I put off getting Guitar Hero II for the PS2 because my controller had broken (it turns out that spilling beer on it is bad). Didn't make sense to pay for an all-new guitar and game when I could wait a few extra months to get it on the 360 instead. I think it was the right call, but it's not all wine and roses for the next-gen version. A few quick impressions follow.
Achievements -- Well, duh. It's not as though achievements are even optional. But they add something to most games, especially when the developer has a sense of humor as Harmonix does. One of the achievements: decline to play an encore.
Hardware -- Less time saving and loading games means more time rocking. The performance boost is noticeable. So too are the HD graphics, but as I've always felt about this series, the graphics only matter when you're not the one playing.
The Motherfucking Trooper -- The song selection really does seem weaker in the sequel, but the addition of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" to the 360 version is practically worth the purchase all by itself. This has been one of my top-five most wanted songs for Guitar Hero, and now I've got it.
The Future -- There's no downloadable content yet, but there will be plenty of new songs -- not to mention the entire tracklist from the original Guitar Hero. Score!
The Gibson Explorer -- The new guitar is a big problem, and it's probably going to assuage much of the dismay that PS2 owners might feel about the game's port to the 360. First of all, it plugs into the USB port on the back of the console. I can get to mine more easily than a lot of people probably can (I've got the system lying flat on my desk), but even so it's a pain to have to run a cable around my desk like this. This has got to be much more annoying to people with full-blown home entertainment setups. Why isn't it wireless?
Even worse, the asymmetrical contours of the Explorer are much less comfortable than those of the SG. There's a sharp protrusion right where my forearm naturally rests when I put my hand on the strum bar, so I can't lay my arm flat to play. So far I'm using a combination of three less than ideal solutions: 1) I can tilt the guitar upward and come at it from a different angle, but this causes the star power meter to go off when I don't want it to; 2) I can loop my arm around the protrusion at a right angle, which basically works but puts more stress on the arm than the more natural position; 3) I can angle it so that the top of the guitar faces a little bit upward rather than straight ahead. The third option is the one that seems to work best.
No doubt I'll be getting used to this, but what a horrible sensation the first time I strapped on the Explorer. Furthermore, didn't anybody else have this problem when they were designing the peripheral? Am I an exception? Or were they just married to the idea of using the Explorer? I think almost any other design would have been more comfortable. It's a huge, huge drawback.
Online Multiplayer -- Doesn't exist. Lame. On the other hand, I'm not even sure how you get offline multiplayer to work. It doesn't say anything about it in the instruction manual, and I only saw one USB port on the back of the console. It is a puzzlement.