, the game has been spotted in bargain bins up and down the high street and has since carved out the kind of following a decent rhythm action game such as this deserves. Regardless of slow sales, Activision was quick to commission a sequel, and with the latest DJ Hero featuring no new hardware or gimmicks - just a number of tweaks and gameplay refinements - it should be a cheaper package for the majority of interested parties and one that is well worth a spin.
Overall, the action is very similar to its predecessor. Using the turntable controller, players must press the coloured buttons at the correct time to match the on-screen action. There are three buttons on the controller; two of which represent the two different tracks playing in the mix, while the middle button is used for samples. Certain parts of the track require players to perform scratching, which is achieved by holding the green or blue button and spinning the record back and forth. The cross fader is used to switch between the different parts of the track when prompted, and extra points can be scored by turning the effects dial. Hitting all of the notes in certain sections builds up the euphoria bar, which when activated, acts as a score multiplier. Also returning from last year is the ability to rewind sections of a song if enough consecutive notes have been hit - rewinding is definitely one of the more satisfying and enjoyable features and really helps to rack up the points.
No major changes have been made to the gameplay other than the new freestyle sections which allow players to earn extra points and gain a better grade upon completing a song. Freestyle scratching is pretty straightforward and affords players the ability to mix up the speed and pattern of the scratching. Much more interesting and rewarding is the ability to freestyle using the cross fader. In freestyle cross fader sections, the fader can be switched between parts of the track at will. It takes some experimentation, but when the timing is there, freestyle cross fading creates some really impressive sounds and will leave players feeling like they are a dab hand at DJing. Other times, however, switching between tracks is detrimental to the quality of the song and, as boring as it sounds, sometimes it's probably better to leave the fader in the middle than risk sounding like an amateur.
Another tweak which is most welcome comes in the form of made-to-fit samples in each track. Instead of the terribly cheesy samples such as "yeah boy" from the original game, DJ Hero 2 opts for song and section-specific sounds taken from the tracks in the mix. It's certainly an improvement hearing Snoop Dogg hollering in his own song rather than throwing in one of the previous preset choices which often felt out of place. Extended notes (similar to those in Guitar Hero or Rock Band) have also been included and give the game that little extra challenge and variety. None of the enhancements by themselves add a great deal to the game, but neither do they detract from it either, and they all add up to improve DJ Hero 2 in some way, however minor that may be.
One of the few negative marks against the game is the vocal accompaniments to the songs. Not only is the vocal recognition not as reliable as it is in rhythm action games such as Singstar, but the nature of the songs - the fact that they are mixes - means that it can be a little confusing as to what will come next. It is a better feature than the fairly redundant guitar parts from the last game - a feature that has been completely removed this time around - but it does need some work. Singing does bulk up the multiplayer aspect of the game, which is further enhanced with jump-in-and-out gameplay as seen in Guitar Hero. Multiplayer DJ battles have been modified slightly to include checkpoints in each song, meaning that winning is about racking up the most checkpoint victories as opposed to gaining the most overall points. This is all well and good in two-player, but battling against the computer can be a real nightmare and extremely frustrating on higher difficulties.
Unfortunately, there's no getting away from the new DJ battles even when playing Empire mode - which is the equivalent of the career mode. Empire sees budding DJs attempt to earn stars to unlock different venues, gigs and new mixes. Every now and then a DJ battle against a real-life mogul such as RZA will take place, which can be a hindrance in your attempt to move on to the next venue. On the plus side, playing on the lower difficulties no longer feels as restrictive as it did in the original game, as most of the game’s features are available even on the easy mode, so it’s not a bad idea to switch difficulties for the sake of defeating the guest DJs when they appear. Aside from the ill-advised DJ battles, Empire is a fairly standard career mode that hardly sets the genre alight. There's also a distinct lack of customisable options making it the mode with the most potential for improvement.
As for the songs themselves, it's all just a matter of taste. Most styles of dance music are featured, but the majority of the mixes are rooted in hip-hop. There are plenty of recognisable chart numbers included in the mash-ups and even a few heavier numbers from the likes of Metallica thrown in for good measure. With 83 different mixes available featuring more than 100 artists, it's fair to say that there is something for everyone in DJ Hero 2, from classics to current hits. Plus, with a greater emphasis on freestyling, players now have more control on how the end product sounds.
DJ Hero 2 ticks all of the boxes for a successful sequel. It doesn't reinvent the gameplay because that wasn't necessary; instead, it makes a number of minor improvements and tweaks, all of which add up to make the game more authentic and satisfying. There's still some room for improvement, especially in the career mode, but aside from that, it's another title that deserves to be in the mix this Christmas.
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