Format: 360 (version tested), PS3, Wii
Release: Out now
If you want to copy a person’s success, you start by copying the person. In FreeStyleGames, Activision has found the best and perhaps only analogue to Rock Band creator Harmonix. Who else has the same even split between game and music makers, the poise to let content and ideas bounce back and forth between them, and the sense to ensure that a brilliant videogame pops out at the end?
In DJ Hero 2, that last point is all-important. With the exception of rather superfluous microphone support, everything achieved since last year involves software.
The playlist might lack anthems to rival Dizzee Rascal vs Justice or Tears For Fears vs Eric Prydz, but the selection overall is smarter. There’s less repetition, less guitar, and more personality. It’s another great line-up made awe-inspiring by its origins.
Abandoning all pretence of the controller as turntable simulator, FreeStyle has made a hypnotic, superior score attack even as Rock Band veers away from the abstract. Not to say that FreeStyle has embraced the metaphors of Amplitude or Audiosurf, but the feeling is the same: negotiating these tracks is more like piloting a spaceship than spinning decks, and all the better for it.
For one thing, it’s an entirely positive experience. Failure is literally not an option, and your journey through mixes that now make seamless, beat-matched transitions is assured. Better still, its attack options, risks and rewards scale with your skills as a player. The chance to momentarily double your multiplier with a deft twirl of the dial is almost ubiquitous now, but demands judgement every time.
It’s a system that very naturally sets up some excellent multiplayer modes, and this is one of an elite few that can truly even the odds between players at different difficulty levels. In Accumulator, the winner is the one who’s ‘banked’ the most notes. Only chained notes count, and ‘banks’ are limited, though new ones can be earned with perfect streaks. Thus, the Easy player makes fewer mistakes with fewer opportunities while the Expert takes the risks in a starfield of notes. Checkpoint Battle, meanwhile, is a Duelling Banjos mode that provides the career mode, entitled Empire, with optional boss battles.With the entire tracklist unlocked from the start, ready for drop-in, drop-out Party and Quick Play, DJ Hero 2 is as progressive in many ways as Harmonix’s latest and greatest.
The only sticking points are that DLC from the first game has to wait for an announced patch before being usable, and that you can’t import on-disc content. This gets more painful the more you think about it, and we can only hope it’s not some insurmountable licensing issue that dogs the series forever. Given that FreeStyle’s is now the only Hero that matters on just its second spin, it’s surely worth the effort.