Guitar Hero II Exclusive Preview - The Practice Mode (Finally) Cometh

Remember how your fingers bled when you tried to beat 'Bark at the Moon' on expert? We feel your pain, and bring you glad tidings of a new mode in the Guitar Hero sequel that will ease your frustration.

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Armchair rock stars the world over have been flexing the gnarled remnants of their hands in agony ever since Guitar Hero's expert difficulty level took the game industry by storm late last year. If you've ever tried to beat songs on the game's hardest tier--songs like "Cowboys From Hell," "Texas Flood," and "Bark at the Moon"--on the expert setting, you know how insanely, maddeningly difficult they can be. What's more, the only way to get good at them is to keep trying (and failing), and when you finally blow it, you have to start the song all over again. Hardly the most forgiving way to practice and improve, we think you'll agree.

But take heart. Fans of the original game who have been crying out for some way to hone their shredding skills in a more leisurely fashion are in luck. We've just had a look at the new practice mode in Guitar Hero II, and we can report that this feature ought to offer a much gentler sort of learning curve than last time around. Considering the songs in Guitar Hero II will be rife with three-button chords and other new stumbling blocks, we're expecting the difficulty level will be higher overall than it was before, so we...sorry, you will need all the help you can get.

Using Guitar Hero II's practice mode is easy as pie. It works like this: You can access any song in practice mode that you've already unlocked through the career, and once you pick a song and difficulty level (from the same four as in the original game), the song is broken down into a number of discrete sections. These naturally vary by song, but you'll see something like "intro, verse one, chorus one, verse two, chorus two, solo one, solo two, chorus three, ending." You can opt to play one of these sections by itself, or you can set beginning and end points to play whatever section of the song you want. We didn't see a way to play different sections out of order or disjointedly, but then, why would you really want to do that anyway?

After you've picked an entire song or a section thereof, the game will ask you what speed you want to practice at. Yes, you read that correctly: You can play short sections of the hardest songs at slow, slower, and slowest speeds (in the game's current parlance). Even better, when you're using one of these slow-mo speeds, all the other tracks--vocals, rhythm guitar, and so on--are stripped out, so you'll only hear the guitar or bass part that you're actually playing, set against a drum machine. Practicing a song on full speed will play it just as you'd hear it in the game, though. You can pause a song and change the section or speed you're playing, although this doesn't happen on the fly--the game has to stop and reload first. Once you finish a practice run, the game will show you a tally--both numerical and percentage-based--of how many notes you hit during that segment.

No, your eyes don't deceive you--your prayers have been answered.
No, your eyes don't deceive you--your prayers have been answered.

A good solid practice mode was quite obviously one of the things that the first Guitar Hero was lacking, so it's great to see that RedOctane and Harmonix are setting things right with this sequel, which is looking more and more ambitious every time we get a look at it. We can see people really needing this thing to master some of the harder parts in the game, like the bass line in YYZ, which is broken into sections in practice that are just a few notes long in some places (thanks a lot, Geddy). If you're wondering about the extended song list for the game (and who among us isn't), keep wondering--RedOctane isn't ready to name anymore names just yet, but hopefully it will throw us a bone in the coming weeks and drop a few titles that we can chew on till the game's November release. In the meantime, check out how the practice mode works with some new gameplay movies on Guitar Hero II's media page.

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